April 1988, Ouvea island, New Caledonia. 30 policemen held hostage by a group of Kanak separatists. 300 soldiers sent from France to restore order. 2 men face to face: Philippe Legorjus, captain of the GIGN and Alphonse Dianou, head of the hostage takers. Through shared values, they will try to win the dialogue. But in the midst of a presidential election, when the stakes are political, order is not always dictated by morality.Written by
The GIGN is the Groupe d'intervention de la Gendarmerie nationale ("National Gendarmerie Intervention Group"). It is a special operations unit of the French National Gendarmerie, set up in 1973 after the massacre at the MunIch Olympic Games. See more »
Photographs of the actual event, as well as press photos and photos of the real people, are shown during the initial credits. See more »
This based-on-fact docu-drama about a 1988 hostage crisis in tropical French New Caledonia was apparently a pet project of some years prior for director/producer/writer and lead actor, Mathieu Kassovitz. In bringing the issue to the screen he bases the story around and himself plays, the chief gendarme GIGN Captain Philippe Legorjus, who with his unit and 300 French soldiers are sent out to quell an uprising occurring after local separatists took over a police station. In doing so the militant Kanaks killed four police officers and took hostages.
There is no doubting the film is extremely well made. The aerial footage of the Pacific islands and their oceanic surrounds is outstanding. Kassovitz has clearly attempted to frame his story around many of the known facts following the uprising, as a number of real life photos screened post credits attests to. In telling his story Kassovitz focuses tightly on investigative procedure as Legorius works to extract those captured, while doing to his best to avoid further angering locals sympathetic to the militants' causes.
However the focus on the procedure is too tight. This is a long film, which feels longer, arguably because of the insertion of too much in the way of procedural facts. We understand very early on that the army and police see very different solutions to an affair that is vexing their French political masters, who face a general election in the near future. We don't need continual repetition of the same sort of thematic details. What is surprisingly lacking in the film is any real backgrounding to the events leading up to the uprising. We only pick up random details from some of the supporting local Kanak characters, as the story plods slowly along in a countdown of days before a somewhat chaotic jungle battle, where the insurgent group are overpowered and suffer heavy casualties.
Kassovitz is unflinching in adopting Legorius's critical perspective of the affair. That's fair enough, it is his film. At the same time, in his portrayal, he does demonstrate that Legorius wasn't necessarily the most heroic and wise leader of his men. We do see him doing some really odd things for a commander of an elite police unit. It's not a great surprise, though unmentioned in the post credits information scroll, that he was essentially sacked from his job after collective pressure from his subordinates, on returning to France.
Rebellion is an admirable and sometime interesting offering from Kassovitz on the negative influence of French colonial power in the Pacific, but a good deal of judicious editing was needed to fashion a more involving and entertaining film. For those interested in a non-spoiler follow-up to this 2011 release, a referendum was held in 2018, which resulted in quite a comprehensive defeat for the pro-independence movement.
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