Julien Leclerq’s The Assault’s seriousness of purpose asserts itself immediately by the use of news footage of the actual 1994 hijacking of the Air France plane by Algerian terrorists, an event watched live by millions across the nation and which this film reconstructs. This seriousness is compounded by the washed-out colour Leclerq uses as soon as he clicks over into dramatised reconstruction, proving once again that only by eschewing a rich colour palette can a film as serious as this be taken seriously. The question that needs to be asked about this choice is, however, when precisely does an aspiration to seriousness nudge over the dial into pomposity?
It is not just that The Assault is as monochrome as it is possible for a colour film to be, it’s the avoidance of the issues around the hijacking, the many human and political shades of meaning which the act of the hijacking itself illuminates, which Leclerq chooses to ignore. This might be because French involvement in Algeria, its history and struggle have been treated more critically in Pontecorvo’s masterpiece The Battle of Algiers, rendering further analysis irrelevant. Although it is 50 years since the events portrayed in that film, and it is not as if the Algerian Maghreb has been quiet ever since. Or it might be that Leclerq’s aim is simply lower – to reconstruct the events of the rescue accurately, formally, without judgement. The key is in the title: this is a film about an assault,
nothing else. It’s fair enough, and there is a certain cruel elegance to its simplicity – but it doesn’t leave much meat on the bone.
Switching between the points of view of the lead terrorist, the SWAT team’s point man and the negotiator, the film’s narrative has neither the time nor the inclination for the kinds of asides, political hucksterism or sentimentality which plague American thrillers of this type – and this is all to the good. Neither, however, does it convey the emotional punch and real-life human insight which Paul Greengrass brought to his reconstruction of Bloody Sunday, or indeed the very similar but thoroughly rewarding United 93.
But comparisons are odious – and there is much to applaud in The Assault’s tautness, lack of sentimentality and high seriousness. One could wish only that the subtext had been freighted with some insight into France’s attitudes to its ex-colonies, rather than characterising their struggles as merely a tactical problem to be solved with extreme prejudice.
Words > Chris Chakraborty
(Written in 30 degree heat in Kuala Lumpur as opposed to 30 degree heat in Wandsworth)