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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
La Sentinelle is worth every minutes it lasts, including the decisive ones when the director voluntary mixes the sound track, and the editing, to get us lost. For this film is just as much about sensation as it is about the story of how a dead head was set in the luggage of a young man traveling from Achen to Paris.
As Matthias discovers the head and tries to understand the reasons why it was 'given' to him, he loses all his marks in the small world of Paris French diplomacy bourgeoisie which saw him grow up. A forensic student, he starts to study the head to reveal its pasts... the rest of the plot must not be told, but is worth any thriller.
The real interest of the film is the way it looks at sensations, physic sensations, the nose bleeding, the smoking, the hearing, and the way those sensations always tell us more about the reality than any plot telling would. La sentinelle is not only to be understood as the watcher. The sentinel was also the name given to the nose by the ancient Greeks, meaning the organ of the true sensation. And it is also interesting to quote Merleau Ponty: "The sentinel, this actual body I call mine, which stands silently while i speak and act" (very loose translation from French- 'L oeil et L esprit').
Given that quality, the film is a great thriller as well, the atmosphere is quite similar to the one depicted in 'Les Patriotes'.
Many friends were unhappy at the end of the film, thinking that the film was good but that it didn't give any clue to why and how the dead head was 'given' to Matthias. I do not believe this to be a drawback, this is just the mere consequence of Despleschin playing with our sensations to lose us at the most important part of the film, when all the explanation is given but not heard.
Truly a good reason to see the film a second time and beware.
I would recommend this film to anyone who enjoys unexpected scripts, and upsets.
Along with those qualities, Despleschin's film has just the same other qualities as his other films, great casting, great light, great tempo (pianissimo), great depiction of inter personal communication.
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