“Petty Crimes” creates enough suspense with its main character, Mike (Jeremie Covillault), who’s far enough away from France, but faces the threat of being sent back. That’s not especially ideal because in the land of crusty bread, Camembert cheese, and fine wine (as amply demonstrated in one of Mike’s solo scenes), he was a common con artist and the United States was total salvation. Mike had enough trouble in France with the law and New York’s shores provided the perfect chance for him to get rid of his old ways, to find a job, maybe come into some success.
But an expired visa causes the INS to bust into his apartment, when he’s with Zoe (Sarah Z. Canner), whom he likes. However, she sees him as a way of expanding her options. She not only has Mike, but an ambitious fellow law student, Peter (Kris Polaha) who sees them succeeding together. He’s served with papers that order him to report to 1 Federal Plaza to present himself in front of the INS, who will decide what to do about him. The most obvious choice is to send him back to France where he would most likely be arrested immediately and thrown into jail. Zoe decides that Mike should go see her professor, T.H. Blossom (Kenneth Little Hawk), who specializes in immigration law. Since Zoe is Blossom’s favorite student, he decides to take on Mike’s case…..for a nifty $2,500. Mike may be a former con artist, pickpocket, what have you, but he doesn’t have that cash on him.
The suspense in Mike’s character doesn’t come from whether he’ll get the money or not, but from two plot points:
An old accomplice, Kim (Andrew Pang), comes back into his life, suggesting that Mike join him for a few more rounds of their old business. Kim believes it would be good for his former teacher to get back into the swing of things because he so obviously needs the money. Mike blows him off at first, but really wonders whether he should trudge back into his line of work, despite barely getting by, and not paying much rent. It’s a wonder that he hasn’t even gotten kicked out yet, but his plan is simple. Whenever the landlord comes a-knocking, he’s out the window.
Professor Blossom tells Mike not to worry because the INS takes so much time in looking at the paperwork that they have, that it could be months before they find Mike’s case. But, what if they find his case early enough? It gets to the point in “Petty Crimes” where Zoe eventually warms up to Mike more than she has in previous scenes, and what happens if it’s a plane ticket back to France for him?
There are some nicely built scenes, such as Mike’s work for Fran (Annie Hu), who runs “Fran’s Band of Merry Men and Women” who are available to water plants and walk dogs. She seems to have wanted Mike first, but Mike went for Zoe instead. However, there are no shots of a disappointed face, teary-eyed glances, etc. This is not that type of movie and she’s not that kind of woman. In this movie, life goes on and there’s also minimal music. You decide on your own what you feel about these characters because there’s no music to pour on emotion thickly, except during scenes where Mike’s insistence on not returning to his former life is thrown into question.
Unfortunately, for all the time spent allowing us to watch Mike and Zoe get closer and closer, all hopes of some sort of logical resolve are dropped in favor of a botched return of a previous story point when Mike pushed a cop away from him in one of the subway terminals and ran up the stairs to the sidewalk. There’s a heavy contradiction in regards to some I.D., and Mike didn’t even push the cop that hard anyway. The suspense that director Michel Ferry managed to create with the already-in-progress storyline just disappears into thin air and that’s a real shame because if the story had been allowed to make turns the way it looked like it would, then more satisfaction would have been gained from that. Instead, we are exposed to what feel like scenes from a completely different movie, far from the natural intent of these characters, whom we have learned so much about in such a short running time.
“Petty Crimes” benefits from a confident performance by Jeremie Covillault (who always has a cigarette hanging from his lip in troubled times), and while he carries it straight through, it’s not enough to save the rest of the movie.