Amalric in the dark depths of the Kingdom in On War
by Fabien Lemercier
17/05/2008 - "Today, pleasure has to be won, just as you win a war". In On War, French director Bertrand Bonello plunges viewers into the world of a sectarian cult, focusing on the experiences of one individual and exploring the dark depths of his unconscious. The film screened this morning in the Directors’ Fortnight.
The unsettling, disturbing and visually accomplished work is open to multiple interpretations and is true to the form of this bold director, who also composed the film’s score.
Led by the guru Asia Argento (cast in a rather introverted role) and her lieutenant (a caustic Guillaume Depardieu), the members of the small community known as the Kingdom – based in an isolated manor house surrounded by forests – attempt to return to a primitive way of life. A filmmaker (played by an outstanding Mathieu Amalric) who is depressed and weary of the modern world ends up spending 15 days in this atmosphere governed by various rituals and exercises, including trances, the wearing of animal masks, and unleashed sexual activity.
The film – written by the director – is divided into three parts that bear the titles of chapters from Clausewitz’s work ("The Nature of War", "Engagement", "Attack”).
During the course of the film, Amalric’s character becomes completely involved in the sect, which he refuses to leave and whose darker side he soon discovers: mock wars in the trenches, uniforms and weapons. Joined by his girlfriend (Clotilde Hesme) – who remains an observer – he then sinks into utter madness in the forest, culminating in a scene inspired by the text and ending of Coppola’s Apocalypse Now.
Superbly lensed by Josée Deshaies, the film is a social parable and a risky initiatory journey, also for Bonello, who as a director is not afraid to stray from well-worn territory in order to better explore his slightly depraved kingdom.
Selected last year for the Cannes Festival workshop, On War was produced by Les Films du lendemain and My New Picture for a budget of €2.62m. This included an advance on receipts from the National Film Centre (CNC) and pre-sales from Canal + and TPS.
The title will be released domestically by Ad Vitam and international sales are being handled by Films Distribution.
(Translated from French)