For the follow-up to his critically acclaimed debut feature Aliyah, Elie Wajeman goes back to Paris at the turn of the 19th century and straight to the heart of a gang of political activists and the young police officer sent to infiltrate the group. Les Anarchistes lines up all the elements of a top notch thriller – tense plot, great actors, atmospheric backdrop – yet fails to bring them together as a satisfying whole. Tahar Rahim as the officer Jean Albertini is superb and his love affair with the feisty Adèle Exarchopoulos has all the requisite snap, crackle and pop, but there is something missing. Save a few rousing speeches from individual members about personal freedom and one memorable debate about whether workers need to unionise or take to the streets in revolt, the politics is thin on the ground and the anarchists act more like petty thieves than poltiical idealogues. And the action scenes are too widely spaced to create the force needed to push the audience to the edge of their seats.
Albertini is chosen by his police chief Gaspard (a menacingly good performance from director Cédric Kahn) to worm his way into a group of anarchistes and report back on their activities. He is introduced to the group by Elysée (Swann Arlaud) and meets the other members Eugène (Guillaume Gouix), Biscuit (Karim Leklou) and Elysée’s girlfriend Judith (Exarchopoulos). The anarchists spend most of the time robbing graves or breaking into houses to finance their lifestlye. But gradually, Jean is asked to carry out more dangerous missions and has to decide how far he will go in following Gaspard’s orders.
David Chizallet, director of photography on Deniz Gamze Erguven’s Mustang
(France’s foreign language Oscar contenter),
infuses the exterior scenes with a bluish tint giving them a nasty, sinister feel by throwing the narrow streets and parks into shadow. And Wajeman has made interesting use of contemporary music. The burglary of a mansion in the Parisian suburbs is played out to great effect to the Kinks I go to Sleep
bringing a quirky contemporary touch to the period setting. Premiered at the Cannes Film Festival in the Critic’s Week competition, Les Anarchistes
failed to pick up a prize. And it has also had a slow start at the box-office lagging way behind Julie Delpy’s Lolo
and Ange & Gabrielle
directed by Anne Giafferi both released the same week.