French writer-actor-director Matthieu Kassovitz (LA HAINE) returns to his French art-house roots with an uncompromising political docu-drama based on the Ouvea hostage crisis of 1988. The action takes place in the French overseas territory, New Caledonia, where a group of amateur freedom-fighters had taken a bunch of French policeman hostage, hoping to win independence for the Kanaks. The resolution should've been straightforward - send in the police force's GIGN negotiators and get the hostages out. But the situation was complicated by the fact that the crisis took place in the middle of the French Presidential election - a fight between the incumbent President Mitterand, a a left-wing advocate for negotiation and compromise - and the incumbent Prime Minister Chirac, a right-wing advocate of armed intervention and restoring "l'ordre et la morale" - the Order and Morality of the movie's French title. Thus the central conflict is established. The police are put under the authority of the army - the stakes escalate - a massive attack is launched - and many hostage takers executed and their leader left for dead. (No spoilers here, for even if you hadn't been aware of the events, as I hadn't been, the final tragedy is established in the opening shots.)
Kassovitz chooses to tell the tale in a straightforward manner, moving through the events with a strict timeline, chronologically, moving between the hostages in Polynesia and the politicians in Paris. He also takes a single and definite position on events, both playing and sympathising with Capitaine Philippe Legorjus, the GIGN negotiator hamstrung by politics and gung-ho army officers. Kassovitz is firmly on the side of the liberals, seeing the attack on the hostage takers as clumsy, the violence unjustified, and the results as a scandal. Stylistically, the movie is similarly straightforward - the only innovation a very elegant and subtle flashback scene where a hostage explains to Philippe how the initial kidnapping took place.
All that seeming straightforwardness should not detract from the genuine power of the film. It was utterly compelling - had me on the edge of my seat - even though I had been forewarned of the conclusion. Even when it turns into a military thriller in the final segment, the movie never looses its profound concern with the politics of imperialism and the expediency forced by the electoral cycle.
REBELLION played Toronto and London 2011 and opens in France on November 16th.