The town of Roubaix in France, located near the Belgian border, is rather like the Detroit of France. Yesterday’s city of industry has become a broken shell of a town.
In the film’s opening as local police chief Inspector Daoud (Roschdy Zem) cruises by a burning car he calls it in, the fire foreshadowing tragedy.
Daoud is a fictional character who was added in by director Arnaud Desplechin. His new film is based on a novel that was written about an actual murder that took place in Roubaix seventeen years ago. Two young women robbed and killed an elderly lady who lived in their building. Léa Seydoux play Claude and Sara Forestier Marie.
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Zem’s Daoud is what’s known in French as “la force tranquille.” He’s cool-headed and identifies easily with the various criminals being paraded around his station. People are born good and society has made them evil, he figures.
A compassionate loner who believes in the legal system, he grew up in this city, he understands its people, he can tell who’s guilty and who’s not.
The film is a slow, painful glide into the anguished minds of two complete and utter losers facing jail time and a cop trying to bring them back to reality and redemption. Will they roll on each other, and if so, how soon and who will do it first? Their motive for killing is never given in the film, although it seems irrelevant. Still, why would two women kill an elderly neighbor?
“Roubaix” is not a whodunit, since we already know who did it. But most of the film, which at times is reminiscent of Jean-Pierre Melville’s films, is spent by Daoud gradually reeling Marie and Claude in so that they ultimately give a confession of murder, of their own accord. Reenactments follow, police lineups and, ultimately, a teary-eyed confession.
I enjoyed “Oh Mercy” (“Roubaix une lumière”) immensely!