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Mathias, whose dead father was a diplomat in Germany, decides to study the forensic medicine in Paris. In the train, he has some troubles with the border police, and is insulted and threatened by a strange man, who disappeared quickly. Next day, he discovers in his luggage a shrunken human head. He soons becomes fascinated by it, feeling responsible (sentry of the memory of the head's owner) and starts his own investigation. What will leads him to cope with French secret services. Written by
From a shrunken head, pathologist Emmanuel Salinger hunts for an unknown man
"La Sentinelle" (1992) is a very well-done picture set in 1978 or so. Emmanuel Salinger plays a graduate of a medical school in Germany who is returning to Paris after a long absence (7-8 years). He takes up a residency in his specialty, pathology and forensics. His father was a diplomat in East Germany and he is traveling with a young diplomat, very full of himself, played by Thibault de Montalembert. On the train, Salinger is singled out and subjected to an interrogation that seems to come to naught. However, in Paris he discovers that a shrunken head has been placed in his luggage. After an abortive attempt to find the customs people who seem to have been responsible, he starts to apply his forensic knowledge to the head in an effort to determine whom it belonged to.
Salinger's sister in Paris (Marianne Denicourt) is with a singing troupe that travels to Russia. Through her father, she knows Montalembert and a government intelligence agent (Bruno Todeschini) who, by no coincidence, becomes Salinger's roommate. Salinger befriends Fabrice Desplechin (the director's brother), who advises him to give it to the cops. But Salinger feels responsible and suspects that nothing would come of that in the bureaucratic maze.
The picture does an excellent job of introducing us to the world of pathology. There is one excellent post mortem sequence, and subsequent scenes show Salinger's analysis of the head. The film also very capably introduces us to the circle around Salinger's sister. They tend to be cliquish. One who is friendly and quite trustworthy is played by Valérie Dréville.
The story itself widens into a broader mystery and conspiracy so that it can be called a political neo-noir. Salinger is evidently seeking knowledge or is on a path to discovering knowledge unexpectedly that certain people want to stay buried.
The movie's 139 minutes in length, but it's very well-paced and held my interest throughout. It doesn't dot every i and cross every t, and it doesn't provide a lot of exposition or explanation of everything. We as viewers participate in much of what Salinger experiences, and that includes some of the people he meets who are either secretive or on the odd side in what they say. Although the mystery is at least partly resolved and Salinger makes some attempt to follow through on what he has learned, we are left with a very uneasy feeling about what he has accomplished and what comes next.
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