Reaching back to mid-December, for a moment worth noting. On a cold sunday afternoon, thanks to my writer-friend michel g. who had tix but a book-signing elsewhere, i found my way to an invite-only, free movie screening hosted by the mairie of the 11th arrondissement. Out near pere lachaise cemetery, in a social center hidden like a bunker in the cellar of purpose-built housing. The mayor himself attended. A recently released film: L’ennemi Intime. A blow by blow in hallucinatory perspective, a mountain-scape of the war in Algeria. A couple of close-up weeks in 1959. Only two hours, they felt like a nauseating six at least, one could not tear one’s eyes from the vertiginous arid hillsides and lush gorges, where lines of bushes suddenly rose up and advanced (soldiers perfectly concealed behind them) like Dunham’s wood. An all-too wellmade film despite inevitable cliche’s of war. (The initially softie lieutenant, the local orphan boy first mascot then terrorist, the gay radio operator…) Fear, fear of fear, gangrenous wounds, sadistic torture, etc. One resists thinking scenes like these could have been real, not ‘only a movie’ that anything happened that way, let alone that it is still happening as we speak (the parallels with Irak and Afghanistan) and will keep on happening. Because humans are so stupid. And manipulable.
The whole school-auditorium style space was packed with the invitees– French war veterans and some wives and children. Easily a few hundred. Shortish balding gray-haired guys waved canes at each other in greeting. Volunteers kept dragging in more folding chairs. And of course a lot of the guys had been in that confused bloodbath that was not officially admitted to have been a real war until 1999! Around 30,000 french soldiers lost, and between 300,000 and 5000,000 locals. After the flick came a Q and A session. A 40-something academic connected with the production filled in some much-needed historical and sociological background. The context: back then in the 50’s france had universal conscription, there existed a general consensus that every generation has its war, and you weren’t finished growing up to manhood until you’d done yours.
Old soldiers started standing up to give their deux centimes, the handheld microphone conked out then was resuscitated. Old soldiers, average age around 70, aren’t in the habit of giving quarter to their adversaries, or mincing words. Talk about saturday night fever! There was some disgusted angry rejection of the film–‘unbalanced, where’s the cruelty on their side?’ And clapping for someone who called out: Merde, that wasn’t MY war!–
But for others, clearly, it pretty much was their war. Revisited.