I got up early to attend this morning’s 8:10 am Directors Fortnight screening of Cedric Kahn‘s The Goldman Case (aka Le process Goldman), and yet the show didn’t begin until 8:45 am. No matter — all my irritations melted away almost immediately once it finally began. For this is a taut, lean and honed to the bone French courtroom drama — boxy-framed and based on an actual 1976 trial of admitted felon, social activist and revolutionary militant Pierre Goldman, who was charged with killing two female pharmacists during a robbery.

Goldman (Arieh Worthalter) admits to being an armed thief while vehemently insisting that he killed no one. And yet he refused to approve a typical defense, at least as far as calling character witnesses was concerned. “I’m innocent because I’m innocent,” Goldman declares while venting disgust with the usual courtroom strategies. In a pre-trial letter to his attorney Georges Kiejman (Arthur Harari), we hear a letter from Goldman in which he fires Kiejman for his allegedly soul-less mindset while calling him an “armchair Jew”. Then again Goldman recants soon after.

So the trial testimony boils down to reviewing Goldman’s life and political history while Kiejman tries to chip away at eyewitnesses whose testimony has pointed to Goldman’s possible guilt.

All I can say is that The Goldman Case eschews typical courtroom strategies and dramatics as ardently as Goldman 47 years ago. Based upon interviews with Goldman’s attorneys and news accounts and certainly shorn of almost everything that might appeal to fans of typical American courtroom dramas (i.e., everything from Witness For The Prosecution to The Verdict to A Few Good Men and Primal Fear), this is one ultra-tight, super-specific and and brilliantly focused courtroom nail-pounder. It pulls you right in and keeps you hooked, in no small part due to Worthalter’s intense but subtly moderated lead performance.

I have a Monster screening breathing down my neck so that’s all I can say for now. The Goldman Case is way too severe and hardcore for typical American audiences, who won’t know or give a fuck who Goldman was in the first place. But I was riveted, and I would expect that many others will feel the same when and if The Goldman Case begins streaming on U.S. shores. (I would be surprised if a U.S. distributor decides that it’s worth showing theatrically, but then again someone might.)