FilmJuice have my review of Mathieu Kassovitz’s political thriller Rebellion (a.k.a. L’Ordre et La Morale – which is a much better title).
Based not only on historical events but historical events involving French politicians who have only recently left the stage, the film tells of how a group of political activists protested the continued French political control of New Caledonia. Hoping to catch the attention of the media by occupying a French gendarmerie in the run-up to the 1988 French general election, the Kanak protesters accidentally killed a policeman resulting in the French army being sent to reassert ‘order and morality’ on what is still considered French soil. Kassovitz himself plays a French gendarme who is sent to negotiate a settlement only to discover that both the French military and their political masters are dead set on violence resulting in what has become known as the Ouvea cave massacre.
As with La Haine, Kassovitz jumps into the political elements of his narrative with real zeal and understanding. Using Legorjus as a viewpoint, Kassovitz crawls around inside the Ouvea massacre and shows not only the cowardice of the separatist politicians who failed to support their own activists but the complete moral bankruptcy of a French political class who used a real-life hostage situation as an opportunity to grandstand on the eve of a national election. However, unlike many political films that are content to bewail the system and blame impersonal forces for the ills of the world, Rebellion goes out of its way to name real-life politicians and speculate about their motives. Why did Jacques Chirac close the door on negotiations? Because he wanted to attract the votes of the French National Front and he knew that brown bodies meant votes. Why did the separatist politicians fail to support their own activists? Because they were afraid of being associated with dead police even though the plan to occupy police stations was theirs to begin with. Rebellion is a blisteringly angry film and watching it will make you angry too; if Western governments behaved this badly in 1988, what do you think it says about the people in power today?
As I say in my review, I think that Rebellion is a real return to form for Kassovitz. While I’ve enjoyed almost all the films he has directed, I remain of the opinion that La Haine will be the film for which he is remembered and Rebellion shows a real desire to return to the same levels of anger and political engagement. Possibly one of the best-made and more courageous political thrillers of recent times, this film really puts all of those terrible Iraq War films in perspective. All too often, political stories stress the cultural dimensions of their analyses resulting in a snapshot of a particular moment in time that blames nobody by exaggerating the inevitability of it all. This type of analysis that focuses on systemic forces rather than individual personalities is alarmingly common in American politics where perpetual warfare, the brutalisation of the poor and the rich getting richer are all seen as just shit that happens. By naming names and placing the blame not just on ‘the political class’ but on particular people within that political class, Kassovitz is reminding us that politicians are responsible for the offices they are elected to fill and who is in office at a particular time really does matter. Had Jacques Chirac not been eager to secure the votes of Jean-Marie Le Pen’s followers then chances are that the hostage takers would have walked away unharmed and ready to face justice.