From the 42nd New York Film Festival: The 10th District: Judical Hearings
What comes across strongest in The 10th District Court: Judicial Hearings is the ease of which humans are able to mar their own characters simply be speaking out loud. Raymond Depardon’s film is a rigid documentary somewhat like a French Judge Judy (a quality that severely dissipates its impact and ability to take seriously), capturing a number of petty criminal hearings in front of the same female judge. Editing out much of the content of each hearing, and using identical coverage and framing for each defendant, Depardon makes his decisions as an editorial documentary filmmaker apparent, even when the overarching motivation for the collection of cases is lacking.
Pickpockets, drunk drivers, drug dealers and other accused comes and go in front of judge Michèle Bernard-Requin, who seems at times, wry, amused, and exasperated listening both to the defendants and their representing attorneys. Surprisingly, one of the best and strangest moments of the film comes from this latter category, where a defense lawyer rambles on about he in his personal life he too has had similar problems of crossing the line from love to hate, to defend his client from charges of domestic abuse.
The film is often quite amusing both in the judicial deadpan of the judge and the near poetic vindictiveness of the prosecuting attorneys, but the film’s main entertainment is in the way the defendants always want just a bit more time to explain themselves, and in doing so reveal hypocrisies, personal idiosyncrasies, character defects, and massive miscomprehension of their actions, their thoughts, and the law. Depardon’s choices are amusing at first, but the parade of defendants grows wearisome as character after character sabotages their initial innocence by speaking “honestly” about their accused crimes. Some variation would be nice, especially someone able to use oral eloquence to their advantage for once instead of biasing the court against their word. Depardon’s film lacks the ambition or pretense to say it is a failure, but its scope is so limited and its court hearings so monotonous that it makes it hard to recommend beyond its initial laughs and insight.