Intimate Enemies, quite unfortunately, follows the American Vietnam war movie formula. There’s the world-weary sergeant (Albert Dupontel), the green and idealistic new lieutenant (Benoît Magimel)–will the lieutenant eventually become just the thing he hates in all the other men? Of course. It isn’t even interesting when he gets there, since Enemies doesn’t just make the lieutenant the idealist, it also makes him the protagonist. After his big change, which is somewhat inexplicable–narratively speaking–the film loses its protagonist. Even as the camera and story follow Magimel, the viewer is distant from him, never to return. During a rather affecting third act, the distance still remains from the character, though he is, like the rest of the men (it’s a Christmas scene and a good one), devastating.
While the script occasionally falls into melodramatic war movie mores, there are some rather interesting singularities. Dupontel and Magimel never have their great scene together where Dupontel, full of hard-earned wisdom, somehow eases Magimel’s turmoil. Intimate Enemies opens rather awkwardly–not what I was expecting from a director like Siri, who lets the import of the film weigh him down (when Siri does let loose, all three times for melodramatic emphasis, it’s disastrous). That awkward open resolves itself quickly with the death of Dupontel’s lieutenant, who he despises for being inept (never heard of a sergeant thinking the lieutenant was inept in a war movie, have you?). So from the first ten minutes, Enemies sets itself up for that predictable scene where Dupontel recognizes Magimel for not being an inept lieutenant.
Of all the anticipated clichés the film could undergo, it would have been the best, given the terrible ones it ends up receiving. Some of them are so bad, I’m tempted to spoil them just to see if I can get the foreshadowing across in the beginning of a sentence.
What Siri lacks is a tone. With its American war movie structure (Platoon was a big influence–gag) to its desert setting (like The Beast), Intimate Enemies never feels like its own piece of work. During the infrequent scenes around the base, when the story allows the viewer to see what life is like for the men in the Algerian desert, or when Magimel goes back to 1959 France… it comes close. But the script rips the film away from these successful arenas and returns it to the norms.
Magimel is great. Dupontel’s really good. Lounès Tazairt is excellent as an Algerian fighting with the French. The script cheats most of them of their best possible scenes–Tazairt being a possible exception. And the rest of the supporting cast is generally good. The acting isn’t the problem.
Not once during the film does it feel like Siri isn’t cooking straight from the cookbook. Here he’s using a recipe of the back of a Kraft bag of cheese–the kind where you’re only supposed to use other Kraft products–and he never says to hell with it. He follows the recipe to the letter. It’s a decent recipe–it’s not like Platoon or something–but it’s a packaged dinner masquerading as a home cooked meal.
Directed by Florent Emilio Siri; screenplay by Patrick Rotman, based on an adaptation by Siri and Rotman; director of photography, Giovanni Fiore Coltellacci; edited by Christophe Danilo and Olivier Gajan; music by Alexandre Despla; production designer, William Abello; produced by François Kraus and Denis Pineau-Valencienne; released by SND.
Starring Benoît Magimel (Lieutenant Terrien), Albert Dupontel (Sergent Dougnac), Aurélien Recoing (Commandant Vesoul), Marc Barbé (Capitaine Berthaut), Eric Savin (Le sergent tortionnaire), Mohamed Fellag (Idir Danoun), Lounès Tazairt (Saïd), Abdelhafid Metalsi (Rachid), Vincent Rottiers (Lefranc), Lounès Machene (Amar) and Adrien Saint-Joré (Lacroix).