Lisa Schwarzbaum
February 11, 2004 AT 05:00 AM EST

La Mentale The Code

Current Status
In Season
116 minutes
Limited Release Date
Clotilde Courau, Samuel Le Bihan, Samy Naceri, Michael Duchaussoy, Marie Guillard
Manuel Boursinhac
First Look, Samuel Goldwyn Films

We gave it a B-

The rules of omerta that define American underworld life are easy-to-read corporate bylaws compared with the volatile, multicultural version sworn to in La Mentale the Code. This rough-edged, careening gangster flick, directed by Manuel Boursinhac and set in an unlovely suburb of Paris that’s home to a tight community of North Africans, Gypsies, and Jews, doesn’t have much time for refinement of image or elegance of plot. What it’s got instead is an insider’s feel for the local, excitable hoodlum life and speech, in good part because Bibi Naceri, who cowrote the script with Boursinhac, used to know that life intimately.

Naceri’s brother Samy plays Yanis, the violent head of a crime gang who’s eager to get back into business with his cousin Dris (”Brotherhood of the Wolf”’s Samuel Le Bihan), now that Dris is home from prison. Dris, however, is conflicted about returning to the fold and its lethal bylaws. The people around him regularly boil over (with Gypsy music for emphasis); the movie boils too and spills into tough-guy melodrama. But Le Bihan locates the internal simmer of a man considering the cost of giving up the only code he has ever known.

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