- CANNES 2022: Cédric Jimenez delivers a suspenseful thriller about the manhunt following the 2015 terror attacks in Paris, but is it enough to keep French and European viewers gripped?
The 2015 Paris attacks are still an open wound in the heart of France and Europe. The sudden nightmare of Friday 13 November that year is relived, at least in part, through Cédric Jimenez’s new picture, Novembre, screening out of competition at this year’s Cannes Film Festival.
The movie opens in Athens, during a high-risk operation conducted by Greek special squads in co-operation with the French police’s anti-terrorism division. It’s too late, however, and someone who was supposed to be caught has managed to escape, much to the regret of one of the French commanders, played by Jean Dujardin. The action then shifts to Paris, ten months later. We realise it’s already 13 November, and the worst has already happened. In a deserted control room, phones start ringing frenetically, befuddling the only detective sitting at his desk while the France-Germany football game is visible on the TV in the background.
Thus, Jimenez starts telling the story of a gruelling manhunt lasting five days. We see a star-studded cast playing the parts of the cops – alongside Dujardin are Anaïs Demoustier, Sandrine Kiberlain and Jérémie Renier – doing their best to track and catch the terrorists.
The pace remains fast and engaging throughout, but ultimately, what else is left? This is an action-packed thriller flick, filled with intense dialogue, interrogations, debriefings, shootings and chases. If the tragedy of 13 November hadn’t ever happened, one could claim to have watched a well-crafted (albeit not particularly original), long episode of a high-end crime series – one of the many that the average Joe would watch on Netflix or other streaming platforms on a Friday night.
At the end of the day, one may wonder: why was this movie made? One could argue that the film is supposed to celebrate the heroic efforts of the French police, which would certainly be a commendable goal. However, if that is the case, Jimenez doesn’t quite hit the mark. The cast’s performances are adequate, although nothing to write home about, and all of the characters – with the slight exceptions of one of the police’s informants and Demoustier’s role – are underdeveloped and fail to forge an empathic bond with the viewers. We see them working incessantly, we don’t find out anything about their lives outside of the police force, and their inner conflicts are only faintly sketched out. Besides, the film’s visual language – over-the-shoulder shots depicting the leads running or chasing people, spectacular explosions, the frenetic editing and the overly solemn score – echoes that of action sagas we have seen many times before, where there is little truth to tell, but enough substance to entertain the viewers and keep them watching with bated breath.
The final on-screen text seems to recontextualise what we’ve seen and brings it back down to reality, but it’s too little, too late.
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