Mathieu Kassovitz's new film Rebellion astounds & enthralls and is all the more powerful as it's based on actual events - Rebellion Review #mustsee

Posted by Craig Grobler on Google+ On Thursday, April 18, 2013

rebellion kassovitzwas absolutely and unequivocally blown away by Rebellion or L'ordre et la morale  as it is known in France. I saw it a while back but was so incredibly taken with Auteur Mathieu Kassovitz's engaging narrative - of a crack hostage negotiations team send to the island paradise of New Caledonia to sort out a native uprising - I wondered why none of his other recent films stuck in my mind with such impact or level of brilliance, he has after all been  been making a film every 3 years or so since he started. So to gain some context for his style and to frame my thoughts appropriately I went on an odyssey of Kassovitz and rewatched as many of his previous films as I could get hold of.

As a side note I recently have had  the opportunity to chat with Mathieu Kassovitz and he goes some of the way in  relaying why he isn't outputting films of the same level as Rebellion every couple of years - more about that later.

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Mathieu Kassovitz's Rebellion Film  Poster (Click to enlarge)
It’s April 1988 on the Ouvéa Island in the French colony of New Caledonia. 30 police are kidnapped by Kanak separatists and in response 300 special-forces operatives are sent in to restore order. To avoid unnecessary conflict, Philippe Legorjus (Mathieu Kassovitz), the captain of an elite counter-terrorism police unit, is sent in to the heart of the rebel base to negotiate a peaceful solution. But against the highly pressured backdrop of presidential elections in France, the stakes are high and all bets are off.
Mathieu Kassovitz (La Haine) makes a powerful comeback in front of and behind the camera with this violent thriller, based on true events.

Mattieu Kassovitz exploded onto the film scene in 1995 with seminal and somewhat controversial work  Le Haine or The Hate. This was actually his second feature, Métisse (1993) his first more difficult to track down outside of France and unfortunately still eludes me.

I remember not being overly enthusiastic about seeing Le Haine back in the day as a combination of its gritty colourless imagery, the liberal use of the word "controversial" in its marketing and the ideas behind Le Haine being hijacked as justification for seemingly mindless mob behaviour - as a response for everything wrong in the world.  Bear in mind I lived through the final decade of Apartheid in South Africa so the impact of socio cultural tension in Paris was somewhat diminished in my world. All of this alluded to a dark film - the antithesis of the lightness my brethren and I would rather seek.

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Rebellion French Special Forces turn up the heat

When I finally saw Le Haine I was blown away and surprised at how wrong I was, it was completely engaging and as far away from the slap in the face, nihilistic filmmaking I was expecting - it is first and foremost entertaining tale with a powerful message of social conscience and a loud beating heart at its core.

With Le Haine Kassovitz pays homage to the stylistic tropes of The Battle of Algiers and compacts the time frame to a single day - as we follow three close young inner city friends on their adventure in Paris, set to the backdrop of rising cultural tension as Paris is set to burn. Regarding the off putting black & white marketing for Le Haine it truly is a case of less is more and and its simplicity has become timeless and emotively powerful.

Rewatching Kassovitz's films, a body of work that impressively spans the spectrum of film genres from; the hit man drama Assassins(s), a dark crime thriller that reunites him with Actor Vincent Cassel - Crimson Rivers, an American ghost tale - Gothika and a fantastical sci fi tale story of earth's near dystopian future - Babylon A.D.

Whilst Kassovitz's film may not please everyone it is very apparent that the traits Kassovitz exhibited early on with Le Haine are no fluke and Mathieu Kassovitz is an auteur, one of those rare talents that has an uncanny understanding of the medium of film allowing him to masterfully convey ideas through his stories in universal and compelling ways. Combining his storytelling ability with his artist's eye for dynamic and engaging visuals adds depth, mood and allure to accentuate his tales.

He underpins all of his works with an old fashioned and subtle entertainment factor a skill that the French pioneered and many filmmakers are unable to hone or completely forgo in attempt to bluntly shock or be provocative. More importantly Kassovitz understands that at the heart of any good story are the human interests that bind us all together. It is this understanding that allows him to bring his own special charm to the many roles he has played in films in films like; Jakob the Liar, Birthday Girl , MunichHaywire and Amelie for some of biggest talents in show business.

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Rebellion Mathieu Kassovitz as Philippe Legorjus
Flash forward some 16 years and Mathieu Kassovitz returns to his roots with the  powerful and shocking Rebellion which plays like a compelling companion piece to The Battle Of Algiers and Le Haine. As well as producing, writing, directing and editing RebellionMathieu Kassovitz also plays the lead character - Capitaine du GIGN Philippe Legorjus an empathetic, resourceful and honourable anti terrorist specialist, the everyman caught in a complex web who becomes increasingly desperate as he tries to negotiate a peaceful resolution between the Kanak Separatists and the French Authorities as the situation escalates.

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Rebellion Mathieu Kassovitz as Philippe Legorjus and local administrator Jean Bianconi Alexandre Steiger
For me Rebellion works on three levels:

- The ingenious way Kassovitz roles out the narrative of the story is as good as cinema gets. This is not hyperbole - in terms of narrative structure and plot devices for the first two acts of Rebellion it is as near to perfect as a film can get.

Kassovitz revisits techniques that he has previously explored in his works - playing with time and mood  - by starting the story in the midst of a tension fraught scene, then suddenly unravelling the tension as we move back in time, slowly the film counts down as he and meticulously builds the tension to a near fever pitch climax as we follow Capitaine Philippe Legorjus (Mathieu Kassovitz) trying to resolve the explosive situation as he feels the world closing in on him.

For a good part of the film, each scene ends revealing something contrary to our expectations and going deeper into a complex weave of machinations, that starts on a micro level (like the movements of the on the ground troops and separatists), slowly pulling the camera back allowing us to see more of the decision making chain that reveals a darkly disturbing vision of the bigger picture. The way Kassovitz goes about this is the genius of Rebellion. As it not only makes for compelling viewing but leads us on an engaging trail worthy of a great detective story.

As much as I enjoyed Rebellion it is not a perfect film and its biggest weakness is that whilst the first 2/3s of the film are magnificent as we transition into the final act things get a bit messy I suspect that the intention was to to emulate Capitaine Philippe Legorjus's increasingly distressed state of mind, after multiple viewing this may work better as I believe this is part of Kassovitz's message about good people in bad situations (like war) and it may work better for others off the bat but even though I understood what was going on I felt it was a little deflated as I had to pull out of the film and try work out why the transition was so awkwardly handled.

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Rebellion Kanak Leader & Philippe Legorjus (Mathieu Kassovitz) discuss the situation

- I have already expounded upon Kassovitz's visual skills and Rebellion is a fine piece of filmmaking. He makes good use of sound to engage the audience during attention grabbing scenes as well as to enhance the mood as it builds to its climax. The quality and sharpness of visuals is what you would expect from state of the art digital filmmaking and makes me wonder why anyone who is shooting in digital doesn't aim for the same level of crispness.  The New Caledonia islands are a paradise, seeing the machinery of war invade paradise is visually reminiscent of Apocalypse Now and The Thin Red Line but after setting the scene Kassovitz focusses on the people at the heart of the story. I believe as a theme to building the tension as well as drawing parables to Legorjus' increasingly distressed state of mind we move from sweeping aerial and open cinematography towards smaller more personal shots as the situation gets more claustrophobic almost ending in a hole in the ground.

- My final thoughts are sadly more tragic as Rebellion works on a level of conscience. I intentionally went into the screening knowing very little about the film. I had no idea that the story was based on actual events, in fact much to my shame I had never even heard of the New Caledonia Islands. The whole way through the film I thought that Kassovitz had invented a decent theoretical parable of the mechanics of war and anchored it with compelling human drama. I thought it was good but what purpose would a making up something like this serve, as it is hypothetical?

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Rebellion French forces & Kanak face off Click to enlarge)
This is of course until the ending when it becomes apparent that the events in the film actually happened. Which was a bit of a wake up as I had almost voyeuristically watched an unbelievable and very dark episode of human nature at its worst. The fact that Kassovitz intentionally eschews from showing explicit violence does nothing to diminish the power of the message of Rebellion.

The islands of New Caledonia are a veritable lush paradise of natural beauty and colours, this combined with Kassovitz's portrayal of the Kanaks as a honourable people following old customs pushed too far by the legacy of colonialism paints a picture so far removed from the images that we see daily on TV of war torn countries filled with religious zealots that need to subjugated for our own protection makes the message of Rebellion all the more poignant and a powerful must see film.

Rebellion (L'ordre et la morale) is in cinemas from 19 April
Dissidents in a French colony attack a police station and take hostages.

Director: Mathieu Kassovitz
Writers: Mathieu Kassovitz, Benoît Jaubert, Pierre Geller
Stars: Mathieu Kassovitz, Iabe Lapacas, Malik Zidi


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