The more pop culture is saturated with films like Neil LaBute’s Your Friends and Neighbors and television programs like Jerry Springer, Judge Judy, and The Simple Life, the more Americans seem to be losing a grip on their humanity. Not only are contestants on reality shows seemingly picked for their predilections to cause elaborate scenes, gone are the days when psychologists didn’t confuse drill training for therapy. Raymond Depardon’s documentary The 10th District Court: Moments of Trial is constructed entirely from testimonies given by people inside judge Michèle Bernard-Requin’s Paris courtroom. A self-righteous intellectual stands accused of carrying a knife in his pocket, African immigrants are charged with stealing and doping, and others are charged with driving under the influence. Considering the piles of shit she has to dig through, Bernard-Requin is seemingly fair and level-headed throughout, but perhaps I’ve been unduly affected by our culture of mean that I can’t tell if Depardon is encouraging sympathy or contempt for the people who stand before the judge. The director weaves a tapestry of human tragedy from the fragmentary melodramas of these people’s lives, and yet a privileged few at the film’s New York Film Festival critics screening found the experience hysterical. But there’s nothing remotely funny about watching these people—most of them, yes, bullshitters—twisting and squirming to evade punishment. At the very least, there’s nothing funny about an obviously ill man accused of shooting an illegal weapon at beer cans and who walks into Bernard-Requin’s courtroom under the influence of a tranquilizer, or the testimony of a man charged with harassing the ex-girlfriend he tortured for seven years. Though the audience doesn’t get to know Bernard-Requin or the people who stand before her beyond the courtroom, their struggles resonate. When an illegal immigrant is given a one-year sentence for theft, he yells at the judge and wonders if she’ll be able to sleep at night. Bernard-Requin is obviously used to these kinds of outbursts, and though the man is probably guilty, it’s obvious from the woman’s fairness that she’s conscious of community standards and her responsibility to the people in her courtroom. I suppose it’s easy to laugh at some of the film’s tragic moments because Departon likens the legal system to a form of human theater, but the performances the people in Bernard-Requin’s courtroom put on—defendants and weasel attorneys alike—are less amusing than horrifying. Because these scenarios illuminate our foibles as responsible citizens of the world, I can’t imagine a better film to take someone to on a first date; if they laugh, then you might reconsider a second.
- 110 min
- Raymond Depardon
- Michèle Bernard-Requin
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