|Index||7 reviews in total|
A student in medicine finds a severed head, well preserved and embalmed, in his luggage, on a trip from Berlin to Paris. His father is the late French ambasador in Eastern Germany. Why the head is here ? Where does it come from ? Why him ? For what purpose? He doesn't know. At first, he forgets about the head and tries to make friends, builds his life and keep studying but... he soon becomes obsessed with the head. Since he is the only one to know then he bears the responsibility to find out why and for what... The movie starts slowly and gains in intensity as the story develops. The cast is remarkable and the characters are all touching. The magic of the movie is that it possesses the same complexity as a Dostoeivski novel (really). It works in a very subtle way, making its way unnoticed to your mind and memory... I did not like it the first time I saw it, but months after, years after, La Sentinelle came back haunt me... and I had to see it again, just like I sometimes read over again a book that has depths I missed the first time.
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.
Here are the elements you need to make sense of this film: 1) the initial scene in which a French diplomat tells an anecdote about Yalta which reveals how the big powers "cold-heartedly" disposed of the lives of millions according to the logic of Realpolitik; 2) the character of Bleicher, whose brother fought on the side of the Germans in a French SS unit on the Russian front, was captured, and died in a POW camp in the USSR; Bleicher remains obsessed with retrieving the remains of his brother, while the French State shows little interest in the matter; 3) the characters representing the French Secret Service (Varins & William Mahe'), who were involved in a scheme to smuggle Soviet engineers out of the USSR only to sell them into a kind of techno-slavery to countries interested in their services; 4) the head of one such Soviet engineer who got into some hot water in Sumatra (by putting the head in Mathias' suitcase, Bleicher wants Mathias to embarrass French intelligence). So what you get, in political terms, is a condemnation (rather oblique, admittedly) of big-power politics. So I suppose Desplechins would have been happier if, immediately at the conclusion of WWII, the US had declared war on the Soviet Union, dropped the atom bomb on Moscow, and "liberated" the peoples of Eastern Europe. If that's the director's idea of "humanistic" politics, I'll take Realpolitik any day. One distinctive note in this film: There's not one single character here who is "sympa": not Mathias (too much of a wuss), not his Jewish classmate (captious); certainly not the villains in the French secret service; not Mathias' sister (irritatingly capricious); not the son-of-diplomat diplomat (full of conceit); not even Emmanuelle Devos as Mathias' would-be girlfriend (not worth the trouble wooing her--she fusses much too much).
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
So this was Desplechin's first full length film.That makes sense to me
because it is his most obtuse.After the first 20 minutes, the words I
was using for my reaction to it were: 'strange' and 'too dark'
(visually darker than any film I can remember seeing but not seeing).
After I endured the film,my experience turned into a series of
questions about why? where? who? what? and did I mention why? Palmiro,
the author of the 'Spoilers' review helped explain a number of key
things but questions are still rolling around at my feet.The acting was
very good but everyone seemed disaffected and distant- from others,
themselves, and their audience. By the end of the film, I just didn't
care about any of them nor did I care about the political underpinnings
of the story, or about the director for that matter.
But then I realized that the reason I wanted to see this-was because I was finally impressed by one of his works, 2009's A Christmas Tale, which I recently saw and would like to re-watch.
From my perspective(and I am a huge French film fan)the ennui of his characters and the obtuseness of his 'plots' just do not make for a worthwhile cinematic experience.Do go see A Christmas Tale but don't bother with any of his other works, including La Sentinelle.I hope that A Christmas Tale will be the first of his "later, GOOD films" !!
"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
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.
A crackin' suspenseful espionage thriller that thankfully abstains from
using Hollywood-style explosions and multiple gunshots to maintain viewers
attention. It took me a while and numerous repeat viewings to appreciate
understand this movie, but it was worth the effort. The cast is flawless,
particularly Salinger and Todeschini as the reluctant hero and the
villain respectively, who both give galvanizing performances; fantastic
cinematography; and a chilling soundtrack which contributes beautifully to
the atmosphere- this is French cinema at its best. Mathias' relationship
with the head I found particularly compelling, although it may be a bit
eerie for all tastes
.Basically, if you want a subtle, thought provoking
film that doesn't signpost every clever detail, then this is for you.
However, if you are a blockbuster junkie, simply looking for entertainment then steer well clear; I know of only a (very small) handful of people who enjoyed this espionage tale, so beware, this ain't James Bond!
All in all, 7/10 for a thoroughly engrossing, realistic spy story.
Seeing this film one time will suffice. It was offbeat and at times a bit morbid, but I stuck with it and was glad I did. Not as slow as Antonioni's "Red Desert," which is my measuring stick for movies that make me want to scream, "Get on with it!" The acting was good with a youthful cast that brought credibility to this Parisian story.
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