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11 out of 15 people found the following review useful:

Dark, haunting story about memory and growing up

10/10
Author: jfurioli_2000 from New York
18 January 2001

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.

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10 out of 14 people found the following review useful:

When a corpse tells a story...

10/10
Author: sebastiensicot
17 January 2002

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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9 out of 15 people found the following review useful:

An attempted "explication"**SPOILER**

6/10
Author: palmiro from Chicago United States
2 August 2002

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).

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2 out of 2 people found the following review useful:

I Do Not Get It Nor Do I Care

5/10
Author: film_ophile from boston mass. usa
21 December 2009

*** 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" !!

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7 out of 14 people found the following review useful:

Slow moving, but well worth sticking with

Author: maxshreck from Ireland
12 May 2002

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 and understand this movie, but it was worth the effort. The cast is flawless, particularly Salinger and Todeschini as the reluctant hero and the loathsome 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.

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3 out of 8 people found the following review useful:

The pace was slow, but the plot was clever and Mr. Salinger was quite believable in the protagonist's role.

7/10
Author: dc1-1 (dan.charnas@gmail.com) from Ossining, NY
12 November 2001

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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