French 'Platoon' brings Algeria war to big screen

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PARIS, Oct 4 (Reuters) A film billed as the French 'Platoon' uses Hollywood-style action cinema to relate one of the most painful episodes in recent French history, the brutal Algerian war of independence.

''L'ennemi intime'' (Intimate Enemies) shows the cruelty and contradictions of a war that pitted French troops, some veterans of France's own World War Two resistance, against Algerian guerrillas, some of whom had served in the French army.

The Algerian war ended in 1962 but was acknowledged as a war by the French parliament only in 1999. The loss of its one-time colony was treated as a taboo subject in France for many years.

The film, which opened yesterday night, depicts the desperation of a French unit in 1959 tracking an elusive enemy through the arid mountains of northern Algeria, uncertain of what they are doing there and gradually slipping into barbarity. Director Florent-Emilio Siri shows the electric shock torture routinely practised on prisoners by the French military as well as a graphic sequence showing the grisly effects of a napalm airstrike.

But he also shows the brutality of nationalist ''fellaghas'', including the massacre of an entire village suspected of harbouring collaborators or the face of a man whose nose and lips they have cut off for the crime of smoking.

''BATTLE OF ALGIERS'' After last year's Oscar-nominated ''Indigenes'' (Days of Glory) on France's North African soldiers in World War Two, ''L'ennemi intime'' is another step in French cinema's examination of the wartime relations between France and its former colonies.

Routine torture by French forces and horrific acts of savagery by both sides marked a struggle over a country that had been occupied by France since 1830 and in which an estimated 250,000-400,000 Algerians and some 27,000 French soldiers died.

The script was written by Patrick Rotman, a documentary maker and specialist on the Algerian war who used hundreds of hours of archive film and interviews with participants.

But Siri said he was also inspired by the example of Hollywood films on the Vietnam war such as Francis Ford Coppola's ''Apocalyse Now'' or Oliver Stone's ''Platoon''.

''I've always wanted to make a film on the wars of decolonisation. A film at once epic and intimate,'' he says in the film's programme notes.

The best known film on the Algerian war, Gillo Pontecorvo's ''Battle of Algiers'', dates from 1966 and there have been few treatments of the subject since.

The film has been praised by French critics, although Le Monde's generally positive review noted that Siri, who directed Bruce Willis in the 2005 production ''Hostage'', makes use of what it called ''war film cliches'' more familiar from Hollywood productions than from French cinema.


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