THE [FRENCH] CONNECTION

One of the more fascinating aspects of the movies is their ability to reach across time and space and continue cinematic conversations that started long ago. Take 1971’s The French Connection. Directed by one of the decade’s hottest directors, William Friedkin, The French Connection adapts Robin Moore’s non-fiction book into a kinetic powerhouse of a film starring Gene Hackman as Jimmy “Popeye” Doyle and Roy Scheider as his partner, Buddy “Cloudy” Russo. Their target: a $32 million shipment of heroin from Marseilles and the French kingpin responsible, Alain Charnier (Fernando Rey).

Chocked full of players both stateside and foreign, The French Connection never pauses to explain or clarify, favoring relentless energy over exposition. A storytelling tool so effective, the entire movie can be cinematically—and iconically—boiled down to the image of Doyle’s commandeered ’71 Pontiac LeMans versus an elevated train running through the heart of Brooklyn.

Doyle is a cop who plays with a loose set of morals and pure energy. Forty-four years later, the conversation continues with another cop relentlessly pursuing the Marseilles-New York heroin racket, only this time he’s not from the mean streets of New York but the picturesque south of France.

The Connection, directed by Cédric Jimenez, revisits familiar territory and presents the flipside of the record, filling in the who, what, where, when, and how of the drug trade while positioning the familiar cat-and-mouse game at the heart of the story.

Stationed in Marseilles, police magistrate Pierre Michel (Jean Dujardin) is slowly working his way through addicts and dealers up the food chain to drug kingpin, Gaëtan “Tany” Zampa (Gilles Lellouche) in an attempt to shut down a multi-million dollar heroin export business. Michel himself is a recovering addict (gambling was his vice), and like a shooter on a hot streak, he is willing to take this pursuit to the bitter end.

The Connection. Image courtesy Drafthouse Films.

And the bitter end is precisely where these two are headed. Michel is playing with fire, and Tany has ruled long past his expiration date. Both know exactly where this road ends, yet they are willing to run headfirst into the brick wall together and play their roles of cop and criminal to a T while the world around them pleads for sanity. These are not men; they are something simultaneously more and less. They answer to a higher calling yet succumb to their addictions like common drunks.

Stylistically, The French Connection was a revolutionary break forward, whereas The Connection is a throwback. The two movies meet in the middle, overlapping just enough to connect the dots without disrupting their individual continuity. It’s a fun trick, but more than that, it’s a reminder that just because the movie is over, the conversation isn’t finished.

The Connection is available to streaming on Hulu. The French Connection is available to rent from all the major players.

A version of the above essay first appeared in the pages of Boulder Weekly Vol. 22, No. 46, “A tale of two cities.”