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Capitaine Conan 1996
Description: The last days of Globe Fight I, Eastern front. Captain Conan, a lone wolf, a real warrior, leads a band of ruthless French warriors who love hand-to-hand combat; they are not fit for peacetime, they only feel really alive in the chaos of the battlefield.
Released: 05 Sep 1997 Director: Bertrand Tavernier Writers: Jean Cosmos (dialogue), Jean Cosmos (screenplay), Bertrand Tavernier (screenplay), Roger Vercel (novel) Actors: Philippe Torreton, Samuel Le Bihan, Bernard Le Coq, Catherine Rich Genres: Drama, War
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Capitaine Conan Reviews:

This is in many methods a very nice fight movie but not in the typical way. The movie opens in the closing days of WW1 on the Eastern Front where Capitaine Conan (Philippe Torreton in a Cesar winning performance) leads a band of ruthless hand to hand fighters, equivalent to a modern unique forces unit. They prove themselves far more effective than the regular units in the final conquer and are envied by many including a mate of Conan, Lt Norbet (Samuel Le Bihan, IIRC was nominated for a Cesar in this). But when the armistice is signed Conan and his boys search themselves in limbo while Norbert, working for the Court Martials finds himself accusing the very boys he admired for robbery and murder. This movie does take a while to receive going but it is worth it, giving time for the characters to develop and also establishing the monotony the troops find, going from combat to walking the roads of Bucharest. The movie also deals with the beginnings of the Russian Civil Fight and the trouble of troops fighting with no motivation. Tavernier's direction is magnificent and visually the movie equals a number of classic fight movies while the performances support to give it an edge as it goes into zone that Hollywood fight film's in particular have tended not to go into.


Tavernier is probably the best movie artist working in the globe today. With Capitaine Conan, he accomplished what all the New-Wave directors dreamed about but never quite got the possibility to do (except maybe for Bertolucci on The Last Emperor, if you wish to consider him part of the original new-wave): to create a high-budget movie with thousands of extras and elaborate, detailed sets which fully conforms to their vision and stays uncompromised, an auteurist epic. Well, how's this for uncompromised: Most of the shots in this movie are made using only accessible light or the light that would be accessible given the circumstances of the scene! As a result, the movie looks uniquely dark and authentic, as if it was shot in 1918 when the happenings took place. This takes some getting used to, and of course, folks conditioned to being spoon fed each stage lit up like a christmas tree will be disoriented, but the shadowy results achieved far outweigh the negatives. Some of the shots are kept in total darkness (as they would be in true life) with barely a face showing to indicate who's talking to who! Then the folks gradually come out of the darkness into various shades of light, every more nuanced than the other. The cinematography and art direction are breathtaking; there isn't a single shot in the whole movie that couldn't be named a masterpiece of its own, perfectly framed, perfectly composed and perfectly moved. Tavernier rarely uses a shot-reverse-shot preferring complex camera movement or long uninterrupted takes capturing the scenes from various angles without a cut. The scenes themselves, however, don't drag on forever, they are compact and to the point, making a Tavernier movie usually one where a lot of things happen very quick and in order to pick up all the features and nuances, many viewings are essential. The acting from the nice leads of Thoreton (a richly deserved Cesar award for greatest actor), Le Bihan, and Le Coque, down to the smallest bit user is uniformly brilliant. No American movie I've ever seen has acting on this high a naturalistic level.The movie is mainly about the thin and precariously balanced zone named 'amorality' that some folks have a knack for staying within, racking up only enough whites (good deeds) and blacks (bad deeds)to stay mostly in the perfectly shaded middle gray. In a war-time case the folks who have this knack tend to do very well for themselves. Conan, a tough unique forces officer whose group makes sneak attacks on the opponent and kills at knife-point, is that excellent 'amoral' hero or for lack of a better term folks have come to call an 'anti-hero', i.e., that guy who sometimes does 'bad' or 'evil' things, but integrates this within a higher integrity that's essentialy 'good' and admirable. His friend, Lt. Norbert is the more traditionally 'moral' boy who comes to admire the guts it takes for Conan to operate rather openly in that precarious territory vs all the hypocrisies of his superiors (which hold them protected). When Conan comes to defend a several of his boys who have clearly gone over the line and committed atrocities which gotta be punished, Norbert, given the job of prosecuting the men, makes his position clear and breaks with him. All through the movie he tries to become more like Conan and yet stays wary of the line that Conan should easy cross into madness and fanaticism. What draws Conan and Norbert together is their common integrity vs the hypocrisies of society, as opposed to Lt. DeSceve, the another main character, who's an honorable soldier and powerful man, but who kisses-up to the top brass and has a fascist attitude.This movie never got the distribution it could have in the U.S. simply because it was a subtitled foreign movie and Americans have practically stopped watching foreign films! What a damn shame! They missed the best movie of the '90s! I would conjecture that not 1 out of a 100 folks who've seen Spielberg's melodramatic "Saving Personal Ryan" have even heard of "Capitaine Conan." Catch it on the Sundance channel on cable or rent it on video and experience a real masterpiece. Then watch it again and again and experience deja-vu.


"Captain Conan (Capitaine Conan)' ***1/2. (1996, France, Not Rated, 129 min Directed Bertrand Tavernier with Philippe Torreton, Samuel Lebihan, Bernard Le Coq). History on the cusp of any fight is most often overlooked. How many of us have or take the occasion to study or learn about the United States during the 1760s or 1870s? When did you last read about Europe in 1900, 1920, 1932 or 1946? `Capitaine Conan' is a film about boys on the cusp, at the end of Globe Fight I. For this alone, `Capitaine Conan' is a film worth seeing. For more than a year after the Armistice, over 100,000 French units fought in Eastern Europe.`Capitaine Conan' opens on the battlefront in Bulgaria. Conan (Torreton) is the leader of a guerrilla troop that wars behind opponent lines. They live off the land, fighting where the guidelines of engagement are brutally one on one. Conan says his mate Norbett (Lebihan) `…3000 boys like me won the war. Anyone can slay at a distance, but only a several learn to slay with the knife, eye to eye. It took all the millions of troops like you to war the war, but it took the several like myself to victory it.' But when the Armistice is announced Conan's boys are thrust back into the civilized world, a globe of units regulations, boredom, and restrictions. Conan's guerrillas aren't easy tamed. There's a robbery and murder at the nightclub. Conan's boys are the basic suspects. But before there is any resolution in the military court, the French units are named to war the Bolsheviks on the border of the newly formed Soviet Union. The Bolsheviks attack the French and Conan leads his boys into the battle. As the stage fades they are running into the reeds and rushes of a large river delta.The film ends with Conan and Norbett meeting some years later. Conan is dying. Their discussion is unsettling and doesn't resolve any of the unanswered questions about how the fight ended. I've watched the film twice and the ending still seems out of place. But then maybe fights and history don't end. Maybe history is a continuum and life on the cusp between happenings is more hard to define and understand than the happenings themselves. Maybe this is why most history is about happenings and less so about the life and lives around the events.If you're place of by the thought that `Capitaine Conan' is nothing more than a history lesson, be not afraid. The acting, direction, and photography are very well done. One of the most interesting details of this production is the hand held camera work during the war scenes. The camera moves through the war like other pair of eyes often distracted by an explosion, an obstruction or a scream. The camera flinches as it makes its method though the mud and the muck of the battle. The staging of a war in the hills of Bulgaria is up to the standards of the war scenes in `Patton.'`Capitaine Conan' is a very nice movie, one of the greatest of 1996. It's out on video, I suggest you see it.



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