(Matthieu Kassovitz, 2011)
Kassovitz's return to directing after his disastrous adventure in Hollywood with Babylon AD is this canny political thriller-cum-action movie, based on a real incident in the South Western Pacific French Territory of New Caledonia in the 1980s. The writer-director plays the main character, a Captain in the GIGN (basically the French equivalent of the SAS) who is dispatched to New Caledonia to negotiate the release of some local Gendarmes who have been taken hostage by Kanak rebels and are being held in the jungle. Except a key presidential election is only days away and this little conflict becomes just another way of scoring political points. The Army gets involved, human rights get trampled beneath jackboots, and the chance for negotiation starts to recede.
This portrayal of the way Politics directly affect human lives is probably the most impressive aspect of the film. Much of the central section involves Kassovitz's character in meetings, on the phone, arguing for communication instead of violence. A turning point is the moment he watches Mitterand and Chirac use and distort the reality of the situation in a televised debate, which is itself distorted by the camera, finding the pixelised faces in ultra-tight close-up, the voices thick through the tv speakers. Its from that point that he knows that violence is inevitable. The French military structure is cleverly depicted; a General who is quite aware of how he is a political pawn is nonetheless gung ho and eager for his men to find some combat, unwilling to cede any ground to the "terrorists". The despair of the more sympathetic gendarmes and GIGN men is vividly felt. Kassovitz ensures topical relevance with the references to the French Governments refusal to negotiate with terrorists, too.
All this would be uninteresting if not for the thriller aspects; an opening flash forward tells us that all ends badly, and from there on, an onscreen countdown (D-Day -10 etc) and the ominous rhythms of Klaus Badelt's score keep the tension high. But perhaps not quite high enough; despite the evident sincerity behind Rebellion, it is ever-so-slightly plodding. Kassovitz was once a director whose films burned with the ecstasy of cinema (La Haine is one big whoop of joy at the possibilities and excitement of the medium itself) but here he seems to be channelling a middling 1970s military drama. There is little visual excitement or lyricism, as Kassovitz opts to maintain a realist gaze, but his script is not rigourous enough for that to work. The early procedural sequences of the GIGN travelling to and arriving in New Caledonia and encountering the army are the best passages in the film; confident, pacy and gritty. The problems begin once our hero - and the film - gets bogged down in political networking and machinations. It gets baggy and (undoubtedly intentionally) repetitive, but essentially loses the punch of the intense jungle sequences. Even those start to drag once the scrupulously even-handed script shows us some of the tribal politics of the Kanaks themselves. This film is too careful, too sober, too earnest.
And that exciting director who made La Haine, what happened to him, I wonder? Did the grind of big action filmmaking with Vin Diesel crush the joy from him? Tellingly, he shows up twice in Rebellion. Two action scenes, one a recreation of the initial assault, broken down step-by-step by a witness, in a scene reminiscent of a moment in Three Kings. And the final assault, recalling 84 Charlie Mopic, Children of Men and a thousand video games as in a long, gruelling, disorienting single shot we follow close by Kassovitz as the confusion and terror of a firefight breaks out in the jungle. In those moments, Rebellion feels exciting, even impassioned. For too much of the rest, it feels choked on its own sincerity.