Jazz, film, and improvised culture.
ND/NF ’16: Neither Heaven Nor Earth
should be better prepared for the unexpected than a heavily armed company of
soldiers, but the supernatural operate under different rules of engagement. When
some unknown agency starts preying on a contingent of French troops deployed
near the Pakistani border, it hits them at their weakest point—their need to
understand and control any given situation. Denial will give way to
metaphysical anxiety in Clément Cogitore’s Neither
Heaven Nor Earth
(formerly The Wakhan Front, trailer
which screens during this year’s New Directors/New Films.
the soldiers of the Second Platoon documented in Sebastian Junger’s Restrepo and Korengal, the French soldiers doggedly fought to maintain their
toe-hold in the remote mountainous region, only to learn they will soon be
pulling out (presumably for political reasons). Yet, in the meantime, they must
carry on usual, despite the absurdity of the circumstances.
Antarès Bonassieu’s role is not to reason why. The hardened veteran is not the
best at winning hearts and minds, but he keeps his men in peak battle
condition. Similarly, he is not well equipped to deal with the mysterious
disappearance of several men. What evidence there is suggests they were not
abducted or assassinated. In each case, they just seemed to vanish into thin air.
Following his initial instincts, he tries to shake some answers out of the
local village he has long suspected of harboring insurgents. However, he will
find himself forging an unlikely short-term truce with a highly suspicious
warlord when they find they are both facing the same apparently paranormal crisis.
is so much ambiguity in Neither, it
is hard to definitively classify it as a horror movie, a psychological
thriller, or even a war film. That kind of intentional vagueness can be too
clever for a film’s own good, but in the case Cogitore’s screenplay (co-written
with Thomas Bidegame), it is deeply disquieting. It is not the threat of death
that unnerves Bonassieu’s men, it is uncertainty. In specific terms, nothing disturbs
them more than the presumed dead body that remains unrecovered.
some ways, Neither also acts as a
corrective to our less than flattering image of the French military as the
paratroopers who are constantly jumping into Algeria whenever its government does
something to annoy Paris. Bonassieu and his men, like the PTSD-rattled Denis,
might be have their flaws, but they are considerably more helpful in battle
than an accordion on a duck hunt.
Brothers regular Jérémie Renier is quietly intense as Bonassieu, falling apart
rather spectacularly down the stretch. To a man, the ensembles sound and carry
themselves like a military unit. However, it is the sense of place that really
sets the film apart. The harsh mountain vistas are incredibly cinematic and the
lonely eagle’s nest outposts (vividly recreated by the design team) heightens
the feeling of vulnerability.
Although there is more left unresolved than duly
explained in Neither, everything unfolds
according to its grimly inevitable internal system of logic. It is an eerily
effective film that successfully aims to unsettle viewers on a deeper level
than mere jump scares. Highly recommended for fans of sophisticated genre
films, Neither Heaven Nor Earth screens
this Saturday (3/19) at the Walter Reade and Sunday (3/20) at MoMA, as part of
the 2016 ND/NF.
Labels: French Cinema, ND/NF '16