36 Quai des Orfèvres
Interview – Olivier Marchal
How did you come up with the idea of ‘36’?
I have always wanted to tell the story of Dominique LOISEAU, who was an officer with the Search and Action Squad who was instrumental in bringing down the Gang of Fakes in 1985. On January 14 th, 1985, the gang sealed off a bank on the ‘Rue Docteur Blanche’ (Doctor White Road) and officers from both the Search and Action Squad and the Anti-Crime Unit turned up to take control. As usual in a built up area, the two teams were instructed not to interfere, but to stay on scene to keep watch and wait until the gang made for their getaway vehicle or until the situation was under control. However, the head of the Search and Action Squad decided to go it alone. When the gang left the bank, the police head, whom I will not name, began to shoot. But only one team of the robbers had left the bank and when they heard the gunshots, they returned into the bank to support their gang members. A police officer was taken hostage, two men were shot dead – a robber and a cop named Jean Vrindts. Then the robbers got away. It was a total disaster. The ‘Rue Docteur Blanche incident’ cast a shadow over the entire Parisian Police Judiciary. The police officers who were present demanded disciplinary action against the head of the Search and Action Squad for instigating the tragedy.
Is that a story you want to tell?
Yes, absolutely, but at the time, this was overshadowed by another event that was caused by the ‘Rue Blanche incident’: the affair of the ‘Gang of Corruption’. A group of cops, making up the majority of the Night Unit of the Search and Action Unit were exposed to have taken part in rackets, hold-ups, abductions and illegal detention of persons. This was a serious affair, implicating many officers from one of the most prestigious branches of the police. Suspicions had been held for some time, but the ‘Rue Docteur Blanche Affair’ catapulted this into the limelight, and the independent monitor decided to launch a full-scale investigation into the ‘Gang of Corruption’.
Some time later, the revolt had sunken beneath the surface, but the anger had not quite disappeared. Then, rumours began to circulate: Jena Vrindts, the police officer who was killed in the ‘Rue Docteur Blanche’ incident was said to also be a corrupt cop. His character began to be assassinated in the newspapers and his family was subjected to taunts by the press. He was denied a state funeral. This, the Anti-gang refused to support. For them, it seemed as though the administration was looking for a scapegoat and led the media to Vrindts and in essence killed their colleague a second time.
Their anger escalated further when another bombshell fell. Dominique Loiseau was on holiday with his family when he was told that his name had appeared on the famous list of corrupt officials. He returned immediately to Paris and demanded an explanation. He said, if the charges against him were real, then to place him under arrest. He was presented before a judge who found him guilty as charged and Dominique Loiseau was sent to prison for 12 years without any explanation. He was set free after serving 6 years…
Who is Dominique Loiseau to you?
He is a friend and a police office I admire. He was a man of great humility and grand humanity. When he was arrested, I had already left for the anti-terrorist unit and had no idea that he had been implicated in the ‘ripou affair’. He was sent down to protect the ‘established order’ in the place of a man the administration wanted to protect.
Dominique was the victim of a judge like the one I depict in ‘36’. He was denied access to those close to him for months. They treated him like a criminal. The guy who made the case against Dominique was untrustworthy.
Dominique was in anguish the entire time he was in prison. He received death threats, both against himself and his family and made his wife leave him for her own safety. His parents were ruined by their attempts to prove his innocence. He attempted suicide. All this in the name of the status quo. This could happen to any policeman. This could happen to me.
Have you transposed these events into ‘36’?
I have obviously retold the story, but I wanted the things that happen to Leo Vrinks (the character played by Daniel Auteuil) to be just as forceful, just as monstrous as those that happened to Dominique Loiseau.
Dominique lost everything in prison – his wife, his friends, his job, his dignity… and so much more that is not my place to say. It could have turned him into a ball of hate, but instead he prefers to put his lost years in the past. On my film, he would drive the actors where they wanted to go and everybody was touched by his gentleness and his professionalism. Today, he has obtained his skipper’s license, but he is not allowed to drive a French battleship. He reminds his country of shame, all because he happened to question greater authority.
My film is dedicated to Christian “Kiki” Caron who fell in an operation on 31 st July 1989. An old member of the Anti-Gang unit, he was a friend of Dominique Loiseau. Married with three kids, he had decided to leave the Anti-Gang for a less dangerous posting. He died one week before his transfer.
Did you decide to write ‘36’ after ‘Gangsters’?
Actually, I have been thinking about this story since 1994. At that time, I happened to be working on a television programme with real policemen from the Anti-Gang unit. I got talking to a guy called Didier Maury, who was also knew Dominique Loiseau. He recounted the events of the ‘ Doctor White Road incident’ of the rebellion, the search for blame orchestrated by Jean Vrindts and then the arrest and imprisonment of Dominique and how he quit the police force. Now, he is the head of a company. He features in my film. For friendship, but also to remember the events that had passed. He was very emotional when we shot the revolt at Saint Ouen.
I wrote ‘Gangsters’ because I wanted to make a film with a low budget. I have a television background, and I knew that I could not break into cinema with a big budget movie. I needed to make a film that was more intimate, that focuses on the acting instead of building an elaborate set. I wanted to tell an intimate story about two estranged people who are reunited over two days and two nights away from the world. I want to talk about the intertwined relationship between those who keep the law and those who break it. How they hate each other, but they need each other.
I am also fascinated by the double agents. In my 12 years in the force, I know of four ‘fallen cops’. Two of my fiends have fallen into that hole. One, whom I had worked with for 6 years is now passing life in a cell. I can’t imagine how they lived such a double life.
It was during my preparation for ‘Gangsters’ that I gave my first synopsis of ‘36’ to my producers Jean-Baptiste Dupont and Cyril Colbeau-Justin. I explained to them that I wanted to make a film about the fall of the head of the Criminal Investigations Unit. Something like a contemporary ‘Count of Monte Cristo’ set in the world of the police, making use of the grand tragic themes: friendship, love, betrayal and revenge. I wanted to make a French version of ‘Heat’. Along with Sergio Leone, Mike Figgis and Michael Cimino, Michael Mann is one of the directors I admire most in the world. ‘Heat’ is an inspiration for me. From the direction of the actors to the mood of the film to the way it was shot. Like in ‘Heat’ I want to explore a sort of duel between two strong personalities. Here, I choose the two greatest policemen at no. 36 Orfevres Road, and have them played by two giants of French cinema, Daniel Auteuil and Gerard Depardieu. The two magnificent actors, their distinguished careers contribute so much to the credibility of this film. They are magnificent in the film…
My producers brought the film to Franck Chorot at Gaumont, who gave his go ahead for a co production and agreed to distribute the film in France. This is how we began our adventure. Two years of writing, a dozen different versions (the first draft came to nearly 200 pages long). I have Gaumont to thank for their endless patience and encouragement. It is a studio that nurtures talent and supported me every step of the way. I could not have done without them on a project of this magnitude.
For the characters, did the people that you knew in the police force inspire you?
Leo Vrinks, the character played by Daniel Auteuil is homage to Jean Vrindts, the officer who fell in the Rue Docteur Blanche incident. The person is not the same, but the spirit is. His journey is that of Dominique Loiseau, but his personality is inspired by someone I knew in the 5 th Division of the Judiciary Police who was the second in command at the Search and Action Squad before being imprisoned for covering one of his informers in a drug bust. This was another sober affair of rivalries where the head paid the price. We called him ‘Fifi the Elegant’. He was a classy person who has brought culture to the thugs in Belleville (a prison).
He was at home in whorehouses and the underworld. He closed in on huge criminal activity based only on tips from his informers. He had a particular way of working, the ‘old fashioned way’ base on someone’s word – they way a criminal works. It is this method that Vrincks uses in the film, and that bring him down in the end. In reality, ‘Fifi the Elegant’ received 4 years in prison; Vrinks was sent down for 7.
Both cops were victims of a justice system that is more and more unbending and a hierarchy that does not tolerate originality and working outside the system.
‘Fifi the Elegant’ was part of a group of cops who disregarded the system. Who perhaps did things they are not supposed to do. But they get the job done and are admired by all the men. Like Vrincks. He is a complex person, quiet, reserved and only speaks when required to. He is somebody who would go to all ends to get his job done. We worked a lot on this complex person with Daniel ( Auteuil) and it paid off -- he is a huge presence in the film.
And for Denis Klein, played by Gerard Depardieu?
I was inspired by the famous director of the Anti-crime Unit, who instigated the ‘Rue Docteur Blanche’ affair. He was an ambitious man with a brutal instinct. A man who has no scruples. At the same time, he was brave and gained respect in the Police Judiciary for rendering some important services. He is somebody who is impulsive and quick with his fists. It is this that makes him dangerous.
I wanted to make Klein a ‘romantic’ figure. He has sold his life to his career yet lives in the shadow of the great cop he will never be, so he says to his wife (played with sensitivity by Anne Consigny). He is lonely and unhappy, who has known for a long time that he has let his life slip away. And that’s why he throws everything into the only thing he has left: his job.
I don’t want the audience to dislike him, even though he does some despicable things in the film. He does those things in spite of himself because he is victim of his own unhappiness. I want the audience to be touched and distressed by his loneliness. Gerard (Depardieu) is the actor who makes him come alive. As soon as we began shooting, I knew that I had found my Klein. He is sublime. I thought that the first time I met him. I had dinner at his restaurant and he cooked for me himself, and he struck me: his face, charged with melancholy. The look of an old dog on his last tri to the vet, not knowing whether he will die. Gerard is a formidable actor. He can bring gravity, a tragic dimension that so many great actors are not capable of.
Friendship, betrayal, revenge… and love. There is a woman who stands between the two men, played by Valeria Golino.
The duel between Vrinks and Klein is not only about their professional lives. There needed to be a woman between them. A woman that one man loves, who leaves with another. This idea came to me when I saw Harold Becker’s film ‘ Sea of Love’ where Al Pacino plays a burned-out man whose wife has run off with his colleague. This is truth in cinema – scenes that show how a policeman’s life encroach upon their personal lives. In my film, Camille is more than a personal problem. She is the woman that Klein loves – has always loved, and will continue to love even though he knows that the love will never be requited. Camille is afraid of him. She has restarted her life with Vrincks because Klein never supported her. I do not insist on these points in the film, but I suggest them two or three times in the film, through a work or a look.
The love rivalry does not explain everything. The other key to their relationship lies in their work as police officers. The struggle between different police departments is a common occurrence – I can assure you from first hand experience. When I was working on the anti-terrorist unit, we would work on cases that involved other departments, we are supposed to work shoulder to shoulder, but in reality, each group would guard important information so that they can take credit for the success of the operation. In the ‘Rue Docteur Blanche’ affair, the head of the Anti-crime Unit was driven purely by vanity. He worked solely to prove his own courage and so that he could say the Gang of Fakes fell to his heroism. He only thought of how his photo would look in the newspaper, not the consequences his actions could bring to his team.
For me, Vrincks and Klein are two officers who went to cadet school together, who rose up the ranks together and who became heads of different departments together. And it is only here that their routes separate. During my time in the force, the Search and Action Squad were extremely proud of their reputations as ‘supercops’. They received all the attention of the media, only received exceptional cases, used state of the art equipment and basked in the glow of an elite force. Next to them, the Anti-gang Unit was much lower profile. The differences between the two bred all types of jealousies and internal conflicts. Nowadays, times have changed. The two services are on an equal footing all due to the leadership of the two heads f department. The real life head of the Anti-gang unit spent most of his career working for the Search and Action Squad.
Have you known other police officers who influenced you for the other roles, for example of Eddy Valance, played by Daniel Duval?
Valance is inspired by policemen I knew when I first arrive on the job. Solid characters apparently without failings – people we can count on in all instances. For this role, I was looking for someone with real charisma – that is why I though to cast Daniel Duval. As a cop, he is more believable than the real thing. Thirty years of police work is inscribed in his look. The balance between him and Daniel Auteuil is perfect. There is also Titi Brasseur, admirably brought to life by Francis Renaud, who is a terrific actor. We met on the series ‘Police District’ where he played my partner. I worked with him on ‘Gangsters’ where he played the violent cocaine-addict Rocky. In ‘36’, he is superb. He is an instinctive actor, filled with emotion. He is one of the best actors of his generation. I hope that his work on ‘36’ will bring him the recognition and the roles he deserves…
What can you say about playing the role of Christo?
I loved playing that character. Even if he didn’t have any major scenes. But a scene opposite Daniel Auteuil – how could I refuse? It was my wife, Catherine (who plays Eve Verhagen in the film) came in specially that day to direct me. Her input and suggestions are vital to me. In fact, I am not keen to act in my films. I am primarily a director. A bigger part demands more concentration as an actor and so neglect the other talent. That is my view, anyway. One needs the genius of Orson Welles or the confidence and experience of Clint Eastwood to both direct and play a major role in the same film.
My role as Christo was inspired by a crook I met who had been in prison for twenty years. He is small, tattooed all over and sports a moustache like Errol Flynn. He was a thief in a gang in the southern suburbs. He told me all the things he used to, but how now he just wants to open a pizzaria with his wife. Then a few months late I found that he had tried to get into another gang. I don’t know what he is doing now. My fascination may be wrong, but I have much respect for these old school crooks like Christo.
You have also discovered a new group of gangsters who care nothing about law or moral code.
Yes Horn and company. Such groups exist at the moment. They are men from the suburbs who associate with red-hot thieves. They are men with no mercy, who shoot to kill, with no respect for human life, and who somehow manage to get hold of sophisticated weapons.
I gave the role to my friend, Alain Figlarz. An arms and martial arts specialist, he grouped together the majority of the actors for this film. Alain choreographed the fight scenes based on my intentions, working with the storyboarder Richard Mvongo who had also done a remarkable job of capturing my universe on paper. I wanted the action to be short and brutal, like in reality. At the same time, I did not want the scenes to be too violent, partly to get through the film censors, but also because I am not interested in making an ultra-realistic film, but rather an operatic tragedy. When we were filming the death of Valence, Alan was injured by a metal shell (he decided against wearing a protective garment) and the doctor advised him to rest for one week, but still, he appeared on set the following morning to shoot the scene where he takes Eve hostage. He couldn’t walk and every time he moved he was in pain, but he insisted that he kept going and the results of that scene are incredible.
When Vrinks returns home, he never talks about what he has done. Is that also typical of cops?
A cop never talks about what he does. Out of reserve, perhaps in an effort to forget what he has seen and done. Camille doesn’t know, and she doesn’t want to know. Vrinks is first a cop before he is a husband or a father. He loves his wife and his daughter, but he is obsessed with his work. He is also an old school cop, keeping quiet about methods that may not be considered above board. He is a complex character, haunted by events past – something that frequently happens to cops, myself included. Each policeman is haunted by different visions. Vrincks’ are filled with corpses and nightmares. Before Vrincks joined the Anti-gang, he was head of the criminal division and his cases from his past haunt him still. This is not made explicit in the film, but is something we told Daniel Auteuil for his reference.
When Vrincks is in prison, there are shots that are simply of the prison walls. It is evocative of the Count of Monte Cristo…
Absolutely. The scene is so much more terrible because of the austere building, the barbed wire and the cries that resound around the walls. We feel all the hopelessness of the person, their terrible isolation and their powerlessness. His wife is dead and there is nothing he can do. The funeral scene was inspired by an incident when I was just a young cop. At the time, I was working for the criminal division in Versailles. My group and I were instructed to accompany a prisoner to the cemetery where he was to attend the funeral of his young daughter. I tell you – that day, I did not want to be a cop at all. I am still haunted by my work that day, standing beside this pathetic man, sobbing at the grave of his child. His wife looked at him with a disgust that I will never forget. As though he is responsible for everything…
You left the police force because you no longer supported they system, yet your films are consistently about the police force. Why is this? Is it therapy? An exorcism? Or simply coincidence?
I have a problem with clear definitions of Good and Bad. I am not exorcising anything. I read lots of detective novels and I watch lots of movies. I am fascinates with a man’s capacity to do bad in all shapes or forms. At the same time, I no longer watch the news or read the newspapers – things that are happening all around frightens me. Perhaps by focusing on the horrible, my films are actually addressing other things – the sublime.
It has been a long time since we have seen Depardieu in this sort of role. Was it difficult to direct him in this role?
Not at all. It is he who gave me the confidence. And then, it is a question of respect… and love. The best way for an actor and a director to work together is if the relationship is base on respect. We worked extremely hard on this film, but we had a lot of fun, too. Gerard is an instinctive actor. He erupts, he talks, he laughs. In the end it is the director who has to select the essential requirements from his performance on screen. Daniel is more of a cerebral actor, so it has been an absolute pleasure to work with two actors with such different styles. I had always thought of Daniel for the role of Vrincks but I had no idea who to cast as Klein. Even when the name Depardieu came up I didn’t think about it seriously – I mean, this is only my second film. To have the names Auteuil-Depardieu is so outside the realms of possibility. But when Gerard read it, he said ok straight away and from that moment on, the movie was truly blessed.
‘36’ is a story of two men, yet there are also two extremely strong female performances by Valeria Golino and Catherine Marchal, your wife.
Valeria came to the production via our Italian co producers. She is a beautiful, sensual actress, yet at the same time, totally convincing as the wife of a policeman. We spent a lot of time discussing her role in the story. How at the beginning of the film, we wanted to show that she loves her husband, but also her frustration with the emotional distance between them. Valeria and Daniel are incredible together in the film.
I had originally imagined Catherine, my wife in real life, as Camille. Her dignity and softness match the character perfectly, but when I was writing the script and Catherine was helping me on certain scenes, she began to sympathize with the character of Eve. And when she read the final draft of the screenplay, she asked whether she might try out for the role of Eve. I was a bit hesitant at first – I imagined Eve to be like a little girl lost. Almost a caricature of a policewoman who seduces the world, but Catherine insisted that she knows the character, and the purity that she expresses turned out to be the most alluring part of Eve.
Camille and Eve are better people than the men in the film. They are straight, honest, clear, brave and uncompromising. Eve is the only person who refuses to be manipulated by Klein. When I was a cop, I was fascinated with the women in the profession. The men were like cowboys, we went through the motions and were taken for superheroes, but the women were actually much stronger psychologically. They never turned to drinking in times of trouble and were calm when the men were ruffled. There wasn’t a single ‘fallen cop’ who was a woman.
Another strong female character was the gangster Manou played by Mylene Demongeot…
Manou was an ex-hooker who now runs a hostess bar. She is the female Christo. She is an older woman who has at last found peace. I like very much the idea of an older woman who looks after her husband. Mylene is extremely moving in the film. Her character reminds me of roles played by Simone Signoret.
Did you use the same crew as for ‘Gangsters’?
No. Mathieu Poirot-Delpech photographed ‘Gangsters’ and for ‘36’ I chose Denis Rouden. I have wanted to work with him for a long time. I contacted him for ‘Gangsters’ but he was busy on another project. Denis is the perfect person for this film. As great a person as he is a technician. He takes risks, he tries different combinations – we work completely in synch with one another. The same goes for my cameraman, Frederic Tellier, who was also my technical consultant. Thanks to their hard work and their friendship, I could achieve what I wanted and gain in confidence which I lacked working on my first film.
Frederic Tellier supervised the art direction with me in collaboration with the Art Director, Ambre Fernandez and my first assistant Jean-Luc Mathieu (who has been working with me since my short film and my first feature).
We have become a like a family, and we take risks as a team – nobody judges the mistakes of another. Our ambition was to make a grand, universal film that taps into the legacy of American cinema and French cinema.
I wanted the film’s lighting to contrast the brilliance of colours with a sense of darkness. We envisioned the film to look like Phil Jouanou’s ‘Angels of the Night’ and David Fincher’s ‘Seven’ and Sam Mendes’ ‘Road to Perdition’. Francis Ford Coppola’s ‘The Godfather’, Jean-Pierre Melville’s ‘The Red Circle’ and Michael Mann’s ‘Heat’. I wanted ‘36’ to be a story of twilight, slowly unrolling the tragic events.
You wrote the screenplay, directed the film, and oversaw everything including the editing. Did he film you first envisaged turn out as you expected?
I had already made one edit with Helene Deluze and Vanessa with the rushes that I’d selected. We spent a lot of time arriving at a film that was 2 hours 40 minutes – too long. We needed to find a solution quickly before Helene went off to work on another film. That’s where Hugues Darmois (the Editor on ‘Gangsters’) came in. Hugues Darmois is like me when I write: He needs to be entirely on his own when he edits. I left him to it. He knew what I wanted to express in the film, he was there during the preparation and the filming, and he knows my tastes. So how the final film appeared is almost ghostly.
Who wrote the music?
Axel Renoir and Erwan Kermorvan. I got them to listen to Delerue’s score of Zulawski’s ‘Love is what’s Important’ and Ennio Morricone’s score from ‘Angels in the Night’ as well as ‘Road to Perdition’ and Michael Mann’s ‘The Insider’ for the Gregorian chants. They recorded their music in a studio with 50 strings.
Did your producers intervene much during the different stages?
The did during the preparation of the film, they saw the first three days of the rushes then they left it to me. They had the confidence in me to let me do what I wanted.
Provided by EDKO-Films - Hong Kong