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April 05, 2012

The Assault

assault 1.jpg

Julien Leclerq - 2011
Screen Media Films

Jean-Luc Godard may, or may not, have been kidding when he dedicated Breathless to Monogram Pictures. The "Cahiers du Cinema" critics who became filmmakers expressed their love for Hollywood films, especially those that were not always getting critical love on their home turf. Based on last year's Point Blank and The Assault, among other recent French films seen over the past few years, it looks like a younger generation has really taken the lessons of classic Hollywood action films to heart.

The Assault begins with a small explosion followed by blasting guns. Taken from the true story of an Air France plane hijacked by a quartet of Algerian terrorist, in December 1994, the film alternates primarily between Thierry, a member of the anti-terrorist team, Carole, with the foreign ministry and the only one who speaks Arabic, and Yahia, leader of the terrorist gang. In an hour and a half, there's little dawdling. And while the terrorist gang is portrayed as being extremely devout in their beliefs, the viewer is given little doubt that this is essentially a group of thugs doing no favors to the Muslim community at large, even with all their spouting of the Koran.

Assault 2.jpg

Julien Leclerq makes an interesting visual choice by having the film desaturated of most color to the point where the film almost appears to be black and white, save for a few touches such as the extremely muted car headlights, or Carole's blue shirt in one scene. The film is also mostly shot with a hand held camera, a technique that works within this context and for this film. Even if the incident and some of the real life characters are unknown to the viewer, it shouldn't take away from the constant sense of urgency. Another interesting choice by Leclerq is to cut between the terrorists at prayer while the anti-terrorist group prepares for attack.

What is also of interest, and perhaps alarming in retrospect, is that it is suggested that the goal of the hijackers, publicly stated to free two Muslim clerics, was actually to crash the plane into the Eiffel Tower. And again, any political bias is undisguised, but it also suggests that U.S. intelligence, at least in some quarters, had truly underestimated the kind of actions Muslim terrorists would or could take prior to the events of September 11, 2001.

Politics aside, there is the drama of various government entities trying to figure out what the terrorists will do, as well as the escalating madness of the terrorists, and the squabbles with various French government representatives on how best to resolve the situation. The final shootout is harrowing, taking place within the closed confines of the jet itself. Both the terrorists and the anti-terrorists have understood that they are on a suicide mission. This is Leclerq's second feature, and the kind of film that suggest he could well be a talent to watch for with future projects.

For a preview, here's the link to the original film website.

Posted by Peter Nellhaus at April 5, 2012 08:20 AM