After a hate campaign on social media and a drastic reduction in the number of cinemas showing the film, audiences can now judge for themselves whether Un Français directed by Patrick Asté, aka Diastème, deserved the negative publicity. It’s easy to understand why the film was disliked by certain extremist groups with its less than flattering depiction of the far-right movement in France, but reports of its violent content have been widely exaggerated. Diastème sets out to tell the story of a man who renounces the violence of his youth to start a new life set against the background of the steady rise of the far-right in France. Politics and polemic aside, it’s a timely reminder of the Front National (FN)’s links to violent neo-Nazi groups, but the redemptive path of Marco (Alban Lenoir), lacks depth and credibility.
Un Français is based on real events and alongside the story of Marco it plots the history of the extreme right in France from the first clashes between punks and skinheads in 1984 to the death of Morrocan Brahim Bouarram who was drowned in the River Seine in 1998 after a beating by a FN member. All this by way of former FN leader Jean-Marie Le Pen’s presidential bid in 1988. During this period, Marco supports and then rejects one of his former skinhead friends who has taken up a career in politics, has a child with an aristocratic FN supporter and eventually finds peace with himself away from the anger and hate of his younger days.
Diastème films Marco’s thirty year journey from skinhead to responsible adult as a series of snapshots with scant explanation for his gradual change of heart. The earlier scenes which chart the senseless violence carried out by Marco and his band – Braguette (Samuel Jouy). Grand-Guy (Paul Hamy) and Marvin (Olivier Chenille) – are the most shocking. Diastème successfully portrays a group of men whose hate and violence is fuelled by an uncontrollable anger which is then turned on Arabs, gays or Jews as well as punks and Redskins, left wing anti-rascist skinheads identified by the red laces on their boots and bomber jackets worn inside out to expose the orange lining. It’s genuinely frightening to watch their pack-like behaviour as they track, taunt and finally tackle their victims with unbridled violence. These young men enjoy the fear they instil in others and take pleasure in causing pain.
And Marco is one of them, so why does he change? Diastème has argued he is different from the rest of the group claiming Marco doesn’t take pleasure in violence and is genuinely shocked when, in one scene, he comes close to killing a man. It’s a bit of a pat answer to an arguably more complex psychology. To Diastème’s credit, the violence in the film is handled sensitively. It’s never glorified or condoned and comes across as almost banal in its predictability.
Lenoir does an excellent job in transforming Marco from the ugly, jawjutting, neanderthal skinhead into a sympathetic, repentant older man ably supported by Hamy who was nominated for several awards for his role in Katell Quilévéré’s critically acclaimed Suzanne. But Un Français real legacy is in showing the relationship between neo-Nazi groups and the FN, which has now become France’s third largest political force. As FN leader Marine Le Pen tries to re-position the party away from it’s racist roots, Diastème has pointed out that many of her collaborators today are former members of the radical right-wing student organisation, GUD (Groupe Union Droit). But he insists his film is not intended to be provocative, rather it is aimed at encouraging dialogue. Judging by the number of cinemas which pulled out of showing the film, there seems to be a certain reluctance to join him in discussing openly the issues raised by the film.
DIRECTOR’S BIO – DIASTEME