The White Knights: behind good intentions
by Alfonso Rivera
- SAN SEBASTIAN 2015: Belgian director Joachim Lafosse reconstructs a shocking real-life event with a punchy film bordering on documentary, adventure and a social exposé
When a viewer is kept on the edge of their seat for two hours, wondering how the story playing out on the screen before them will turn out, the director can consider himself satisfied. Many Frenchmen will perhaps vividly recall the scandal portrayed in The White Knights [+see also:
interview: Joachim Lafosse
film profile], the sixth feature film of Joachim Lafosse – being screened in the official competition of the 63rd San Sebastian Film Festival after competing in the Platform section of the 40th Toronto Film Festival – but this is not the case for this humble writer. I was completely unprepared the way this story develops and concludes, and surprise and astonishment are the two words that perhaps best sum up my reaction.
The skilful Lafosse, an expert in rubbing salt in the wound of our civilised society that so firmly sees itself as a model for others (just think of two other gems of his, Private Property [+see also:
film profile] and Loving Without Reason [+see also:
interview: Joachim Lafosse
film profile]), went to Morocco to shoot The White Knights, which takes place in Chad: in the film, members of an NGO go there to bring war orphans under the age of five back to France, seeing as 300 future parents have paid €2,500 each to adopt one of these children. It seems to be good intentions that move these benevolent extremists to action. Armed with speeches and unshakable faith, they do everything they can to reach their objective, even if, in the midst of the trouble brewing within their ranks and on the outside, they have to trample over the most basic of moral principles in the process.
Once again, Lafosse takes a scalpel to morals (and their limits) here, carefully dissecting them. But he does so with such intelligence, finesse and rhythm that what initially seems like a film with a social message ends up becoming an adventure film, with a likeness to documentary but with the empathic strength of a fictional drama. The characters are so real, their disputes so recognisable and their conversations so credible that it’s like we’re there with them, in frantic Chad, sharing their blind and poisoned ideal.
Because sometimes, as pointed out between the lines by the Belgian director, behind the best intentions (the controversial right of intervention) lie narcissism, selfishness and emotional tyranny: with what force do we decide on what is best for another person? Why not ask the opinion of others before deciding their fates? Does everything really matter when you’re saving the world? The dark side of the superman of solidarity and NGOs emerges here in one of the most punchy, necessary, uncomfortable, blunt and emotional films in the official competition at San Sebastian 2015, which deserves to be included among the winners for its smart writing, bold approach and subtle and entertaining way of presenting us with questions, food for thought and conflicts that we thought taboo… until Lafosse came along.
The White Knights is a French-Belgian co-production (Versus Production and Les Films du Worso) written by Bulle Decarpentries, Thomas Van Zuylen and Lafosse himself, and stars the magnificent Vincent Lindon, Louise Bourgoin, Reda Kateb and Valérie Donzelli. International sales are being handled by Parisian company Indie Sales.
(Translated from Spanish)