Reviewed by GREG KING
Director: Mathieu Kassovitz
Stars: Mathieu Kassovitz, Iabe Lapacas, Malik Zidi, Alexandre Steiger, Daniel Martin, Phillippe Torreten, Sylvie Testud.
Rebellion is based on the real life hostage crisis that happened in Ouvea, an island off New Caledonia, in April 1988.
It is the lead up to the general election in France, and the campaign between the more moderate left-wing Mitterand and the right-wing Chirac is heating up. But in the French territory of New Caledonia a group of indigenous Kanak dissidents seeking independence attack a couple of gendarme stations and take 20 hostages. The government sends in its special forces, and the elite GIGN (Hostage Negotiation Group), led by its top negotiator Philippe Legorjus (Mathieu Kassovitz).
While the top brass discuss various strategies, Legorjus tries to negotiate with the terrorists. Legorjus eventually manages to establish a relationship with Alphonse Dianou (Iabe Lapacas), the leader of the Kanaks. They attempt to find a peaceful solution based on common values and dialogue. Legorjus has ten days in which to negotiate a peaceful solution before the gung-ho military take control of the situation. But then the politicians get involved, demanding the uprising is quelled and the hostages freed before the voters go to the polls.
However, the opening scenes of the film show us that things ended badly, and through a series of extended flashbacks we learn what happened. The film is based on a book about these events written by Legorjus himself, and is critical of the politics of imperialism, the posturing of the politicians, and the unnecessary loss of lives. The siege is still regarded as one of the most controversial military actions in French history.
Actor turned director Kassovitz has worked closely with Legorjus himself to fashion the screenplay. Kassovitz tells the story in a straightforward chronological manner, moving through events as the deadline approaches. He brings a visceral quality and a documentary like realism to the material, with hand held cameras that takes us into the thick of things. This brings a sense of chaos and confusion to proceedings. Kassovitz also indulges in some visually interesting directorial flourishes, especially in the opening smoky scenes of the aftermath of ferocious combat, and the scene where a policemen describes how the attack took place, which places himself and Legorjus in the middle of the action.
As a director Kassovitz is probably best known for 1996’s La Haine, the incendiary drama which looked at the violence and youth gangs in a high rise tenement block in Paris, while his Hollywood movies like Gothika and Babylon AD were flops. While certainly uncompromising in its approach and there is no doubting Kassovitz’s passion for the project, Rebellion seems to lack the same sense of outrage and anger. Kassovitz seems keen to maintain some balance, and shows the story from both from the French and Kanak viewpoints. And it is also a little too long, and this dilutes some of its impact.
Kassovitz and cinematographer Marc Koninckx create a wonderful contrast between the postcard-like beauty of this tropical paradise (although much of it was actually filmed in Polynesia) and the very real savagery and violence of the situation. Klaus Badelt’s percussive score further adds to the tension and mounting sense of dread.
Apart from Kassovitz himself, most of the cast comprises largely unknown performers, which adds to the verisimilitude.
The original French title, L’ordre et la Morale, is much more potent, and indicative of the film’s themes of violence, law, and military might.