The Movie Waffler French Film Festival UK 2021 Review - HOME FRONT | The Movie Waffler

French Film Festival UK 2021 Review - HOME FRONT

home front review
An incident causes three members of a rural French family to reflect on the legacy of the Algerian War.

Review by Eric Hillis

Directed by: Lucas Belvaux

Starring: Gérard Depardieu, Catherine Frot, Jean-Pierre Darroussin, Yoann Zimmer, Félix Kysyl, Edouard Sulpice

home front poster

Despite France's actual involvement in Vietnam, the Algerian War of Independence is largely considered "France's Vietnam." As with the American intervention in South East Asia, it was a case of a heavily militarised army struggling to beat a guerilla force on their own land, losing the battle for hearts and minds along with the actual conflict. Similarly, it saw young French men commit atrocities against the native population, leaving scars embedded in the psyche of a generation.

home front review

Lucas Belvaux's Home Front might be considered France's attempt at The Deer Hunter. Like Cimino's film, it opens with a celebration. It's the birthday of Solange (Catherine Frot), and most of her small rural community have gathered in the town hall. The merry-making is disrupted by the arrival of her brother, Bernard (Gérard Depardieu), who gifts her a brooch, only to be accused by the gathered crowd of stealing it from his own mother. It's quickly established that Bernard is the town's ne'er do well, a wild animal they've struggled to live alongside. After spewing racist bile at an Algerian immigrant, Bernard heads to the local pub, gets drunk and attempts a harrowing home invasion at the house where he once lived, now occupied by the Algerian's family.

The police are advised by the town councilor and Bernard's long-suffering cousin Rabut (Jean-Pierre Darroussin) to let Bernard sleep it off before arresting him first thing in the morning, such is his propensity for violence. That night, neither Rabut nor Solange can sleep. Rabut recalls his time serving in Algeria with Bernard, both men barely in their twenties, while Solange digs out the letters she received from Bernard while serving.

home front review

As it seems for the first time, Solange is reading between the lines of her brother's letters, we flashback to Algeria, where we witness a young Bernard (Yoann Zimmer) become dehumanised by the horrors he witnesses at the hands of both his allies and enemies.

Home Front's Algerian sequences make for a gruelling and upsetting watch, with children killed by both sides and bodies found desecrated by unthinkable tortures. A committed pacifist, the young Rabut (Edouard Sulpice) finds himself clinging to his cousin, the rest of his platoon refusing to associate with him. Rabut takes regular beatings from his own men, refusing to fight back. They boast of fighting for France but can't see the irony of attempting to crush a resistance in a land they've invaded. Bernard strikes up a friendship with the pro-French family of a young woman he has fallen for, but in his mind he admits that if he were Algerian he would likely side with the rebels.

home front review

It's Bernard's paternal adoption of a young girl that ultimately sends him home with scars that will never heal. While the film doesn't condone his racism, we see where it emerged. In the coldness of his fellow villagers we mourn a missed opportunity to help Bernard heal from his psychological wounds. As we're told by both Bernard and Rabut, any attempt to discuss the horrors they witnessed were dismissed by their fathers and grandfathers, who claimed they went through worse hardships in the World Wars. Bernard is a ticking time bomb, a festering wound society was never willing to salve for fear of getting stained by his blood. Most of the men of his generation will be dead soon, but Home Front suggests their experiences will leave a lasting impression on their communities.

Home Front
 plays online at the French Film Festival UK from March 19th to 21st.

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