After an Algerian informer is found dead in Northern France, two police officers from Internal Affairs (Isabelle Huppert, Sandrine Kiberlain) are sent to investigate.
MELBOURNE INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL In classic film noir immersions, such as Nicholas Ray’s On Dangerous Ground, the investigating police officer sent to solve a crime reveals flaws that match or mirror those of the perpetrator they obsessively pursue. For these conflicted anti-heroes clearing the case sometimes meant acknowledging their pivotal flaws, and self-destruction was a very real risk. In his new film Tip Top, the French filmmaker Serge Bozon does something similar, but his investigation is set to the mood of a screwball comedy where sexual desire is the punchline.
Comic whimsy and violent repercussions intermingle throughout
Set in the town of Vileneuve, near Lille, the movie is an obtuse investigation of the murder of a police informer, Farid Benamar, who is seen initially leaving a café with a police officer, Mendes (Francois Damiens), who has rescued him from a beating reserved for the overly inquisitive. The brief fight is like a squirming 1930s cartoon, as bodies pile on the bulky Mendes, but nonetheless the next morning Farid is found murdered in a public park and the film is as matter of fact about his fate as it was the Three Stooges-like slaps he was getting from a peeved criminal.
Comic whimsy and violent repercussions intermingle throughout the picture, especially with the arrival of Internal Affairs inspector Esther Lafarge (Isabelle Huppert), who is accompanied by her new partner, Sally Marinelli (Sandrine Kiberlain). Esther is a screwball heroine with a taste for S&M; she bounds around the desk of the police department, snapping out officious questions like Katharine Hepburn verbally squaring off with Spencer Tracy. But back in her hotel room she awaits the arrival of her partner, Gerald (Samy Naceri), with whom she indulges in a choreographed routine of violence and then passion that leaves both of them happily bloodied and bruised.
But in this offbeat world Esther’s intimidating presence is meant to distract the overwhelmingly white and middle-aged constabulary from her areas of enquiry, and the film is equally given to subterfuge. Beneath the deadpan humour there is a telling commentary of race relations, with Farid a former Algerian policeman who fled to France after witnessing atrocities. 'Once terrorised, always terrorised," is the police rationale for pressganging him into service as an informer, and his successor Younes (Aymen Saidi) is another arrival from Algeria caught up in the machinations of his handlers.
Revelations of a matriarchal crime lord and police corruption unfold, and the horror is in how casual everything is. Violence is sudden and swift, and sometimes conversations pick up where they left off before the fighting began, as if nothing really happened. In a satire of police buddy movies, Esther’s predilections are joined by Sally’s taste for voyeurism and the movie’s quirkiness – at one point an extended car driving scene with rear projection has the vehicle turning wildly but Huppert barely adjusts the steering wheel – achieves a blackly inviting accommodation. There are tears for many of these clowns.