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Film Review: Rebellion

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On the eve of the 1988 French presidential elections, a hostage event occurred that the French government would really rather forget.  On the tiny Ouvéa Island in the French colony of New Caledonia, Kanak separatists abducted 30 policemen, killing four in the process. Over 300 special-forces operatives were sent to the island from France to restore order but it was hoped that Philippe Legorjus and his elite counter-terrorism unit could negotiate a peaceful settlement.  As Mitterrand and Chirac battled it out to win the votes of the French electorate, the situation in Ouvéa became ever more political until the safety of the hostages was merely a vehicle for political points and gains.

Rebellion is the story of those two fateful weeks leading up to the resolution of the hostage crisis. This powerful French language film was first released to French audiences as L’ordre et la morale and stars Mathieu Kassovitz as Capitaine du GIGN Philippe Legorjus. Kassovitz appears behind the camera too and wrote and produced the film which is based on the novel La morale et l’action by Philippe Legorjus.

In the opening scenes of the film, it is clear that something has gone terribly wrong. A scene of intense horror rewinds slowly as Legorjus contemplates the sequence of events that lead to this point. It feels like the viewer is walking with Legorjus, taking in the scene through his eyes and this perspective remains throughout the film as the story is told from his point of view. It is an often oppressive, suffocating perspective yet profoundly effective.

The strength of Rebellion lies in its cinematography. From the moment that Legorjus catches sight of the island, we are greeted with sweeping views of enormous blue sky, vast ocean and windswept fields. It is a dizzying effect, one that makes the viewer feel very insignificant. On the ground you can almost feel the force of the winds and the stickiness of the jungle as a sense of apprehension and the impossibility of the task ahead builds.

In the course of his efforts, Philippe Legorjus comes to meet Alphonse Dianou (Iabe Lapacas), the leader of the Kanak rebels at the heart of the hostage drama.  Much of the film revolves about the delicate relationship that evolves between these two men and the understanding they comes to reach. This is a subtle film with few outward displays of action or violence and the relationship between Legorjus and Dianou is communicated accordingly, with great dependence on the visual and unspoken. 

Kassovitz and Lapacas handle their roles with mastery and gave outstanding performances. This is especially notable as this is Iabe Lapacas’s debut role.  The casting director found Iabe during a search for Kanak actors living in France but it turns out he was studying to be a lawyer. Apparently he had no aspirations of becoming an actor but clearly he is a natural.

It is rare that a film with such intense focus on the main characters will allow any development of the remaining cast but Rebellion achieves just this with an outstanding supporting cast.  Special mention goes to Malik Zidi and Alexandre Steiger in their roles as JP Perrot and Jean Bianconi but there are equally impressive performances from Daniel Martin, Jean-Philippe Puymartin and Philippe de Jacquelin Dulphé.

Rebellion is breathtaking and devastating in its realism. This film consumed me, immersing me in its tragedy from the opening scenes and it was playing through my head long after the film was over. My concerns about watching a film of this calibre with subtitles were overcome and I would certainly recommend this film to viewers seeking a superior viewing experience.

Rebellion brings an important historical event to our screens with fantastic cinematography and excellent performances. It opens April 19, 2013 in cinemas across the UK.

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About Mandy Southgate

Mandy Southgate is a blogger, serial expat and eternal tourist living and working in London. Aside from writing at Blogcritics, she blogs about travel and London at Emm in London, entertainment and media at Addicted to Media and war crimes, genocide and social justice over at A Passion to Understand.