Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Tribeca ’16: Courted

Xavier Racine is aloof and judgmental, but that is his job. He is a French criminal judge. Racine acts like he was born to wear ermine robes, but his personal life is a bit of a train wreck. However, he will only open up to the Danish anesthetist from his past who has been summoned to serve as a juror. Jury duty is indeed a sophisticated pleasure throughout Christian Vincent’s Courted (trailer here), which screens during the 2016 Tribeca Film Festival.

Even when Racine is in the best of moods, he is never the sort of presiding judge a defendant would want to appear before. To make matters worse, the jurist is suffering from a persistent flu and an even pricklier attitude, stemming from his pending divorce. The defendant, Martial Beclan, would appear to be up merde’s creek, especially considering the nature of the crime he stands accused of. Allegedly, Beclan stomped his infant daughter to death with his combat boots. Yes, it should be a fun case.

Then Racine notices the final alternate juror selected. She would be Ditte Lorensen-Coteret, who helped save the judge’s life following his heart attack several years ago. Racine was interested enough to pursue her, but it just didn’t work out. Evidently, courtroom procedures are a little looser in France, because he immediately reconnects with Lorensen-Coteret, sparing little concern for appearances. Suddenly, this trial does not look so bad to Racine.

Frankly, it doesn’t look so bad to us either, thanks to the wonderfully mature and inviting chemistry shared by co-leads Fabrice Luchini and Sidse Babett Knudsen. The supercilious Racine might sound like the sort wry, slightly nebbish comedic role Luchini practically owns the patent on, but there is nothing rote about his performance. He creates a real flesh-and-blood character, who turns out to be considerably deeper than his colleagues realize. The scene in which he informally explains their place in the legal system to the jury should be seen by everyone in the Academy’s acting division.

Likewise, Knudsen is wonderfully warm and sly as Lorensen-Coteret. Viewers really can see the grim courtroom light-up when she walks in. She plays with and off Luchini perfectly, but she also develops a charming, down-to-earth rapport with Eva Lallier, playing her manageably rebellious teen daughter Ann.

There is no question Courted has to be the feel-good infanticide movie of the year. It sounds like such a disconnect to have such a heavy criminal case and a deceptively relaxed pseudo-romance unfold concurrently, but that is how life is. It gets messy and moves on regardless. Yet, things often turn out to be more significant than viewers initially realize, thanks to Vincent’s light directorial touch and the graceful wit of his screenplay. As an added bonus, the film also instills faith in the efficacy of the French justice system. Enthusiastically recommended, Courted screens again tonight (4/20), Friday (4/22), and Saturday (4/23), as part of this year’s Tribeca.