tribute to a military brother, fallen without having fought


“Death for France” is generally added, as an honorary title, to the name of soldiers killed in combat. But what happens when this death occurs in the ranks of the army, within its walls, revealing within it dysfunctions and dissensions? This is the question, among many others, posed by Rachid Hami’s second feature film, inspired by the real case of his brother Jallal Hami, who died in 2012, to whom the film is dedicated.

The story he draws from it opens within the walls of the illustrious military school of Saint-Cyr. Awoken in the middle of the night, the new recruits are subjected to the rite of integration, modestly called “bahutage”, a parody of a commando operation where they are pushed to cross a pond. Aïssa (Shaïn Boumedine, discovered in Mektoub, My Love. canto uno in 2017), a 24-year-old cadet, congested by the cold, will not recover. His family, of Algerian origin, who are waiting for a funeral worthy of the name, come up against the closure of the institution, which is not called the “Grande Muette” for nothing, reluctant to recognize its wrongs – three soldiers were convicted of manslaughter in 2020.

A form of stiffness

For France stages this confrontation, without turning to the charge, but by describing a complex field of forces and tensions, linked to the history of immigration as well as to the wound of floating identities. Rachid Hami does not hesitate to summon the past through successive flashbacks, between Algeria during the black decade and a New Year spent in Taiwan in the company of his big brother, Ismaël (Karim Leklou). These temporal and geographical stalls give flesh to the story, and consist in warding off the inaugural death by completing the family portrait a posteriori. For France thus opens the door to romance for characters too often reduced to a social imagination.

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However, the whole is not without weaknesses. A limit is indicated in the excessive restraint of the staging which, for the sake of transparency, refusing to give in to anger as well as disarray, constrains itself throughout to a form of stiffness, and stagnates in the vague register “drama”.

No doubt this is also a way of not letting yourself be overwhelmed by such a subject – the death of a brother –, of keeping a cool head. It is at this price that the film finds a form of moderation and finesse. Laconic on certain points, all in deviations and returns on himself, he also knows how not to say too much, so as not to completely elucidate this impossible mourning. So the spectator finds his place there, and can thus share it.

French film by Rachid Hami. With Karim Leklou, Shaïn Boumedine, Lubna Azabal, Samir Guesmi, Laurent Lafitte (1h53).

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