The Search: An anti-war message after the battle
by Fabien Lemercier
- CANNES 2014: Michel Hazanavicius breaks the indifference towards the Chechnya tragedy in an ambitious melodrama which doesn’t escape all of the pitfalls of the genre
Denouncing the vicious cycle of armed conflict, blind violence carried out against civilian populations, the subjugation of soldiers to inhumanity and the guilty caution of international diplomacy, all while emphasising the selflessness of humanitarian organisations and of the protection of human rights, is an honourable intent by French director Michel Hazanavicius, who could have been content with hitting the jackpot risk-free after the triumph of The Artist [+see also:
interview: Michel Hazanavicius
film profile]. With The Search [+see also:
Q&A: Michel Hazanavicius
film profile], unveiled in competition at the 67th Cannes Film Festival, the director fulfils to perfection his role as messenger of a just cause, but the film’s vast ambitions produce a paradoxical outcome with an ensemble of an undeniable truthfulness identifying nonetheless an indescribable impression of something artificial, very strong contrasting scenes, moving and/or compelling, and others which are rendered a little repetitive by the desire to say a lot and to drive the point home. Below the great expectations of some and eagerly awaited by the envious, the film nevertheless has great scope by intertwining the trajectories around three main characters at the heart of the cycle of an endless war. And the very consumer-like element of its packaging does not erase the accuracy of the message which appears in the eyes of a child sucked into the vortex of gratuitous and unpunished crimes.
"Welcome to a big, shitty country: Chechnya." The screen of an amateur video camera displays the date of 16/10/99, and the voice of a Russian soldier comments live on the atrocities committed (to the cries of "Long live the Great Russia") against villagers ironically classed as terrorists (and treated like "pigs") before they are coldly slaughtered. From his window, Hadji (Abdul Khalim Mamatsuevi), a nine-and-a-half-year-old boy witnesses the murder of his parents. He holds in his arms his younger brother, a baby. Escaping from the soldiers, he roams the streets, hiding from the army tanks. Totally destitute, he ends up abandoning his brother on the porch of a house, which he checks before fleeing to make sure that it’s inhabited by Chechnyans. Dumbfounded, he is then thrust into the exodus of local populations as far as Nazran, in Ingushetia, in the territory of the Russian Federation, where the French Carole (Bérénice Bejo) is gathering testimonies for the European Union Human Rights Committee. The fates of Hadji and of Carole will cross and win out, while the oldest sister of the young boy desperately searches for him, going as far as the local Red Cross mission led by Helen (Annette Benning). From check-points to refugee camps, from the wanderings of the orphan haunted by the fear of soldiers to Carole’s phone calls in her attempts to shake up European political bureaucracy, the film portrays distress and the baby steps towards living again. But it also plunges into the side of the Russian army with Kolia's (Maxim Emelianov) initiation into the war, a character forcibly enlisted in order to avoid prison for possession of cannabis and who will brutally learn to give up his principles to enter the Hades of the conflict. An eternal hell of which Michel Hazanavicius lays bare the consequences in a style admittedly founded on sentimentality, but of which the humanism cannot be denied.
(Translated from French)