La Balance (1982)

| March 18, 1983

Asked what my favorite film would be and I’ll answer The Godfather.  There are a lot of reasons why but at the core it is a film about the world inside the criminal lifestyle, who the people are, how they relate and how they go about their business.  I have a fondness for movies like this because they are so far outside my thinking.  How does a person inside the criminal world keep themselves healthy and free without being subject to prison and death.

La Balance is not the equal to The Godfather but is seems to be playing in the same world, the world in which the criminal lifestyle is just something that flows from one day to the next.  It’s not a non-stop series of crisis and shootouts and thugs and thieves.  In Coppola’s film, I am always more interested in the daily business of the mafia then I am the shootouts.  In La Balance, I get the same feeling.  It is about a man and a woman who maintain the balance of their criminal lifestyle day to day.  The movie is less interested in what happens to their lives then in how they live them.

She is Nicole (Nathalie Baye) a good-natured prostitute who lives a quiet, sort-of easy life with Dede (Phillipe Leotard), her pimp and loafing boyfriend who lives outside of the local mob at the insistence of Roger Massina, a local mob boss due to a disagreement over who should be with Nicole. 

A police informant is killed and the cops want to replace him with Dede in an effort to set up Massina so that they can trap him.  Dede agrees – the cops use Nicole against him – and, as part of the set-up, tries to get himself back into the Massina’s good graces.

The major plot was not really of too much interest to me.  I had seen it before, well written though it is.  But what intrigued me was the relationship between Dede and Nicole.  Without the plot afoot, I could have spent a couple of hours inside the little world that they share together.  It’s a private, inward world full of people that society seems to have cast out: crooks, criminals, transvestites, bartenders, prostitutes.  The world portrayed here is very specific and you feel the organic nature of it all, especially in how the characters connect with one another.

In the center of this underworld stands Dede and Nicole, two people who never seem to have driven to really do much of anything.  We sense that they have slipped into a life of crime in order to avoid having to work for a living.  They like the life that they have made for themselves, a balance between criminal and legitimacy that doesn’t really fall one way or the other.  Like The Corleone family they seem to want to structure and run their own world based on their rules and their own conduct.

About the Author:

Jerry Roberts is a film critic and operator of two websites, Armchair Cinema and Armchair Oscars.
Filed in: Foreign