Benoit Magimel

Intimate Enemies (2007, Florent Emilio Siri)

Intimate Enemies, quite unfortunately, follows the American Vietnam war movie formula. There’s the world-weary sergeant (Albert Dupontel), the green and idealistic new lieutenant (Benoît Magimel)–will the lieutenant eventually become just the thing he hates in all the other men? Of course. It isn’t even interesting when he gets there, since Enemies doesn’t just make the lieutenant the idealist, it also makes him the protagonist. After his big change, which is somewhat inexplicable–narratively speaking–the film loses its protagonist. Even as the camera and story follow Magimel, the viewer is distant from him, never to return. During a rather affecting third act, the distance still remains from the character, though he is, like the rest of the men (it’s a Christmas scene and a good one), devastating.

While the script occasionally falls into melodramatic war movie mores, there are some rather interesting singularities. Dupontel and Magimel never have their great scene together where Dupontel, full of hard-earned wisdom, somehow eases Magimel’s turmoil. Intimate Enemies opens rather awkwardly–not what I was expecting from a director like Siri, who lets the import of the film weigh him down (when Siri does let loose, all three times for melodramatic emphasis, it’s disastrous). That awkward open resolves itself quickly with the death of Dupontel’s lieutenant, who he despises for being inept (never heard of a sergeant thinking the lieutenant was inept in a war movie, have you?). So from the first ten minutes, Enemies sets itself up for that predictable scene where Dupontel recognizes Magimel for not being an inept lieutenant.

Of all the anticipated clichés the film could undergo, it would have been the best, given the terrible ones it ends up receiving. Some of them are so bad, I’m tempted to spoil them just to see if I can get the foreshadowing across in the beginning of a sentence.

What Siri lacks is a tone. With its American war movie structure (Platoon was a big influence–gag) to its desert setting (like The Beast), Intimate Enemies never feels like its own piece of work. During the infrequent scenes around the base, when the story allows the viewer to see what life is like for the men in the Algerian desert, or when Magimel goes back to 1959 France… it comes close. But the script rips the film away from these successful arenas and returns it to the norms.

Magimel is great. Dupontel’s really good. Lounès Tazairt is excellent as an Algerian fighting with the French. The script cheats most of them of their best possible scenes–Tazairt being a possible exception. And the rest of the supporting cast is generally good. The acting isn’t the problem.

Not once during the film does it feel like Siri isn’t cooking straight from the cookbook. Here he’s using a recipe of the back of a Kraft bag of cheese–the kind where you’re only supposed to use other Kraft products–and he never says to hell with it. He follows the recipe to the letter. It’s a decent recipe–it’s not like Platoon or something–but it’s a packaged dinner masquerading as a home cooked meal.

2/4★★

CREDITS

Directed by Florent Emilio Siri; screenplay by Patrick Rotman, based on an adaptation by Siri and Rotman; director of photography, Giovanni Fiore Coltellacci; edited by Christophe Danilo and Olivier Gajan; music by Alexandre Despla; production designer, William Abello; produced by François Kraus and Denis Pineau-Valencienne; released by SND.

Starring Benoît Magimel (Lieutenant Terrien), Albert Dupontel (Sergent Dougnac), Aurélien Recoing (Commandant Vesoul), Marc Barbé (Capitaine Berthaut), Eric Savin (Le sergent tortionnaire), Mohamed Fellag (Idir Danoun), Lounès Tazairt (Saïd), Abdelhafid Metalsi (Rachid), Vincent Rottiers (Lefranc), Lounès Machene (Amar) and Adrien Saint-Joré (Lacroix).


The Nest (2002, Florent Emilio Siri)

It’s a French remake of Assault on Precinct 13, but with a healthy mix of disaster movie sentimentality (just as visible in, say, Die Hard, as in The Towering Inferno). That sentimentality isn’t bad, it’s a reward. You watch this incredibly manipulative film and then, in the end, you get some pretty music and some sense of human achievement. The Nest takes it further, however, finding moments of reprieve (not just for the viewer, but for the characters) during the story. I can’t remember how I found it, probably through some review of the actual Precinct 13 remake, but whatever I read about it, in terms of reviews, really fouled up my expectations, because the IMDb “critic” made it sound like it had a twist ending. It doesn’t.

The Nest has a really long set-up–over a half hour–and it’s very well-made, not just compositionally, but also in the character dynamics and the general feel of the film. It’s so well-made, I had that moment where I was sorry it wasn’t two hours, instead of being fifteen minutes shy or whatever. But then I realized it couldn’t sustain itself. Finite narratives are finite for a reason. They can’t hold too much or they’re going to burst. The Nest never even comes close to the bursting point, maybe because of its setting. Instead of being in a small confined space, the film takes place in a large confined space, a warehouse. Because of the storytelling economy, the warehouse never seems too big; people move around and they weren’t necessarily in the same shots as other people. The physical space lets Siri compose his shots wide, instead of claustrophobically, because The Nest is not a small, claustrophobic intensity movie. It’s more like… well, Die Hard. Or even Die Hard 2, just because there’s a big budget and a war criminal.

A lot of the film’s strength comes from the cast and what they have to do. I remembered Samy Naceri from Taxi and he’s a movie star and he’s a good one, holding everything together nicely at the beginning. But his friendship with Benoît Magimel becomes important and the film’s attention to it is particularly good. The main cop, Nadia Farès, is good too and she’s got the central action hero role here so, really, she doesn’t have much to do. The enigmatic ex-firefighter night watchmen, played by Pascal Greggory, is probably the film’s most compelling character, just because it gives the viewer very little and Greggory does such a good job.

When I think of French action movies, I think of Luc Besson (in fact, I was shocked he didn’t produce The Nest or something–at least during the credits, after it started I could tell he didn’t, just from the film’s maturity). Pointing out The Nest is superior to American action movies is useless, but it’s still a singular achievement. It’s a good action movie, well-directed and well-acted (another modern rarity, that combination), and it’s narratively sound….

I’m so glad I didn’t let the IMDb clowns scare me away from it.

3.5/4★★★½

CREDITS

Directed by Florent Emilio Siri; written by Siri and Jean-Francois Tarnowski; director of photography, Giovanni Fiore Coltellacci; edited by Christophe Danilo and Olivier Gajan; music by Alexandre Desplat; production designer, Bertrand Seitz; produced by Claude Carrere, Guillaume Godard and Patrick Gouyou-Beauchamps; released by Pathé.

Starring Samy Naceri (Nasser), Benoit Magimel (Santino), Nadia Fares (Laborie), Pascal Greggory (Louis), Sami Bouajila (Selim), Anisia Uzeyman (Nadia), Richard Sammel (Winfried), Valerio Mastandrea (Giovanni), Martial Odone (Martial), Martin Amic (Spitz), Alexandre Hamidi (Tony) and Angelo Infanti (Abedin Nexhep).


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