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Thread: Florent Emilio Siri: L'ennemi intime (2007)

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    Florent Emilio Siri: L'ennemi intime (2007)

    Florent Emilio Siri: L'ennemi intime (2007)

    A French officer in Algeria with terrible doubts

    Florent Emilio Siri's L'ennemi intime/AKA Intimate Enemies, is an interesting film--if no masterpiece-- about the "war in Algeria" focusing on an idealistic, newly arrived French Lieutenant (Benoit Majimel) who confidentially thinks the war is useless, which of course was true, and tries to protect innocent Algerians. It's "about" the French, but in a sense from the Algerian Arab point of view (the director is French born and educated, but his family name indicates Arab ancestry). In other words, it's for a French audience, but designed to make them see the Algerian side.

    Well, all these are simplifications. There are several Algerian Arabs in the story who fought for the French (in WWII) at Monte Cassini; the one in Magimel's unit proudly displays a huge scar across his chest received there. The other has gone over to the Harkis and is captured. Magimel's unit is going to shoot him, then, because of his former service to the Allies, lets him go. But as he walks off, the other Arab shoots him, because he believes the man, or his band, have massacred his family.

    Once Magimel's character (Lieutenant Terrien) decides not to shoot at a group of farmers and women, and they turn out to be disguised Harkis (Algerian Arab resistance fighters, AKA by the French as "terrorists".) Later on, disillusioned by this experience, he has the men shoot and kill an apparent group of farmers and women, and he finds they have killed innocent people. This wrecks him. When he goes home on leave he can't face his family. He goes to a film, and sees a propaganda newsreel that completely falsifies events in Algeria. It says all is peace and progress. Even several years after Algerian Independence, the film points out in end titles, France didn't admit there had even been a war there.

    This is a challenging role for Magimel, and he does his best with it. He goes through the whole panoply of emotions. However, he has a somewhat squeaky voice when in high stress mode, and he lacks the charisma of the great American war movie actors. He wasn't wrong to take this challenge on. It's an interesting one, representing a point of view not emphasized in Indigenes and other movies about the Algerian war that we have seen. But he may really be better in the quieter atmosphere of Chabrol's films--as the foppish heir in the new La fille coupee en deux/Girl Cut in Two, for example. Indoors, he was good enough under the direction of Michael Haneke and playing off the power of Isabelle Huppert to get a Best Actor prize at Cannes for La pianiste.

    Other leads in L'ennemi intime include Albert Dupontel, Aurélien Recoing, Marc Barbé, Eric Savin, and Mohamed Fellag.

    The episodic structure, shambling from one assignment of the unit to another, ably instills in the viewer a sense of battle fatigue, but whether this is the best way to develop involvement with the action is uncertain.

    Sirri has ten music videos to his credit as well as five films (and he has directed Magimel before). It may not be too encouraging to think he is best known probably for Nid de guêpes/Nest of Vipers (2002), a French copy of a contemporary-style American crime caper film. The dark, metallic look or big wide forward tracking shots that serve as opening and transition are cold and off-putting. But the film grows on you and is good for focusing on situations that dramatize the moral dilemmas of the French hero--who, later on, no longer stops the French from torturing prisoners as his more seasoned colleagues had done all along. One thinks of Indigenes: the Arab or non-propagandistic French side of the Algerian war story is beginning to be more common. Indigenes seemed even more conventional, but also better than this. Nothing of course can match the brilliance and realism of Pontecorvo's masterpiece, The Battle of Algiers. But that focuses on the urban, not the country, battlefield front. One also thinks of Bruno Dumont's recent Flanders, which, though not specific about its war or its people, is a more classic and universal statement about war than any of these others, and also one that can very easily be read as referring to Algeria.
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 10-23-2007 at 08:26 AM.

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