Dan­ger zone

an un­usual job in un­usual cir­cum­stances is what Spe­cial Forces is all about.

The Star Malaysia - Star2 - - MOVIES -

FRENCH film­maker Stéphane Ry­bo­jad was di­rect­ing a doc­u­men­tary about the Spe­cial Forces of the French army back in 2005. This not only gave him ac­cess to some of the most in­ter­est­ing ma­te­rial, but in the course of re­search­ing for the doc­u­men­tary, he be­came in­ter­ested in study­ing the young peo­ple who vol­un­teer to be part of the Spe­cial Forces and are forced to keep their lives a se­cret even from their fam­i­lies and clos­est friends. On top of that, those who make the tough rounds must con­tinue to hone their skills for 10 years be­fore they are con­sid­ered ma­ture enough to go on the coun­try’s most high-risk and sen­si­tive op­er­a­tions.

Since Ry­bo­jad has al­ways been in­ter­ested in mak­ing films, he started work­ing on a screen­play about a Spe­cial Forces unit sent to free a jour­nal­ist taken hostage in Afghanistan.

In an in­ter­view tran­script pro­vided by the film dis­trib­u­tor, Rain­film, the idea of a jour­nal­ist taken prisoner is some­thing that hap­pens in real life and only too of­ten.

He said: “That’s a sad truth. It’s a pro­fes­sion I know well. We have a news di­vi­sion in our pro­duc­tion com­pany. We send jour­nal­ists to the four cor­ners of the world, in­clud­ing the­atres of war like Afghanistan, and there’s al­ways a mo­ment when you’re wor­ried about them. They’re friends, we know their wives, we know their kids, it’s hard to re­main calm. And you’re al­ways happy when the guys come home.

“I re­alised one day that the anx­i­ety of hav­ing jour­nal­ists in dif­fi­cult places was the same as that of the fam­i­lies of sol­diers who also get sent to dif­fi­cult spots. What’s more, jour­nal­ists and sol­diers are obliged to be smart and work to­gether on the ground. They need each other, de­spite the fact that their mis­sions are very dif­fer­ent.

“These are two worlds that I know very well. So all of that made me want to make this movie. The main job of Spe­cial Forces isn’t of course go­ing to res­cue hostages or pris­on­ers, but they have the best ex­pe­ri­ence, the best knowl­edge, the best prepa­ra­tion to do it. They have both the skills and the means. I came up with the pitch very quickly.

“At the same time, this story is as old as the hills, or in any case as old as lit­er­a­ture. It is the six valiant knights who are go­ing to save the princess who’s been cap­tured by the Black Prince and who, to suc­ceed in their mis­sion, must cross the evil for­est in peril of their lives. Ex­cept that I tran­scribed it to a con­tem­po­rary con­text and the evil for­est has be­come the Hi­malayas. It’s The Searchers, The Mag­nif­i­cent Seven. It’s a tale of a tough chal­lenge – a lost cause, even – that comes down to a sim­ple con­cept: sac­ri­fice. As with the knights of old, sac­ri­fice is those guys’ job.”

Play­ing the jour­nal­ist is none other than Ger­man ac­tress Diane Kruger who was im­me­di­ately at­tracted to the sub­ject mat­ter and the ad­ven­ture the shoot would en­tail. She said: “I was also drawn by the char­ac­ter of this ded­i­cated jour­nal­ist. I did a lot of re­search and I met many of these ex­cep­tional women. I was im­pressed by their com­mit­ment, es­pe­cially in coun­tries like Afghanistan. They are con­stantly obliged to ne­go­ti­ate. They are both fear­less and vul­ner­a­ble. It may be pretty tough for them but they’re al­ways ready to go back into the fray.”

Her char­ac­ter Elsa ar­rives in Afghanistan de­ter­mined to do her job, hop­ing that she would help in lib­er­at­ing Afghan women. But she soon re­alises that things are not as easy as that in the real world. Things get es­pe­cially harsh when she comes right in the mid­dle of a cross­fire.

To en­sure the au­di­ence is not cheated out of the harsh­ness of a war-torn land­scape, Ry­bo­jad trav­elled with his cast and crew to Ta­jik­istan, a coun­try bor­der­ing Afghanistan and re­sem­bling its neigh­bour (in­stead of the safer op­tion of Morocco).

The di­rec­tor knew that by get­ting as close to the land­scape as pos­si­ble, it would change the mind­set of those work­ing on the project and they can be to­tally im­mersed with the story. He ex­plained: “I also knew that it would pay off in terms of the images. I wanted to make some­thing spec­tac­u­lar.

“Well be­fore the film­ing, I went to shoot some footage in Kabul and I spent five or six days there for ini­tial lo­ca­tion scout­ing. I wanted to see if it was pos­si­ble to take 65 French peo­ple there, in­clud­ing ac­tors. When I came back, deep down I was con­vinced it would be OK. I knew it was go­ing to be complicated on a day-to-day ba­sis, but that it was re­ally go­ing to be worth it be­cause each lit­tle peak you go over is mag­nif­i­cent, each face you see in the street could only ex­ist there. We filmed for five weeks in Ta­jik­istan, then we went for three weeks to Dji­bouti (desert) to film the start of the ad­ven­ture and the end, when we’re in the low val­ley, and we fin­ished with a week on Mont Blanc for the high moun­tain scenes.”

Be­sides the story and the lo­ca­tion, an­other thing that came to­gether for Ry­bo­jad was the cast mak­ing up the Spe­cial Forces unit. He needed ac­tors who are able to en­dure the phys­i­cal as­pect of the shoot. You know things like “travel 20 hours non-stop in a 4x4, to sleep in yurts, to eat what­ever was avail­able, to climb to 4,000m in al­ti­tude”.

Luck­ily for Ry­bo­jad, he knew an army guy to toughen up the ac­tors and some of the ac­tors were al­ready tough like Alain Figlarz is a stunt spe­cial­ist; Denis Méno­chet (of In­glou­ri­ous Bas­terds) has the physique of a rugby player and Raphaël Per­son­naz, the new­bie with the en­ergy. Also they went on a week-long com­mando course for Marines, and where the real Spe­cial Forces trains as well.

“For their part, the ac­tors felt as if they were ar­riv­ing on an­other planet. But soon they were all get­ting along. Right away they got into the spirit of the thing, they un­der­stood the mech­a­nisms of sol­i­dar­ity and team­work. They were very cu­ri­ous and at­ten­tive, and soaked it all up like sponges. The Spe­cial Forces was sur­prised by their ca­pac­ity to ab­sorb things, and the ease with which they could re­pro­duce their be­hav­iour. The more the ac­tors soaked it up, the higher the Spe­cial Forces set the bar. Un­til, on the fifth day, I gave them the green light to raise it even fur­ther.

“One night, 20 guys in hel­mets and hoods showed up by sur­prise where the ac­tors were stay­ing. They caught them, dragged them to the ground, tied their hands be­hind their backs and threw flash and stun grenades. It was a hell of a shock. It was just a way of say­ing to them: ‘They’re nice guys, but don’t for­get they do a rather un­usual job in rather un­usual cir­cum­stances.’” – Mumtaj Begum Spe­cial Forces in­vades cine­mas on Thurs­day.

Brink of dan­ger: diane Kruger plays jour­nal­ist elsa who is kid­napped by the Tal­iban in the movie

Spe­cial­forces.

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