An excellent (anti)war film, Florent Emilio Siri’s INTIMATE ENEMIES is filled with ironies and opposites as it tracks the (mis)adventures of a platoon of French soldiers during the French-Algerian War. Divided into segments, each one covering a specific mission, the movie intro-
duces us to a smart and decent rookie
lieutenant, played by one of France’s finest actors, Benoît Magimel (A Girl Cut in Two, The Piano Teacher), and his dour, knowledgeable sergeant who’s perfectly content to kill and torture when necessary, played by the equally fine Albert Dupontel (the current Paris and Avenue Montaigne).
Siri (shown at right) has made a couple of fine actions movies: The Nest (rent this one -- one of the best of its genre in the past two decades) and the under-rated Hostage. With Intimate Enemies, he brings his action skills to the war front and the results are impressive. Action scenes are staged with immediacy, flair, and sometimes ugly surprise (who knew that the French used napalm in Algeria?), but it is the quieter moments, often concerning how these men come to terms with what they've done and are doing that register with sometimes shattering impact. How they punish themselves -- physically, mentally -- for what they are forced to do is particularly grueling to experience.
TrustMovies spoke with director Florent Emilio Siri from his home in France today, asking a few questions about his film, its history -- and French-Algerian history. Herewith are his answers, and there are some spoilers ahead, so maybe see the movie first, then read:
TrustMovies: What’s your background? Are you of Algerian descent?
This is why I wanted to make this movie. I didn’t know a lot about the war, and I wanted to find out. My scriptwriter Patrick Rotman had worked with Bertrand Tavernier, and between Rotman and Magimel and me, we tried to find a producer. We didn’t have much money, so we shot in 48 days for about $10 million dollars. Everyone did this film for half their usual salary, and I believe that they all felt we had to make this movie
Was your prowess as an action movie director of good use to you in filming a war movie?
What were the major differences in making a French action film like The Nest and in making an American one like Hostage?
It’s less formatted in France because you are free to do whatever you want. You can even kill the hero! Hostage was built for Bruce Willis, whereas The Nest was a movie for me. After my first movie - - A Minute of Silence, which we did for only $1 million -- I was frustrated because the movie was only screened in one theater, and the subject was very important for me, very personal. I shot it in 30 days, and had to shoot some scenes at night, and I knew I could do better. The Nest was a kind of movie we never saw before in France. I grew up seeing all these American western and action movies, so finally I said to myself, “Why can’t we do that here?
The IMDB Notes that Splinter Cell, which you were involved in, was a video game. Do you have any desire to do more of these?
But I only worked on a four-minute short movie which became the intro for the game. Before I did films, I did a bunch of rap videos. When you are a young director, nobody is going to give you a film, so instead I made music videos. It was interesting to learn how to direct in 3-D, but, really: I am not coming from video games. In fact, Eric Rohmer was one of my teachers of film!
Any plans to return to the USA and film again? What about A.K.A., which I noticed mentioned on the IMDB?
A.K.A. was a movie I was developing with a French producer about a con man in Hollywood. But the script is not there, so I am not going to make that one, it seems. I have a lot of propositions for the U.S. but you never know. There, they see me inside a box: only action movies. They wanted me to direct another Die Hard, but I wanted to come back to France to make my Algerian war film.
Yes. He is just going along, like someone in the landscape. The movie postulates that he is somebody like us, like you or me, looking at this war. If you were there, you would be like the Magimel character, Lieutenant Terrien , trying to protect the population, beginning with your sense of idealism. Then, step by step, we understand how the cynicism of the war changes a person until someone who is against torture will become a torturer.
Because the French-Algerian war still festers in France, did your film bring the war back to French consciousness?
So what is next on your agenda?
I am now making a movie about an escape from Devils Island with Benoît Magimel and Jean Dujardin.
When will it be released?
In 2011. We’re shooting in Mexico, we hope in June of 2010.