Chris Knipp Writing: Movies, Politics, Art


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DAVID OELHOFFEN: CLOSE ENEMIES/FRÈRES ENNEMIS (2018) - SAN FRANCISCO FILM FESTIVAL 2019

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REDA KATEB AND MATTHIAS SCHOENAERTS IN CLOSE ENEMIES

Deeper ties

In contrast to the admirable but relentlessly unfun La camarista, it was tempting to say of this film that it's far too much fun to be in a festival. But seriously, its inclusion by SFFILM is justified by its superior quality. Even though this French polar (crime thriller) classifies superficially as a conventional police-drug actioner, there is excellence in every aspect. The whole package, writing, directing, image, pared-down score, is sleek and functional. The acting is fine starting with the leads, Matthias Schoenaerts and Reda Kateb. This is not stylistic greatness; another Jean-Pierre Melville hasn't come along. But enjoyment is justified by quality.

The theme is of two men who grew up in the same rough Paris cité but went to other sides, Manuel (Schoenaerts) into drug trafficking and Driss (Kateb) to detection and prevention of same, having just been promoted to stupe (the police narcotics division). We're not hit over the head, but the action starts off early and, above all, the sense of togetherness of the drug dealing clan, who first appear joyously greeting one of their number just released from prison, and a dad plays football with his tousle-haired kid, the only male in sight not wearing the look du jour, crewcut and tight leather jacket.

Barely more than twenty minutes into the film comes a sudden violent attack on Manuel and two of his associates in the back of a car. Manuel escapes, fairly shaken, but his two comrades, including Imrane Mogalia (Adel Bencherif), a man who was a mole for the cops, are taken out, as is the drug shipment. This crisis bonds Manuel and Driss once more, because it is a giant blow for both. The assailants are so far unknown as we follow the two men home where their loved ones sense they're shaken. More disturbing is the scene where Driss goes to tell his informant's wife that he's gone, so well done it gave me a catch in the throat.

The traumatic disruption obliges Driss to force Manuel to cooperate, but that leads Driss to feelings, perhaps, of betrayal. When he revisits his parents, he who has denied earlier to someone that he even knows Arabic, speaks to them in Arabic, recalling that the wallpaper he and his father put up together. He always found it ugly, he says. And then he switches to French, "Maintenant il me manque," "Now I miss it," the shift signaling his split personality and life. They do not even know where he lives now. A deft, heartfelt scene.

i]Close Enemies[/i] is an exploration of a classic dramatic theme: the way deeper ties emerge when individuals who have made their way into a certain profession or world are brought to the brink. We see at the outset how Manuel has been made an honorary member of an Arab drug clan, but after he almost dies and two of his closest frères, his affective brothers, have been wiped out on either side of him he is symbolically isolated, and as he flees what he thinks is certain death thereafter, he remains increasingly hidden and withdrawn inside his dark hoodie. Driss' own parents, still living in the poor banlieue, think him a danger to themselves now that he is with the police and elevated to the department whose aim is to fight the people he formerly was associated with. His role is ambiguous, conflicted. His female police superior thinks him a danger, and his old comrades think him a traitor, even as they may admire the mainstream success he has come into, however dubiously.

All this, in a French polar, constitutes satisfying and complex character development. It's been pointed out, though, that the two leads' families aren't much developed. And for all its excellence, I can't claim that Close Enemies transcends its conventional genre, because that's not what writer/director David Oelhoffen and co-writer , Jeanne Aptekman have set out to do. (see Boyd van Hoeij's admiring and eloquent review in Hollywood Reporter.) David Oelhoffen previously directed Viggo Mortensen in the 2014 Camus adaptation Far from Men/Loin des hommes.

Close Enemies/Frères ennemis, 111 mins., debuted at Venice Sept. 2018 and played at over half a dozen other festivals, including Busan, Warsaw, Göteborg, Cleveland, and the San Francisco Film Festival, where it was screened for this review.

SFFILM showtimes:
Sun, Apr 21 at 4:30 pm
Victoria Theatre

Mon, Apr 22 at 6:00 pm
Victoria Theatre

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©Chris Knipp. Blog: http://chrisknipp.blogspot.com/.


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