Review: “Father and Soldier” a strong French war drama.
“Father and Soldier”
Director: Mathieu Vadepied
Screenplay: Olivier Demangel, Mathieu Vadepied. Starring: Omar Sy, Assane Diong, Jonas Bloquet. Duration: 1 hour 49 minutes (from 15 years). Languages: Peul, French. Cinema premiere.
Already under Napoleon III, France began to draw military strength from the colonies for various wars. More or less voluntary men fought in the colors of the tricolor, but hardly on the same terms as their white comrades. Not a particularly glorious time for the former great power, which historically liked to sweep that part of colonialism under the carpet.
However, several films have tried to illuminate the dark corners of history. Most famous so far is Rachid Bouchareb’s “Native soldier” (“Les indigènes”, 2006), which is about soldiers from the colonies who fought, and often died, for France during the Second World War. A film that made then-President Jacques Chirac cry during a private screening at the Elysée Palace.
History tells not if Emmanuel Macron shed tears when he saw “Father and soldier” (“Les tiralleurs”), which had its French premiere last winter. But if he was ashamed, he must have done it anyway. Director Mathieu Vadepied recalls how hundreds of thousands of Senegalese and men from neighboring countries were conscripted to become cannon fodder in the trenches during the First World War.
“Father and Soldier” takes place in 1917. The war is at a standstill, it takes lots of soldiers to advance short distances. When young Thierno (Assane Diong) is forcibly recruited, his father Bakary (Omar Sy) becomes desperate and volunteers – despite not knowing a word of French – to protect his son and ensure his return to the family.
A melodramatic set-up that nevertheless feels less contrived and soppy than the stilted Swedish title suggests. Father and son receive little, if no training, and end up in a camp near the front. Bakary sees the bodies rolling in from the battlefield and desperately tries to buy himself and his son jobs as kitchen staff. Meanwhile, Thierno, who knows French, becomes acquainted with white soldier brothers and is tempted by the offer to fight the iron and then be paid in the form of French citizenship. The gap between father and son, between traditions and the dream of a more modern life, is increasing.
Considered as a war film “Father and Soldier” is close to the recently Oscar-winning “On the Western Front nothing new”; an unadorned, muddy, bloody and fast-paced depiction of the horrors of war. Bakary’s unyielding love for his slightly reluctant son is an emotional engine. Sentimental and a little contrived, sure. But the “Lupin” actor Omar Sy has a charisma that is able to pour life and desire into any role. A superb actor who is always worth watching and who moves freely and weightlessly between different genres.
The real charge in the film is, of course, in the depiction of the dual vulnerability of father and son. Macron may not have cried, but at least he recently summoned some old Senegalese World War II veterans and improved their pension conditions. The political-historical explosive power, which is felt in every box, obviously produced results.
See more. Three other feature films with Omar Sy: “An unexpected friendship” (2012), “Monsieur Chocolat” (2016), “Jurassic World Dominion” (2022).
Read other film and television reviews in DN and more texts by Helena Lindblad
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