FLIC STORY (Jacques Deray, 1975)

Although the source material, Roger Borniche’s autobiography, imposes on Jacques Deray’s film an idealization of Borniche and his marriage, and simplifies Emile Buisson’s motivation for mayhem, Flic Story constitutes riveting, exciting, intermittently terrifying, almost consistently brilliant entertainment. It fully conveys, rather than glosses over, the horror of criminal violence, and does no less for police brutality, without one canceling the other.
     Buisson began a string of robberies with his older brother in the 1930s. While he was incarcerated, both wife and child died, unbalancing him. In 1947 he escaped. Deray’s film starts at that point, focusing especially on the manhunt headed by Borniche, a federal police inspector, during which time Buisson not only takes up grand thefts with a new gang but also, this time, kills one soul after another, often gleefully gratuitously. Some of his murder victims, however, are betrayers—police informants. Borniche may be ambivalent about using brute force, leaving its application to a subordinate whom he repeatedly derides for its practice; but he sees nothing wrong with squeezing the arrested into the role of informant—this, when the still fresh memory of the Occupation associates “snitch” with collaborationist. These individuals end up being murdered upon exposure. A haunting touch: one of those thus murdered by Buisson is entirely innocent, has not ratted out Buisson to the police; but Buisson is understandably paranoid by this point, and the victim is an outsider, Italian, an alien. Such ethnic prejudice, the film implies, has been exacerbated by the moral murkiness into which the war, including the Occupation, and its aftermath of dislocations and economic scrambling have plunged Europe. Deray’s film may be a commercial dish, but there is serious meat in it.
     Alain Delon is wonderful as Borniche; Jean-Louis Trintignant is even better as Buisson.

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