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CANNES 2021 Directors’ Fortnight

Review: Our Men

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- CANNES 2021: Rachel Lang delivers an unsettling and surprising story set within an obscure community, which questions military careers when viewed through the prism of love and family

Review: Our Men
Camille Cottin and Louis Garrel in Our Men

Our Men [+see also:
trailer
interview: Rachel Lang
film profile
]
, the second feature film by Rachel Lang, which was presented in the closing slot of the Directors’ Fortnight, unspooling within the 74th Cannes Film Festival, is a story about war and commitment. It’s a story about love. Or rather, it’s a story about those who go to war and those who keep the love alive. A world where men go to war and women take charge of care. A world of opposition but where, ultimately, frustrations, expectations and vulnerabilities coincide.

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The film opens with bodies: young, for the most part, athletic, almost certainly, dressed in uniform and dancing. We’re in a nightclub, a kind of formal parenthesis which serves as an introduction to a haunting tale echoing the questions which engulf life on a military base like a tidal wave; universal questions where we least expect to find them. Can you love someone when you’re far away from one another, and, if so, how? Is it possible to have multiple loyalties, and is family life viable within the military?

Maxime (Louis Garrel) loves Céline (Camille Cottin). Nika (Ina Marija Bartaité) loves Vlad (Aleksandr Kuznetsov). They’re young, they’re good looking, there’s a smell of warm sand about them, but unlike the legionnaire in the song, the word “Nobody” isn’t scored into their hearts. Despite the institution’s resistance and the exclusivity of the French Legion, they try to be part of a couple, against all odds, and to live their love.

But how can you go about loving someone serenely when death lies just around the corner? Military life is incompatible with eternal vows, and worry is the default emotion felt by these hearts on hold. Maxime and Vlad wait for the enemy in the depths of Mali. Céline and Nika wait for their men, isolated in Corsica, insular even in their love.

Rachel Lang takes a look at the army (specifically, the Foreign Legion) from an incongruous angle, infiltrating its inner depths: the intimacy of the profession, life in a bivouac, the sense of complicity but also utter loneliness felt by the men. And the time spent waiting, always waiting, whether for orders and commands, for the enemy or for death. And the time spent waiting by the women, the mothers, the wives holed up on the base as a horizon of hope for the men; women who must manage uncertainty, preserve bonds and negotiate some kind of reconnection.

The film and its love stories proceed at a haunting pace, taking the time to listen to the silences, to guess at words left unsaid, to allow two people to kiss, or to watch the seasons change.

Stepping into the roles of the film’s lovers, we find Kuznetsov (discovered in Cannes 2018 in Leto [+see also:
film review
trailer
interview: Ilya Stewart
film profile
]
) and Bartaité (a young actress discovered in Peace to Us in Our Dreams [+see also:
film review
trailer
interview: Sharunas Bartas
film profile
]
), who tragically passed away in April. The two of them lend intensity and mystery to the young lovers separated by the Legion. Playing the settled couple, meanwhile, are Garrel and Cottin, who take us aback with their commitment to roles which we didn’t expect to find them in, fighting to overcome the silences and to repair their mutual weaknesses.

Our Men is produced by Chevaldeuxtrois (France) and Wrong Men (Belgium), with international sales in the hands of BAC Films.

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(Translated from French)

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