An early incident of “friendly fire” underlines the contradictory title of Florent Emilio Siri’s Algerian War picture, which reminds us that the French and Algerians had 130 years of shared history in 1959, when Enemies takes place. French patrols and FLN rebels—men who once fought together running the Germans off this land—snipe at each other through the rugged North Country (played by upstaging Moroccan badlands). As per the Office of Military Cliché’s quota system, a naïve liberal humanist (Benoît Magimel’s Lieutenant Terrien) must team up and lock horns with an amoral, efficient ask-no-questions veteran (Albert Dupontel’s Sergeant Dougnac). Preceded by French public debate over one of their own, General Paul Aussaresses, who recently defended the torturing of Algerians—not to mention La trahison (The Betrayal) in theaters—Enemies busts no taboos. But the film’s presentation of wartime atrocity as a race to the bottom in which both sides are implicated is rather gutsy. Finally mouthing pacifistic sentiment, Enemies is better at describing under-fire maneuvers in wide-screen than in probing the souls of men. There are stinging vignettes—a Sam Fuller–ish bit teaching how to recognize enemy soldiers cross-dressing in hijabs, a napalm nightmare—but Siri’s fine tactical imagination doesn’t translate to the individual scale. With its sententious air of historical reckoning, Enemies is an impressive monument, but not a moving one.
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on September 29, 2009