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Détective (1985)

Unrated | | Comedy, Crime, Drama | 23 August 1985 (USA)
In a palace of Paris. Two detectives are investigating a two-year-old murder. Emile and Francoise Chenal are putting pressure on Jim Fox Warner, a boxing manager, who owes them a huge ... See full summary »


Jean-Luc Godard


Alain Sarde (screenplay), Philippe Setbon (screenplay) | 7 more credits »

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2 wins & 2 nominations. See more awards »


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Cast overview, first billed only:
Laurent Terzieff ... William Prospero
Aurelle Doazan Aurelle Doazan ... Arielle
Jean-Pierre Léaud ... Inspector Neveu
Nathalie Baye ... Françoise Chenal
Claude Brasseur ... Emile Chenal
Johnny Hallyday ... Jim Fox Warner
Alain Cuny ... Old Mafioso
Xavier Saint-Macary Xavier Saint-Macary ... Accountant
Pierre Bertin Pierre Bertin ... Young Son
Alexandra Garijo Alexandra Garijo ... Young Daughter
Stéphane Ferrara Stéphane Ferrara ... Tiger Jones
Emmanuelle Seigner ... Princess of the Bahamas
Eugène Berthier Eugène Berthier ... Old manager
Julie Delpy ... Wise young girl
Cyrille Dajinckourt Cyrille Dajinckourt ... La fille


In a palace of Paris. Two detectives are investigating a two-year-old murder. Emile and Francoise Chenal are putting pressure on Jim Fox Warner, a boxing manager, who owes them a huge amount of money. But Jim also owes money to the Mafia, and it seems the boxing match he is counting on to bail out will not be sufficient... Written by Yepok

Plot Summary | Add Synopsis


Comedy | Crime | Drama


Unrated | See all certifications »



France | Switzerland


French | English | Italian

Release Date:

23 August 1985 (USA) See more »

Also Known As:

Detective See more »

Company Credits

Production Co:

JLG Films, Sara Films See more »
Show more on IMDbPro »

Technical Specs


Sound Mix:




Aspect Ratio:

1.37 : 1
See full technical specs »

Did You Know?


Film debut of Julie Delpy. See more »


Old Mafioso: Have you noticed that there are two kinds of men? Those who have a clean cock, and wash their hands before pissing so as not to dirty it, and those who have a dirty cock, which they touch while pissing and get their hands dirty, which they wash afterwards.
See more »


Referenced in Soft and Hard (1985) See more »


Rienzi : Overture
Music by Richard Wagner (as Wagner)
(music title uncredited)
See more »

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User Reviews

Excellent; one of Godard's most playful, rewarding and radical experiments in genre and design
26 June 2008 | by ThreeSadTigersSee all my reviews

THEME: A murder in a hotel room. Who was killed and why? And by who? Is it past or present? And does it even matter? Three characters are detectives watching the story unfold and interacting with it, much like we, the audience. They piece together the clues to a story that eventually becomes their own; folding between the facts of a crime committed two years ago that repeats itself within the film and eventually leads both us and them towards the actions of the film's final act. It's subtle, but presented in Godard's typical style that many seem to have a problem with. DECONSTRUCTION #1: Here we have a detective film about detective films and about the relationship in such films between the characters and the audience. So we have ourselves represented by Laurent Terzieff, Aurelle Doazan and Jean-Pierre Léaud, who hide out in a cramped hotel room and observe the entrance of the building with the aid of small video camera which presents the image back again on a TV monitor.

CINEMA: If you're familiar with Godard's work then such devises should be recognisable, with the film using the clichés of detective cinema as window-dressing to express greater themes on the notions of relationships, as well as the role of cinema itself. We also have the self-referential aspect suggested by the opening shot, in which the scene that we are looking at and hear commentary on turns out to be something that has already happened, played back from the detective's surveillance video. We also have the notion of film as a background cacophony, with a number of scenes taking place in rooms where television sets conspire to distract us from the action at hand. DECONSTRUCTION #2: Three characters caught up in the clichés of a post-war crime picture, with a secondary plot about money and a farcical plan from both sides to double-cross the Mafia and each other. Does it matter? Yes and no. I disagree with the first reviewer who claims that this film is something of a throwaway in Godard's career; one that puts formal experimentation over content and theme. The plot is silly, but it's silly for a reason and goes back to Godard's earliest film, À bout de soufflé (1960), in which he played with the codes and conventions of American gangster cinema in a way that was progressive and entirely deconstructive.

ACTEURS: The film works as a result of the perfect casting. In fact, I'd say that the acting in this film is far better than any other film of Godard's that I have seen, and I've seen 25 of them. Léaud is obviously something of a regular in the films of Godard and his manic energy and uncomplicated air of boyish precociousness as this mysterious detective - trying to piece together a murder that may have happened or may be about to happen - is as bright as it was in films like Masculin, féminin (1966) and La Chinoise (1967). Likewise, Nathalie Baye, familiar from the director's earlier, more experimental feature Sauve qui peut (la vie) (1980) gives one of her best performances as a despondent housewife caught between two men as she tries to retrieve money to start a new life, but remains unsure of which man to draw allegiance to. The two men are boxing promoter and American cinema construct Johnny Hallyday, who breezes through the film chain-smoking and shooting pool as gangsters and cops threaten his plans from both sides, and Claude Brasseur, a pilot and the husband of Baye's character, once again, desperate to play both sides off against one another for the benefit of financial gain.

DECONSTRUCTION #3: Once again, we have Godard reducing the characters to meagre iconographic constructs that are placed in a knowingly cinematic environment that is continually challenged by the director's experimentations with content and form. Despite this however, the characters remain likable, intelligent and recognisable, with the convincing performances from the incredibly talented cast managing to compete with the cold, deconstructive formality that Godard strives for in his presentation. L'ARGENT: A film made for financial gain about financial gain, or at least, the promise of such. According to film critic Colin McCabe, Détective (1985) was produced as a favour to Alain Sarde so as to secure the funding for the director's dream project - the subsequent 'Je vous salue, Marie' (1985) - and this notion of desperation, and the wanton pursuit of money is almost self-referential in design. CRITIQUE: I honestly can't understand why so many admirers of Godard's work found this film disengaging. If you're already familiar with Godard's characteristic approach to cinema, then half of the work is already done. For me, the film was rich in character and ideas, and intelligently put together in a way that made the viewing of the film interesting and unique.

GODARD: Many would have you believe that Godard peaked in 1967, but this simply isn't the case. He's produced many fine films - Détective included - that require patience and perception on the part of the audience, and all released post-1980. This particular film might be considered a throwaway work by many Godard fans, but I would politely disagree. Like his best work, Détective is filled with ideas and a sharp commentary on the nature of cinema and the relationship between the director, the film, the characters and the audience. It does take work, but I feel that the work is worth it when we're dealing with something as interesting and progressive as this; with Godard throwing in all sorts of little jokes and observations (the detective as Prospero, aided by a character named Ariel, and with Léaud as the comic personification of Caliban, who eventually overcomes his master), whilst simultaneously turning in one of his most radical and well-rounded deconstructions on the nature of film and film viewing.

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