L'ennemi intime (Intimate Enemies) (2007)
Director: Florent Emilio Siri.
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), Adrien Saint-Joré (Lacroix), Guillaume Gouix (Delmas), Ange Ruzé (Théron), Salem Aït-Ali-Belkacem (Ouramdam), Antoine Laurent (Maheu).
story of a French platoon in the Algerian War
"On November 1, 1954, after 130 years of French presence, the National Liberation Front (FLN) launched insurgency in Algeria. Faced with the FLN's resolve to negotiate independence, France responded by sending in 500,000 young conscripts. In 1959, despite UN criticism, France stepped up military operations in Algeria."
Algeria: July 1959. Somewhere in Kabylia (a region of North Africa, part of the Tell Atlas at the edge of the Mediterranean Sea). A fellow with the radio name of Chamois calls into headquarters saying that in 10 minutes they will be at grid reference 18-35. The reply from Sparrowhawk is that they will cover Chamois from behind at 17-35 in 30 minutes.
An officer says that Constantin wants to use a pincer movement. His native adviser doesn't recommend it here. They move a littler closer to the cliff and look down. The French open fire on the rebels below them. Chamois gets on the radio to warn Sparrowhawk that they have engaged the enemy and the rebels are falling back in their direction. Sparrowhawk says the enemy is already on them. Chamois runs down the side of the cliff and hears French being spoken. He yells: "Cease fire! It's Dougnac."
Chamois goes down to ask: "Why the fuck aren't you at 17-35?" The reply is: "Lt. Constantin positioned us. Major's orders." Chamois is going to find the lieutenant and chew him out, but he soon discovers the lieutenant has been killed in the firefight.
Mazel Outpost. At the outpost two funerals are held. One by the Muslims for their one dead and the other by the French for their one dead.
A new man arrives at the outpost: Lt. Terrien. Commandant Vesoul tells the new man that he has arrived in a tough situation. He will be the replacement for Lt. Constantin, who worked in the remotest sector. The enemy is a unit of 100 fellagha rebels. (The fellagha were armed Algerian nationalists who adopted violent means in order to push the French out of Algeria as well as those same fighters in Tunisia.) The unit is led by an ex-WWII sergeant by the name of Slimane. The new lieutenant has the job of locating the rebels so they can be eliminated.
Sgt. Dougnac comes in to take Lt. Terrien to his quarters. Tomorrow the lieutenant and his men have to hump to Taida.
Mission to Taida. Edge of Forbidden Zone. The men walk through a field. They crawl over to the cliff and take a look at the village below. The Algerian adviser says that the woman and the boy by the sheep are relatives of his. Zarah is his cousin. Next to her is her son Amar. It's the village of Taida, which by night is controlled by the fellaghas.
The soldiers walk into the village. The order to search the houses is given. The villagers are rounded up into one place. The Algerian adviser Rashid asks his cousin if Slimane has been here? She says they don't know anything. So the adviser asks Amar if his brother was with Slimane? The boy says that his brother will kill Rashid. Rashid slaps the kid hard across the face. The lieutenant says they are moving out. Sgt. Dougan tells the village leader Meziane that the soldiers will return to the village. He also tells him that next time Meziane must tell the truth or he knows what will happen to him and the village.
The soldiers are having a good time in the canteen. The new lieutenant comes in and the partying stops. He tells them to carry on. He then buys drinks for everyone in the canteen.
Second mission to Taida. The French soldiers slowly approach the village. The lieutenant checks out the village with his binoculars and says that everyone has left the village. The soldiers enter the village using caution. They don't find anyone. And then Rashid and the lieutenant discover a room where a massacre of the villagers took place. Rashid is stunned by what he sees. The lieutenant comes and sees Rashid with his dead cousin's body. Then the lieutenant sees the floor in the other room covered with dead bodies. The women were raped before they were killed. (brief nudity) The lieutenant is quite shaken up.
Sgt. Dougnac tells the lieutenant that the fellaghas who massacred the village inhabitants must have known they were coming. "It's not random savagery. They wanted to make an example for the other villages. Understand?" Sgt. Dougnac leaves.
The lieutenant hears some noise coming up from a well. He looks down and sees a small boy treading water. He slides down the rope and grabs the boy.
Mission in the Forbidden Zone. Sgt. Dougnac and his men are about to ambush a small column of fellaghas. On the other side of the valley in the hills, the lieutenant calls over via the radio to tell Chamois that the members of the convoy are women. Dougnac says "negative". Dougnac's soldiers opens fire on the convoy and kill the enemy
When Terrien gets to Dougnac, he yells at him for disobeying an order.
A soldier pulls off a covering over the three dead. Now Terrien sees that
they all are men, not women. Dougnac says:
Women here go barefoot." The sergeant shows the lieutenant that the convoy was transporting weapons to the fellaghas. Now Terrien tells Dougnac that he did a "good job". The lieutenant tells the men that their objective today is Meshta Rehki.
As the French get close to Meshta Rehki, they rush the village. A man is found in one of the shacks. The French want to know from him what is he doing in the Forbidden Zone? They also want to know where's Slimane? Rashid says the fellow is a fellagha. He adds: "We fought together." Rashid gets very angry and slams his rifle butt down on the man's head. The lieutenant grabs Rashid and tells him: "None of that with me."
At night a small convoy of trucks arrives with supplies. A man from the convoy tells the lieutenant: "Major Vesoul sent me for the prisoner."
Terrien hears a dreadful sound coming from what turns out to be a trumpet being blown on by Sgt. Dougnac. He goes over to Dougnac and says it looks like the sergeant really got drunk this time. Then he goes into the canteen. He sees the small boy shivering and staring off into the distance. He goes into another room where he sees the prisoner being tortured. He puts a stop to that immediately. He then goes over to a card table where the men are playing cards and overturns the table on them. He now walks out of the canteen.
The little boy was upset because of the torture of an Algerian. After seeing the lieutenant stop the torture, the boy decides to be of assistance to the lieutenant. The first thing he does is bring the lieutenant his morning coffee. Then he asks if his son drew the pictures hanging on the wall in his office? Yes. Then he says: "Thanks for everything, lieutenant." The lieutenant assures the boy that everything will be alright because they will take care of him.
Out in the field the next day the men stop for a lunch break. The Free Frenchman Sayeed shows the lieutenant his huge scar on his chest. It was a bayonet cut and he got 74 stitches and a medal for his heroics at the WWII Battle of Monte Cassino in Italy. He also tells the lieutenant that the fellaghas butchered his wife and their three children.
The unit comes upon a house where an Algerian is being tortured by the French. It was the same group of torturers that Terrien got so mad at back at base. Then Terrien is taken to meet Captain Berthaut of intelligence. The captain tells Terrien that he and Dougnac fought in French Indochina. Then the captain tells Terrien that he has been told that Terrien is having certain qualms about the work of intelligence. Terrien acknowledges that it's true. The captain has Terrien look at some photographs of dead Algerians killed by the fellaghas. He has other photos of dead and mutilated Frenchmen, but he will save the lieutenant from puking by not showing these photos to him. He adds that with these photographs: "When I have doubts, I take a look." Terrien replies: "The FLN (that is, the National Liberation Front) may use vile methods, but yours are no better, sir." The captain says this is no conventional war. Rather, it is psychological warfare.
Now Terrien asks permission to speak openly to the captain. The captain tells him to go ahead. Terrien says that if Algeria is French, then all Algerians should be granted French citizenship. And, of course, one day they will have to negotiate a peace. He adds: "You can't fight barbarism with barbarism, sir." Capt. Berthaut responds that, as a member of the French Resistance, he himself was tortured by the German Gestapo. "You just got here. You'll see. You'll come around. (Pause.) Like we all have."
Operation Slimane at Meshta Rehki. The French are looking down on the village. Lt. Terrien says that the fellaghas will come at night, because that's what he would do. But during the day a lone man comes up over the hill with his horse. While the French are all watching this man, the fellaghas open up on the French. Bullets are flying everywhere and the French soldiers are really becoming frightened. Terrien calls in to field headquarters to say that the enemy is hitting them with MG-42s. (The MG-42 is a 7.9mm universal machine gun that was developed in Nazi Germany and was infamous as one of the machine guns with the highest average rates of fire of any single-barreled man-portable machine gun.)
The fellaghas are up on top of the hill opposite the French position. Sgt. Dougnac flanks them and provides covering fire, so the lieutenant decides to attack the position. The French almost immediately start taking heavy casualties. Terrin gets up on top of the hill. He mortally wounds a fellagha fighter. The lieutenant decides to jump over the rocks to finish off the fighter, but he sees the man has no weapons in his hands. The man says that Allah is great and Mohammed is his prophet. He then promptly dies. Now Terrien is joined by three survivors of the assault.
Dougnac is still actively carrying out his assault. Terrien says that somebody must have tipped off the fellagha about the mission. He calls into field headquarters saying that they are pinned down and to take the fellaghas from behind at sector 18-35. Headquarters tells Terrien not to move. "Air support in two minutes." The air support arrives and drops napalm bombs directly on the fleeing enemy.
The French can now safely advance. What they find is charcoaled bodies as if frozen in time. It's an eerie sight and the French and the Muslims are awed by it.
Back at the canteen Terrien tells Dougnac that he bets it was the Algerian boy who ratted on them to the fellagha.
Mission in Forbidden Zone. It looks as if the fellagha are not coming out tonight. And then Rashid disappears. Dougnac tells the men to spread out and find Rashid. Some of the men call Rashid a traitor.
Track to company CP. All of a sudden the truck in front of Terrien's jeep stops. Terrien gets out of his jeep to see what the problem is. There is a roadblock of barbed wire across the road. And wrapped up in barbed wire is a very bloody Rashid. Dougnac goes up to him and whispers in his ear. He then shoots Rashid with his pistol to put him out of his misery.
Back at camp Captain Berthaut brings a prisoner to Terrien. He orders Terrien to walk him outside the camp a ways and execute him. Terrien says he won't do it. Berthaut says he will report Terrien to his superiors. Terrien just walks away. Dougnac tells the captain to lay off Terrien. He will take care of the prisoner himself. Berethaut asks why should he lay off Terrien? Dougnac says because he saved Berthaut's life in Indochina.
Dougnac takes the prisoner outside the camp along with a small firing squad. Along the way the Algerian working with the French named Sayeed finds out that the prisoner was at Monte Cassino, Italy during WWII. He then tells Sgt. Dougnac that the prisoner fought at Monte Cassino. This now makes it harder for Dougnac to execute the Algerian prisoner. He lines his men up and tells the prisoner to run away. As soon as the man starts running the soldiers all cock their weapons. The prisoners stops dead in his tracks and turns around. He wants to put his WWII medal on his chest before he is shot. Now Dougnac goes up to the prisoner and tells him personally that he is free. So the prisoner starts to run. All of a sudden an automatic weapon is fired and the ex-prisoner goes down with three or four bullets in his back. Dougnac is very angry with Sayeed, who was the one who fired the shots. He knocks the soldier down. Sayeed says that it was a man like the prisoner who massacred his family.
When Dougnac returns the soldiers tell him to go check on the lieutenant. Terrien looks totally depressed. Dougnac tells him that the prisoner was killed while trying to escape. Terrien doesn't believe that story one bit.
The next morning, Terrien gets some mail. He tells the messenger to just put the mail down with the rest of the (unopened) mail. Another messenger comes in with new orders for Terrien. The lieutenant tells the messenger to get the men into formation right away. When the men are ready, the lieutenant tells them: "Our planes spotted the fellagha unit headed by Slimane. We're to enter the Forbidden Zone over the mountain and locate their hideaway." It's a 48-hour mission with full packs.
48 hour mission -- 8:35 a.m. The French soldiers are walking up the side of a hill. All of a sudden the fellagha open up on them. The machine guns fire so fast that the trees surrounding the men are cut down. A soldier carrying the unit's machine gun lost it down the hill in the confusion of the firing. He is told to go get it. The fellow just makes it a few steps before he is cut down by the MG-42. Then Dougnac tells Sayeed to go get the machine gun. Sayeed is too afraid to obey that order. So Dougnac fires his automatic weapon at Sayeed. Sayeed starts heading down hill with Dougnac right on his tail. Terrien then starts down hill after the two men. He finds the machine gun and gets ready to fire it at the enemy, when all of a sudden all firing stops. The lieutenant stops the sergeant from shooting Sayeed in the back as the Algerian lays flat on the ground.
The lieutenant sends his report in that the rebels attacked them well before the contact point. His orders are to continue the mission. He is to split his group into two parts that will both attack the enemy at the same time. Terrien tells his superior officer that they should terminate the mission as it has been compromised. The order is repeated again for Terrien. So the men are split into two groups.
Forbidden Zone. 9:40 p.m. Terrien takes a look at a bigger village through his binoculars. He then tells Sayeed and a couple of men to go forward and check out the situation. One of the wounded men tells the lieutenant that he wants to make it back home. He doesn't want to die here in Algeria. Terrien assures him that he will make it home. The soldiers now move toward the village. Terrien checks over the men and finds that the wounded man has died.
4:30 a.m. The men reach the area where the helicopter will pick up the wounded men. They pick up the man laying on the stretcher. The men start walking again and again they are ambushed. One man looks dead with another man wounded. Sayeed says it's a sniper. He suggests that Terrien and the men head out one side, while he stays behind to occupy the sniper.
Rally point. 7:31 a.m. The radio has been shot up and Terrien can't get contact with Chamois. Sayeed reaches the rally point. He tells Terrien that small groups of rebels seem to be stalking them. Sayeed also says they have to get out of here. Terrien tells him that they are staying until the sergeant arrives. Sayeed sees a little convoy headed towards the sergeant's group. So the lieutenant tells him to open up on the convoy. Sayeed machine guns them. When the lieutenant and Sayeed check out the convoy, they find it was only a convoy of women carrying not weapons, but food supplies. Terrien is distraught at the realization of what they just did. He sits down and his body just shakes. Dougnac arrives to see the lieutenant in this state of frustration.
Dougnac calls for a helicopter, but he is told that there are none available for them. This makes the sergeant furious with the radioman. Then Captain Berthaut calls over the radio and says that he will be arriving at their sector in 40 minutes. Dougnac is happy to hear that, but warns the captain that the area is crawling with fellaghas.
The soldiers move to another position. Berthaut arrives by jeep and takes the wounded man with him. The jeep has descended out of the hills and is now on the bottom of the hill. The lieutenant and sergeant spot the enemy in the area. Dougnac tries to get Berthaut on the radio to warn him of the danger, but the jeep is stopped dead by an explosion. The fellaghas head down hill to kill any survivors. The captain is firing away at the Algerians.
A helicopter arrives with some reinforcements and the commanding officer. They are in time to hold a short, informal wake for the three dead from the jeep. The CO goes over to Terrien and tells him: "Take a good look. This is the real face of the FLN. They murder and mutilate your friends." A little later he adds that this crime won't go unpunished.
The French are burning a village, perhaps in retaliation for the death of the three Frenchmen. Some of the soldiers kill women and children. The villagers are rounded up at a central point. Two prisoners are brought to the CO. The old man tries to plead with Terrien. As he cocks his pistol and points it at the man, Terrien just tells the man not to touch him. The CO tells Terrien to take charge of the prisoners. Terrien leaves with the prisoners. Now the villagers are mowed down with machine guns.
It appears that Terrien has gone somewhat loco. He now joins in on the torture of the old man. The little boy serving as an aide to Terrien tells the lieutenant that these men don't know anything. Terrien gives the old man too much electricity for too long a time and the man dies. Now the French intelligence man is mad at Terrien for killing the prisoner. Terrien walks away, as the torturers now turn all their attention onto the wounded prisoner.
Terrien sees his little aide desert the French.
Slimane was burned to death during Operation Meshta Rehki.
The wounded prisoner is taken out and shot by a firing squad under the command of Terrien. Terrien gives the command to fire.
Terrien gets a leave to go home.
Grenoble, France. A taxi cab driver brings the lieutenant to his apartment building. Terrien sees his little boy, Pierre, playing outside. And he hears his wife calling for Pierre to come inside. He then tells his driver to drive on. Terrien goes to the movies. He sees a newsreel that partly deals with Algeria. The newsreel speaks of the French soldiers winning the hearts and minds of the Algerians. "Thus our army is peacefully preparing tomorrow's Algeria."
Terrien is back in Algeria. Dougnac is having Sayeed crank up the electricity to give the sergeant some electrical shocks. Terrien comes in to see what is going on and Dougnac tells him: "You should've stayed in France. You don't belong here. Get the fuck out." Terrien orders Dougnac to give him the pistol. Dougnac is going to blow his brains out but he is stopped by the men around him. Dougnac resists, so Terrien knocks him out with the butt of the pistol. He tells the others to leave and he gets out a medical first aid kit. Inside Terrien finds Dougnac's medals and photos of his wife back in Indochina and he and the captain together there.
September. December 24. The men have a Christmas Eve celebration. Then a soldier shows a film he made from the footage taken by their late photographer. LaCroix appears at the opening of the film. That is followed by a stripper. There is footage of Sayeed showing his scar to Terrien and Dougnac. The men settle down as the faces of those killed in action come up on the screen. Quite a few of the men start crying or get teary-eyed. As the film ends, absolute silence reigns in the room.
The next morning Terrien finds the first aid kit right outside his door, along with Dougnac's bugle. He asks where is Dougnac and is told he went out hunting. Terrien goes out to look for him. Through his binoculars, he sees something up in the hills and laughs. A bullet hits him and he goes down. The fellow who shot him turns out to be his former boy aide.
Dougnac comments: "The day Terrien died, I was already gone. I'd deserted. I didn't see the end of the war. Algeria won independence in 1962. It had been written all along. It took me time to admit it. We'd fought in vain. Friends had died for nothing. I sometimes think of Terrien. He was lucky to get the bullet he went looking for. With his stupid idealism, he'd never have tolerated the man he'd become."
"2,000,000 young Frenchmen were mobilized in Algeria. 27,000 lost their lives there. There were an estimated 300,000 to 600,000 dead on the Algerian side. It was only in October 1999 that France officially recognized there had been a war in Algeria."
I have seen a lot of films about the Algerian War of Independence, but I believe this is the first one I have seen so directly following the actions of a French platoon during that war. It was a sad film for many reasons. There was the torture used by the French. The mutilation of French troops by the Algerians. The massacre of civilians by both side in the war. The deaths of many non-combatants. And from the French viewpoint it was a war fought in vain to keep Algeria French. Then there was the deterioration of the good lieutenant Terrien over time until he actually participated in the torture death of an old Algerian man. The war film reminds me of war films about the Vietnam War, where the American troops became so frustrated that quite a few of them engage in war crimes. It's not easy fighting a people who want their independence from foreign domination. And why fight it in the first place? Greed and fear probably.
Benoît Magimel (Lieutenant Terrien) and Albert Dupontel (Sergent Dougnac) were both very good in their parts. The two characters became very close with each other. It must have been sad for Dougnac to see his lieutenant deteriorate so quickly after facing a number of frustrations in the war. In the end the lieutenant commits suicide by exposing himself to the enemy and the sergeant deserts the army. Psychologically, it was too tough of a war to fight for either of them.
Patrick Louis Cooney, Ph. D.
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