A Violent Life: The rule of blood
by Fabien Lemercier
- CANNES 2017: Thierry de Peretti straddles the dangerous and opaque border between Corsican nationalism and crime with a realist, crepuscular film
“Those fat Gauls, they do not understand anything, they are in Paris, they don’t know what they are talking about.” The blurry has always ruled between the continent and Corsica, and since the move to armed conflict by the FLNC (National Liberation Front of Corsica) in 1976, multiple dissident events, fratricidal wars and the growing shadow of serious crime have only reinforced the opacity that national media manage to pierce just once in a while by reporting about nights turned blue by explosives and other murders that mark the existence of the island. A dense fog in which Thierry de Peretti decided to immerse himself to untangle a few strands with his second feature film A Violent Life [+see also:
film profile], shown in a special screening at the Critics' Week within the 70th Cannes Film Festival.
Keeping to his anti-sensationalist goal (with a cast of only local actors and a down-to-earth style) like in Les Apaches [+see also:
film profile] (Directors’ Fortnight 2013), the filmmaker slowly but surely provides the pieces to a puzzle filled with dark areas, creating the image of a Corsican independence movement that has seen invisible manoeuvres, reconciliations, conflicts and betrayal, which end in blood as they bubble to the surface. Through the symbolic journey over five years of Stéphane (Jean Michelangeli), an 18-year old Corsican student whose friendship with a small group of delinquents lands him in prison in 1997 for accepting to carry a bag of weapons on a ferry, A Violent Life raises a corner of the veil shrouding a political radicalism that is like quicksand.
The film begins in Paris in 2001, when Stéphane learns of the death of a relative and decides to “not be a coward” and return to the Isle of Beauty for the funeral. It then (in a script written by the director with Guillaume Bréaud) jumps in a flashback to Bastia, to the prison where the young man allows himself to be seduced by the independentist discourse of his prison mates, especially by the leader François (“everybody cheats, we must turn the tables”). After his release, Stéphane acts as an intermediary between his criminal friends who agree to work for this new nationalist movement, albeit without any “official” role and with the freedom to continue their illegal activities (“racketeering, coke or the rest”). This grey area permits the small group to create explosive chaos on demand, but also leads to them stepping on the toes of other hidden, Mafia forces trying to gain control of the island’s economy – something that does not escape François (“it could become Sicily, there are a number of the ingredients”) who is soon threatened. Yet if their leader falls, the fate of Stéphane and his friends will be sealed because they are mere pawns, puppets in a much bigger game…
Clinical representation of a mess and suggestive portrait of a highly impenetrable local panorama, A Violent Life allows the audience to slowly find its way in understanding the circumstances of the dominant conflictual macrocosm, by latching on to the individual journey of the idealistic protagonist who also does not have a very clear general overview of the threats contained in the triangular relation of Independentists/State/Crime. A bias that is accentuated by the hallmark harsh photography of Claire Mathon makes the film quite cryptic but no less fascinating.
(Translated from French)
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