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Criticism of ‘Father and Soldier’: Omar Sy embodies the hell of French colonialism

The film directed by Mathieu Vadepied opens the Un Certain Regard section of the 2022 Cannes Film Festival.

    While the Official Selection of the Festival de Cannes does not finish offering its best face –the most anticipated titles remain to be presented: films by David Cronenberg, James Gray and Kelly Reichardt, among others–, the French competition yesterday inaugurated its Un Certain Regard section, the second in relevance, with the projection of ‘Father & Son’ (‘Tirailleurs’) by Mathieu Vadepied. The place of honor that the festival has reserved for this study of the participation of African soldiers in the First World War owes much to the figure of Omar Sy, the remembered protagonist of ‘Untouchable’ and the series ‘Lupin’, who leads the committed cast of the film. Sy plays a Senegalese father who must care for his son when they are both captured by the French army and then forced into combat.

    The film, which combines brushstrokes of war cinema with father-son drama, divides its attention between two parallel odysseys. On the one hand, there are the repeated attempts of his father (a Sy who shows his most distressed face, far from his usual indolence) to escape the clutches of the French army. And, meanwhile, the figure of the son (played by an Alassane Diong whose work refers to that of Denzel Washington in ‘Times of glory’) serves Vadepied to reflect on the deep dehumanization of the individual in the war context, something that the young man goes discovering as he immerses himself in a hypocritical military universe, clinging to corrupt ideals of honorability.

    ‘Father & Son’ has the merit of building its anti-war discourse with transparency and sobriety. This is not a film interested in transgressing the limits of cinematographic orthodoxy. But, within the humility of its resources, the film avoids falling, for example, into an excessively grandiose discourse. The family drama is shot in close-up shots of the characters, capitalizing on the expressiveness of inspired actors, while the action scenes are effectively laid out on a horizontal matrix, without resorting to the affected vertical camera movements that often blur the scene. scale of many war films.

    In ‘Father & Son’ the distant shadow of ‘Saving Private Ryan’ can be detected, whose memory emerges both because of the allusion to the idea of ​​saving a vulnerable young man and because of the pauses that the story dedicates to explaining the traumas and emotions of the characters. Closer still is the reference of ‘Glory Days (Indigènes)’, in which Rachid Bouchareb portrayed the drama of some Algerian soldiers incorporated into the French army during World War II. The denunciation of the evils of colonialism forms the heart of Vadepied’s work. An objective that the film can only half fulfill, insofar as it does not manage to avoid, in its final stretch, the heroic exaltation of its protagonists. An acknowledgment of the involuntary African soldiers that the film symbolically connects (through the image of the Parisian Arc de Triomphe) to the greatness of the French nation. ‘Father & Soldier’ ​​is a film with a noble mission, but it is also a work besieged by profound contradictions.

    For lovers of war films that mix action and emotion

    The best: the work of the film with the different African languages ​​and dialects.

    The worst: The rigor, truthfulness and audacity of the work with African languages ​​does not extend to the academic formal display of the film.


    Direction: Mathieu Vadepied Distribution: Omar Sy, Alassane Diong, Jonas Bloquet, Bamar Kane, Oumar Sey Original title: Tirailleurs Country: France Year: 2022 Release date: Coming soon Gender: war drama Film script: Olivier Demangel, Mathieu Vadepied Duration: 109 min.

    Synopsis: 1917, in the French colony of Senegal. Bakary enlists in the French army to stay with Thierno, his 17-year-old son, recruited against his will. Together, father and son must fight the First World War on the front lines in France, a country they do not know and for which Thierno is willing to give his life. Bakary embarks on an intense and hellish race to save his son.

    Source: Fotogramas

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