At the age of forty, Antoine Lahoud is still defending petty criminals who are entitled only to legal aid. He still has a quixotic notion of his mission but, lately, his little income and ...
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At the age of forty, Antoine Lahoud is still defending petty criminals who are entitled only to legal aid. He still has a quixotic notion of his mission but, lately, his little income and his arduous working conditions have been eroding his idealism. So, when Henry Marsac, a leading (but seemingly corrupt), professional colleague, offers him to work on bigger and more lucrative cases, he ends up accepting. Little does he know what Marsac is up to... Written by
"Commis d'office" is a baffling film. Its first part is excellent while the second half is a total misfire. It can boast an excellent performance (by Roschdy Zem) but is also cursed with the shamelessly hammy gesticulations and grimaces of his partner Jean-Philippe Ecoffey (a good actor when he is not left freewheeling). You leave the theater with mixed feelings: on the one hand, you know the movie you have just seen is a failure but on the other hand, oddly enough, you have the impression that you have not entirely wasted your time... The explanation may be that if, for all its defects, "Commis d'office" remains an acceptable watching experience, it is because Hannelore Cayre, its director (and writer, adapting her own book), is a former magistrate and knows what she is talking about. And if the same film ends up being disappointing it is also because of Hannelore Cayre, who, not confident enough in her own subject, chooses to embark on a far-fetched crime story, which, initially meant to win over the average viewer, finally alienates the more demanding one. If you can skip the second part (a highly improbable noir thriller complete with lookalike, prison break, and shoot-out), don't miss the documentary-like first forty-five minutes. The trials and tribulations gone through by Antoine Lahoud who, out of idealism, takes only legal aid cases, are described with great care by the writer-director and the record is appalling: for this category of lawyers, all there is is too many cases for too little money, too little time to review a file, never-ending days of work when, for instance, the President of the Court who likes the sound of his own voice, spins things out, cases entrusted to prominent lawyers as soon as they are interesting, and so on... To bring even more relief to this sorry state of things, Hannelore Cayre parallels Antoine's lot with that of Henry Marsac (Ecoffey), not only a prominent lawyer but also one that gladly overlooks any kind of scruples and morality. As a result seeing Antoine struggle to make ends meet is made all the more hurtful as it is constantly juxtaposed with scenes of cynical Marsac gleefully enjoying his lavish lifestyle. Too bad this first part, a talented illustration of the splendor (?) and misery of the French judicial system, is followed by a rather stupid cop and robbers story. Indeed as soon as this aspect of the script is triggered, the viewer feels that everything will go wrong. First of all, if it is easy to accept the fact that Antoine decides to trade his ideals for a more comfortable lifestyle, it is a preposterous thing to have him collaborate with Marsac, the man he despises the most in the world. And when the latter tricks him into acting against the law, why on earth does he accept whereas he could easily have made money defending well off clients legally? Even worse, how can Cayre make us believe that Dahoud is a credible replacement for an inmate in prison, whereas the resemblance to him is so vague? Well she just can't, thus making suspension of disbelief a hard thing to do. All in all, a film to be seen in spite of everything. Well made technically, well played by Roschdy Zem, benefiting from a well- documented relevant first part, it is unfortunate that Hannelore Cayre is unable to convert the try. But she has not too much to be ashamed of. She just has to believe more in herself.
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