Dir: Laurent Herbiet. Fr-Belg-Alg. 2006. 110mins.
With a pedigree that includes Costa Gavras as a script writer and Michele Ray Gavras and the Dardenne brothersin the production team, Laurent Herbiet's featuredebut is bound to draw international attention, notwithstanding his ownanonymity. Mon Colonel reads verymuch like a Costa Gavras project, a political case pulledfrom the past whose theme - conventional army methodology as applied in the waragainst terror - is one of the most debated issues today.
Based on thenovel by Francis Zamponi, the script balances ColonelDuplan (Olivier Gourmet), who believes the endjustifies the means, and Lieutenant Rossi (Robinson Stevenin),for who law precedes all else, against the backdrop of the 1954-1962 Algerianwar of independence. Such themes could obviously apply to any number of contemporarysituations, from the American invasion of
International interestin Mon Colonel is assured given itstopic. Despite its overall didactical tone and lack of directorial brilliance,it should appeal to a large, politically concerned, arthouseaudience.
Beginning in thepresent, the story opens as retired Colonel Raoul Duplan (Gourmet), interviewed on French TV, blames
The same evening,the colonel is shot in his study, and two investigations are launched, one bythe police, the other by military intelligence, whose main concern is toprevent any embarrassing secrets from the victim's past leaking out.
A young femalelieutenant (Cecile de France) is entrusted with the case, reading and summarisingthe diary pages of Duplan's legal adviser, LieutenantRossi (Stevenin), who vanished during the conflict, forher superiors. She also attends, as an observer, the police interrogation ofthe various witnesses, all of who are connected with the period when Duplan and Rossi were stationed in St Arnaud, an Algeriancity 'pacified' by the French Army in 1955-7.
The picture is dividedinto two sections. The segment set in the present is shot in colour and bookendsthe more extensive and detailed passage, situated in the past and shot inblack-and-white.
The diaries,which come to life in this latter passage, follow the progression of Rossi froma willing cog in the army machinery under Duplan'scommand to a conscientious objector whose strange disappearance in action wasnever satisfactorily explained by the military.
As seen through Rossi'seyes, Duplan appears first as a stern, unbending buthonest and plain spoken career officer. He refuses to accept the term'pacification' for what he sees as a war on terror and his keyconcern is to do everything by the book. His main objection is that the armyshould not do the work of the police - which it always does in this type ofwar.
But once bombs gooff in public places and extreme investigations are required to find theculprits, so Duplan takes on a more demonicdimension. While pretending to be as law-abiding as he ever was, he goes togreat lengths to stretch the law, twist it around, even ignore it so as long ashe can come up with results.
Torture is legitimate,within certain boundaries, to open suspects' mouths and public executions areacceptable, again within limits, to discourage the local population. Displayingdead bodies in public places may not be sanitary but it does put the fear ofGod into sympathisers of the terrorist cause.
Mon Colonel'sscreenplay follows, step by step, the classic formula of aggressive militaryoccupation, with its technique of intimidation and fearsome brutality that sooneror later only provoke the very reactions it is trying to suppress.
It allows thenarrative to progress smoothly and predictably and proves more effective inrecreating the past than dealing with the contemporary investigation, which feelsmore like a limp dramatic device than through any necessity.
Of course thereis much to say on the issue of civil liberties versus the war on terror, andthere are many issues Mon Colonel doesnot even begin to address. But ultimately, this is a partisan movie in thesense that it blames the manner in which the French attempted to quell theAlgerian uprising more than discuss the ethics of terrorism itself. The French,in this instance, are very much a metaphor for those who have acted in asimilar fashion both before and subsequently.
Patrick Blossier, who has worked on all of Costa Gavras more recent films, provides precise, effectivecamera set-ups, both in colour and black-and-white. Editor Nicole Berckman does her best to instil the kind of pace found in Gavras' own political epics.
But it is Herbiet, not Gavras, who isbehind the camera, and Mon Colonelbadly needs a determined and sure hand to direct the actors, tighten up scenesand spruce up the action.
The result isthat much of the acting is stilted, if only because characters are there todeliver messages rather than have an independent existence oftheir own. It even applies to Gourmet, who lost considerable weight to playthe unsympathetic lead part and masters its technical side but who never quitegenerates the necessary snake-like charm.
Les Films Du Fleuve
Michele Ray Gavras
Jean-Claude Grumberg, based on novel by Francis Zamponi
Nicole D-V Berckman
Cecile de France