Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Intimate Enemies

While not bad, this movie sometimes takes time to go straight to the point.

Since France's colonial archives has been opened about nine years ago, we'd expect a display of maturity when it comes to deal with colonialism. With an approach that is not too far from a documentary, this movie shouldn't displease history buffs.

In 1959, the French government decides to send troops in Algeria to "pacify" it. Lieutenant Therrien (Benoît Magimel) is sent to lead a platoon of French soldiers who are mandated to find a high-profile member of the Algerian National Front of Liberation called Slimane. While Therrien believes that the French citizens' rights should be extended to Algerians, Sergeant Dougnac (Albert Dupontel) just sees their mission as a war among others. Moreover, the chasm between Therrien and Dougnac gets bigger when Therrien disobey a direct order that consists in torturing Algerian prisoners...

With its beautiful sceneries and its gripping realism, L'ennemi intime (original French title) combines the dramatic nature of a work of fiction and the shocking effect of a documentary. This means that the movie tries to follow French soldiers in their journey. However, in the long run, looking a little bit like a documentary is a disadvantage per se. As a matter of fact, during almost half of the movie, we have the morbid feeling that the movie is not going anywhere with its story. Therefore, the problem here is the rather slow pace.

Hopefully, the movie does go somewhere when the movie's premise is finally thrown in our face for good. In addition to that, this is where we get to see that the documentary approach becomes useful. Even though the movie only shows the war from a French standpoint, its maturity lies in director Florent Emilio Siri's wonderful ability to deal with the subject without favouring any ideologies. In other words, don't expect to see any glamour or glorification.

More importantly, this documentary approach is well used by Siri in order to show how war changes people from inside. With two great actors like Albert Dupontel and Benoît Magimel it becomes quite unpredictable to guess at what moment their character will fall into madness. In the end, the movie also wants us to ask to ourselves if the line between savagery and civilization is so thin. Besides, although it will never replace history books, Intimate Enemies manages to put back into context the way the French government handled the war. For instance, did you know that in the newspapers (and news shows), journalists had to make people believe that everything was okay in Algeria?

Finally, although the movie might not necessarily please to everybody because of the small number of action scenes, Intimate Enemies brings a lot of fresh air. In fact, despite some minor flaws in the script, it is one of the few war movies that tries to combine action and provoke thoughts (if not debates) about human nature. In other words, is the character of Lieutenant Therrien going to be able to cling to his ideals?

Rating: 3.5/5


Intimate Enemies
France (2007)
Length: 108 minutes
Genre: War drama
Screenplay: Patrick Rotman and Florent Emilio Siri
Director: Florent Emilio Siri
Starring: Benoît Magimel, Albert Dupontel, Aurélien Recoing, Mohamed Fellag and Lounès Tazairt

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