This film, based on the 1934 Prix Goncourt winning novel of the same name focuses on a group of French soldiers mobilized yet not allowed to fight (roving Bolsheviks) in Bucharest just after the armistice of the First World War.
The first half of the film, devoted to the war vividly conveys what a brutal business it is, and what kind of man it takes to fight it successfully.
Capitaine Conan, one of these men, unsuited to peacetime, is finding it hard to control his soldiers, especially after years of fighting they, hardened and ruthless must now not react to the attacks they are subjected to. Bored of guard duty and drills, it's not long before these pent up soldiers resort to committing a series of petty (and several serious) infractions.
The French military begins to conduct courts-martial of some of its bravest soldiers for these most petty crimes. One of the few officers Conan actually respects, Lt. Norbert (Samuel Le Bihan), has been assigned to the tribunal to defend the accused soldiers. Their friendship becomes severely strained when two of Conan's men rob a nightclub, leaving two women dead.
A war-film yes, but the main subject of this film is what happens to the warriors when there is no war.
Superbly acted by a cast of relative unknowns, the film is also beautifully shot by cinematographer Alain Choquart, who blends oustanding landscape photography with some breathless handheld camera-work that fill Tavernier's battle scenes with a grueling immediacy.
A slow start, and a confusing scenario if you're not aware of the historical and military implications of the end of First World War.
The Downright Ugly:
Nothing to report.
Final Verdict:As a period piece of exacting and precise detail and as a triumph of assured filmmaking in every aspect, "Capitaine Conan" is a challenging and enriching experience.
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- Release Date: 1997
- Directed By: Bertrand Tavernier
- Starring: Phillippe Torreton, Samuel Le Bihan, François Berléand
- Country of Origin: France