Capitaine Conan

1996, Movie, NR, 130 mins


As beautiful as it is brutal, Bernard Tavernier's sprawling World War I saga is easily one of the best war films of recent years. The year is 1918, the place the Balkan front: In an era of increasingly mechanized warfare, battle-bred French commander Conan (Philippe Torreton) and his troops continue to fight as warriors, battering their opponents with all the savagery and terror of hand-to-hand combat while contemptuously flouting orders from the superiors they consider mere "soldiers." On the battlefield they're hailed as heroes, but once armistice is declared and Conan and his band of marauders are let loose on the streets of Bucharest, it's an entirely different matter. When a masked gang of thugs raids nightclub, killing two female employees, Conan's men are immediately suspected, and the fallen heroes find themselves held accountable for their professional brutality by the same society that once honored them for it. Adapting their screenplay from the novel by Roger Vercel, Tarvernier and cowriter Jean Cosmos deliver a complex yet clear-eyed tale of war and its attendant hypocrisies, and while non-World War I buffs may have a little trouble with the historical details, it's well worth the close attention it demands. Superbly acted by a cast of relative unknowns, the film is also beautifully shot by cinematographer Alain Choquart, who blends gorgeous landscape photography with some breathless handheld camera-work that fill Tavernier's battle scenes with a grueling immediacy. leave a comment --Ken Fox

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Capitaine Conan
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