10th District Court (10e chambre, instants d'audience)

Photographer and filmmaker Raymond Depardon brings us into a world rarely seen – a Parisian courtroom in 10th District Court.”

Laura's Review: B

Director Raymond Depardon ("Un homme sans l'Occident") studied both documentaries and feature courtroom dramas before he came up with a very effective two camera setup to get inside the drama of the French justice system of "10th District Court." Depardon documented 169 cases before the same judge (or President of the court per French terminology), Michèle Bernard-Requin, all the while battling for release forms and finding his way towards his eventual setup, which discounts a wide angle view of the courtroom itself except for a few establishing shots. With level eye on Bernard-Requin and low angle closeups of the defendants, Depardon gets to the heart of the drama with the dozen or so cases he's chosen. The results are not unlike a Fred Wiseman film edited for time and effect, letting the audience find the truth within the system. Michèle Bernard-Requin is no Judge Judy, instead displaying an uncanny ability to pinpoint truth and human nature without robbing anyone's dignity. But while Depardon's professed theme is justice, it is indeed human nature that eclipses and surrounds that theme as we witness what influences judgements. The film maintains a rhythm. Defendant is charged by Bernard-Requin, then gets to speak. Prosecutor is allowed to pass judgement and defense to counter. The judge then says she will consider all and pass sentence later. After two cases, Depardon returns us for the judgements, only one of which is somewhat shocking given the defendant's gentle nature. The first case involves a contrite business man hauled in for DUI who nonetheless tries to claim he drank one mojito. Bernard-Requin is soft on the guy even though she knows he's stretching the truth - she's got a b.s. detector like a bloodhound. A later DUI case involves a female artist who throws blame in every direction but her own. Her superior attitude not only costs her a heavier sentence, but she's castigated by the prosecutor for her inability to express the truth, an artist's stock in trade. Defendants run the gamut from first time offenders to obvious con artists and the lost souls in between. Compared to U.S. courts, the French lawyers are almost poetic in their summations (and here almost entirely female), although one male defense lawyer is highly and unwittingly entertaining in his boorish attempt to equate himself with his male client ('we're all jerks'). The film is absolutely mesmerizing, so much so that I was startled to find it over. One wishes one could invite Bernard-Requin to a dinner party to hear her recount her war stories. The woman only loses her patience once (and even though she is aware of being recorded, there is a point when one becomes used to the camera's presence), with a man who seems to quite reasonably question the categorization of a collector's knife he's been caught carrying. Do not presume to know more about the law than Bernard-Requin or you will be treated harshly. Supplication and contrition are the best paths to take. "10th District Court" will be available on DVD on 3/7/06 and includes a featurette with the director and deleted scenes (see www.kochlorberfilms.com).

Robin has not finished his review of this film.

Robin's Review: NYR