The idea that somehow an idiot of a man became someone to watch out for is not very new. It’s the way Sentinelle, directed by Hugo Benamozig and David Caviglioli, so unabashedly deals with this idea with the snappy dialogue that makes Sentinelle an outstanding comedy. There is just no inhibition here. That doesn’t mean the film derails and goes into foolish territory. Now, the whole film is, in a way, foolish, but it’s well intentionally foolish. The film that the makers are trying to make wouldn’t have worked if it ever tried to be something more than what it actually is. The character of Sentinelle has such flavor that he can be a primary character in so many sequels based around his misadventures.
Captain François Sentinelle is an imbecile of the highest order. He couldn’t solve a case if his life depended on it, yet somehow an important person, the President of the Regional Council, a woman named Florence, called him up to investigate a serious matter. She had been threatened by an organization named the Red Arm, and soon after Sentinelle had been appointed to solve the case, things worsened as Valery, Florence’s husband, was kidnapped by the Red Arm. Sentinelle wanted to find out where Valery was, but he could only do it if he took time off from his other career. Yes, Sentinelle was a cop only because he liked the power. Music was his true passion. It’s his complete lack of awareness about how the two worlds are poles apart that really makes the character funny. It’s a role that has been performed to perfection by Jonathan Cohen, who makes it seem like Sentinelle is an innocent soul and should be allowed to have fun in this world, a world where things like ‘rules’ and ‘accountability’ kill the good vibes. It’s all about having fun and making good music videos for Sentinelle. So what if he accidentally shot a few people while aiming at a suspect? They were ‘extras’ in his music video anyway!
The film’s brilliance is that it never takes itself seriously. A lot of comedies currently have the burden of being of some significance and having a deeper meaning. Not Sentinelle! And it works, too. The carnivalesque atmosphere envelops the whole film and complements the bizarre action happening on screen. The casting and the locations are great, which make up eighty percent of a good film. The dialogue in this movie is so sharp, and the subtext is so wonderfully edited in the movie, that it puts films like Deadpool to shame. Sure, it doesn’t have a big budget, but who needs action sequences or expensive set pieces when you have great performances and rib-tickling dialogue? Anything else would have just slowed down the film. The TV series Arrested Development and Brooklyn 99 depended a lot on character-based situations, and almost everything was a joke. Sentinelle reminded me of the writing on those shows, which seem to not have one extra syllable in them to ruin the flow. This quality makes Sentinelle extremely fresh and ensures the humor really lands.
There is a classic feel to this film. The ending of the film is so old-fashioned that it might not have worked, but somehow it does. It boils down to the fun the performers have while being their characters. Everybody seemed to be having a blast, but nobody was reckless here. The job was to believe the absurdity and play it straight, and it was well executed. At one point, Captain Sentinelle had to keep an eye on a suspect. Something bizarre happened on his watch, and he was busy playing his instruments in the car. Later, he blamed his subordinate Maousse for the mess, and the comedy stems from the fact that Maousee truly believed it was his fault. The film is a sequence of such funny back-and-forths, one right after another. Sentinelle also works as a buddy cop comedy. Captain Morriset, played by Raphal Quenard, is the perfect foil for Sentinelle. While he may be a complete fool, Morriset is the real detective in the film. The contrast and the chemistry between the two characters create a familiar tone for the movie, which surprisingly seems to have been lost in a wave of bland comedies.
The tone of the film is controlled by the impeccable sound editing. One scene transitions to the next, and the film starts to explore a murder after having explored Sentinelle’s buffoonery. All this was kept at an even level by the sound editing. I wouldn’t say the film doesn’t have flaws. It has some gags, like Sentinelle’s gun with the blank rounds, that don’t have a proper lead-up to them. Also, there is a character named Gilles, who could have been assumed to be the head of the Red Arm but was conveniently assumed to be just working for them.
The economy with which Sentinelle’s character was presented really made this film have a breakneck quality. It started with a bang and never felt like it lagged anywhere. Sentinelle is a well-made crime comedy that uses the conventions of buddy cop films and fast-paced action thrillers in a different capacity to come up with something very entertaining. Sentinelle is quite a unique character, and surely the makers should make a franchise around this guy. Comedies seemed to have forgotten the mantra of the ‘odd one in, implying the introduction of an outsider into a logical world. A person like Sentinelle would never be a cop in the real world, and he holds his job for a full 20 years in this movie. Sentinelle surely is a testament to what laugh-out-loud comedies can be if character and dialogue are given preference over action and a highfalutin plot.