The Great Game: "Letter from afar" and manipulation
by Fabien Lemercier
- An operation of political sabotage for André Dussollier and Melvil Poupaud. A promising debut feature by Nicolas Pariser
"My work consists in providing various services. It’s quite complicated. The Republic works largely thanks to us." "The public sphere doesn’t exist: we guide it, we shape it with little tweaks here and there. It’s merely the visible part of a network of economic and strategic influence." Such is the credo of one of the protagonists of the debut feature film by Nicolas Pariser, The Great Game [+see also:
film profile], which was unveiled at Locarno, presented yesterday in the Playtime section of the 7th Les Arcs European Film Festival and will be released tomorrow by Bac Films in French cinemas, a promising debut piece which rather delicately navigates the mysteries of the misinformation of the secret back rooms of the State and the portrait of a young forty-something man forced to exceed the faded revolutionary delusions of his youth.
Pierre (Melvil Poupaud) got a taste of success ten years ago with his debut novel, which he has since failed to follow up on. Divorced, out of work, broke and alone, he lives in a small room like most Parisians, with a blasé scorn for the world that doesn’t even spare his ex-wife: "at the age of 20, it makes you look like Rimbaud, at 40, like a filthy old bachelor".
This state of limbo is cut short by Joseph (André Dussollier), a friendly and scheming man, who he meets seemingly by chance. But this is not the case, as Pierre soon discovers over the course of their subsequent encounters. Joseph has a plan: "a modern State is under constant tension. There’s fighting between opposing factions. We’re on the brink of an invisible war. Insider knowledge… In the weeks to come, I’m going to wipe out the Minister of the Interior and his allies." The role he envisages for Pierre in all of this? To write a book calling for rebellion with just one condition: that he condemn violence and encourage sabotage. A paid mission that the writer, familiar with small extreme-left groups in his youth, accepts and carries out, publishing the "Letter from afar" under the pseudonym of Censor. But as Joseph "can’t stop playing" his carefully thought-out game, the whole affair quickly becomes dangerous for Pierre, who must hide himself in a community of left-wingers and then flee to England, without actually managing to escape the danger...
By tackling the political spy thriller genre, of which there is very little tradition in French film, Nicolas Parisier, who was clearly inspired by the Tarnac Affair (which hit the headlines in 2008) succeeds in creating an arrythmical mix of fanciful adventures (reference to Stevenson) and muted atmospheres, alternating silent and peaceful sequences, long and dense dialogue, and sudden action scenes. Drawing the best out of his two excellent actors, well supported in particular by Sophie Cattani, the film reveals a filmmaker with a honed sense of rhythm who gives his plot a certain "intellectual" depth without trying to explain everything. An attraction to contrasting areas of light and dark that certainly explains some of the shortcuts in the script of no consequence, and will stand the director in good stead for his career, which we are eager to see unfold.
(Translated from French)