Dvd

Let­ter­box

The Weekend Australian - Review - - Film -

DVD Let­ter­box had the plea­sure of be­ing in the au­di­ence at the Palais des Fes­ti­vals when Mathieu Kasso­vitz’s La Haine pre­miered at the 1995 Cannes film fes­ti­val. You can imag­ine the ex­cite­ment as an­other lo­cal tyro an­nounced his ar­rival with a sec­ond fea­ture that was en­er­getic, top­i­cal and ter­rif­i­cally made.

His black-and-white mu­si­cal tale of life in the Parisian hous­ing es­tates crack­led and Cannes loved it, award­ing him the best di­rec­tor award.

One could only imag­ine what sort of di­rect­ing life he would have. As it hap­pens, it hasn’t been quite the di­rect­ing ca­reer most of us would have ex­pected. The French­man has been more con­tent act­ing, it ap­pears. He has di­rected only five features since then and, if one were to be un­fair, one might clas­sify them as pale im­i­ta­tions of the films Luc Bes­son di­rects. His sci-fi ad­ven­ture Baby­lon A.D., star­ring Vin Diesel, was medi­ocre, as was the ghost story Gothika, star­ring the un­likely trio of Halle Berry, Pene­lope Cruz and Robert Downey Jr.

In con­trast, Kasso­vitz’s lat­est, Re­bel­lion ( L’Or­dre et la Mo­rale) is a rev­e­la­tion.

The drama (M, Ea­gle Eye, 129min, $29.99), based on the events of 1988 when Kanak sep­a­ratists staged a mini-coup in the French colony of New Cale­do­nia, shows what Kasso­vitz can achieve left to his own de­vices. His ‘‘in­ter­na­tional’’ movies smack of be­ing made by a stu­dio com­mit­tee.

It is not a per­fect film, by any means, but Kasso­vitz crafts a com­pelling adap­ta­tion of Philippe Le­gor­jus’s book about his ex­ploits as a ne­go­tia­tor, and cap­tive, in a bloody event in which 19 sep­a­ratists were killed af­ter tak­ing 27 French po­lice as hostage.

Kasso­vitz wears his heart on his sleeve, of­fer­ing a sym­pa­thetic in­ter­pre­ta­tion of the sep­a­ratists, their mo­tives and, largely, their be­hav­iour, some­times to the point of earnest­ness.

This hasn’t won him many friends be­cause the event un­furled dur­ing the pres­i­den­tial elec­tion con­test be­tween con­ser­va­tive PM Jacques Chirac and in­cum­bent pres­i­dent Fran­cois Mit­ter­rand. The French domestic view at the time (and now) was un­com­pro­mis­ing: the sep­a­ratists de­served what they got.

Kasso­vitz and his char­ac­ter think oth­er­wise. Con­se­quently, I’m not sure he should have cast him­self as Le­gor­jus, the man of hon­our in a dis­hon­ourable squab­ble. His per­for­mance, the di­a­logue and over­all tone oc­ca­sion­ally lurch to­wards the earnest.

Oth­er­wise, Kasso­vitz con­structs a mean­ing­ful, if not broadly com­mer­cial, film. The pol­i­tics of the var­ied arms of the French forces are a lit­tle mud­died and char­ac­ter devel­op­ment not strong enough to reel in view­ers not al­ready in­volved in the po­lit­i­cal scrap.

His ren­der­ing of the bat­tles and ten­sion is con­vinc­ing, though, and Kasso­vitz throws in the oc­ca­sional stylis­tic flour­ish that makes a grubby sub­ject look en­tic­ing.

It’s not quite po­ten­tial ful­filled, but Re­bel­lion goes a long way to­wards mak­ing up for Mathieu Kasso­vitz’s pre­vi­ous di­rect­ing mis­steps.

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