Mathieu Kassovitz was one of the darlings of the European film world when his landmark film La Haine was released in the mid 1990′s. One of few modern films I was ever shown during studying for my Film Studies degree in the mid 00′s, it hit the film world like a bit of a nuclear bomb, perfectly summing up the positives and negatives about inner-city living in France and using very modern techniques and fantastic performances, including a breakout from a certain Vincent Cassell which made Kassovitz real hot property. In the years hence, it could easily be seen that he’s squandered this as like many world cinema filmmakers, he was tempted by the golden shores of Hollywood but came afoul, working on Gothika starring an at the time as A-list as could be Halle Berry and a still ramshackle Robert Downey Jr but this pales into insignificance when compared to his ultra-bomb which he publicly denounced on opening weekend, the ambitious but totally crippled Babylon AD. He’s been quiet for a few years but like John Woo before him, he’s gone back to his home to try and recapture the essence of what made him such a prospect.
The French are trying to regain control of colony New Caladonia but are having problems when an inspired “terrorist” organisation seeks to try and repel their influence. Captain Philippe Legorjus (Mathieu Kassovitz) is sent in with his team to try and regain some sort of control in the area. However, upon meeting local leader Alphonse (Iabe Lapacas), his opinions on whether what he is doing is right begins to change.
It gives me great pleasure to report that Rebellion shows us again a Mathieu Kassovitz who is reinvigorated and making stuff which like La Haine is obviously important to him. What is interesting though is how his thoughts on the world have changed from the angry young man of his youth to a now more considered and rather more worldly presence (a fact borne out from the post film Q&A where he showed himself to be a wonderfully humourous guy who still took his art very seriously). Rebellion would seem to indicate a call-to-arms much like La Haine was and in a way it certainly is but it’s interesting to note that the literal translation of the French title of the film is Order & Morality, something which it’s acknowledged would not sell the film as well over here, but it probably is a more appropriate title.
Rebellion is over 2 hours long but doesn’t fit into the “epic” category which many war set films do, instead it tells us what is a story we have seen before but in a thoughtful way which lets the more familiar beats gain more texture, a factor which by the ending is well used in making the real-life unfairness of all that happened in New Caladonia all the more affecting.
This is also helped by Kassovitz’s performance in front of the camera as his character dominates without ever coming close to showboating. His is a character who is there to do a job and while he gets friendly with “the natives”. this is no Avatar. He tries to fight their cause but only in a way which is morally fair. He won’t go against his orders, he is a good soldier throughout but at the same time he will try hard as hell to come to a situation which won’t invovle bloodshed. This approach to the real-world character allows us to see a different person from what we’ve had so many times before, and he feels far more fleshed out as a result.
Kassovitz’s skill behind the camera is also obviously unquestionable. While the film maybe strikes close to dragging in its middle third, his visual style really negates this and makes the experience damn involving throughout. Using lush locations and a polished look to much of the material, and crafting an extremely impressive action sequence which gets the blood pumping despite the wholly depressing context to the battle, he crafts a film which manages to be both a serious political drama and have moments of bone-crunching action and is the kind of material which will hopefully allow Kassovitz to do more of what he wants to do and less of what he’s offered in the future.
Rebellion is a solid return-to-form for Kassovitz. While not blowing my mind in any real way, it’s an important story which deserves to be told and is done in a way which will hopefully get a wider audience than just the more politically minded people who would come to it anyway. It’s good to have Mathieu Kassovitz back.