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La Sentinelle 1992
Description: After spending some time with his diplomat father in Germany, a young French medical student returns by train to Paris to resume his studies. He is puzzled by the harsh treatment he receives from customs at the border but doesn't start to understand why until he gets home and discovers a mummified head in his luggage. He suspects that someone at customs place it there, but is not sure. Instead of reporting the meandering body part, he decides to investigate it using the softwares he has as a medical student. It appears to be the head of a Russian who died somewhere in Asia.
Released: 16 Oct 1998 Director: Arnaud Desplechin Writers: Arnaud Desplechin (original scenario), Pascale Ferran (adaptation), Noémie Lvovsky (adaptation), Emmanuel Salinger (adaptation) Actors: Emmanuel Salinger, Thibault de Montalembert, Jean-Louis Richard, Valérie Dréville Genres: Thriller
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La Sentinelle Reviews:

A student in medicine finds a severed head, well preserved and embalmed, in his luggage, on a trip from Berlin to Paris. His father is the late French ambasador in Eastern Germany. Why the head is here ? Where does it come from ? Why him ? For what purpose? He doesn't know. At first, he forgets about the head and tries to create friends, builds his life and hold studying but... he later becomes obsessed with the head. Since he is the only one to know then he bears the responsibility to search out why and for what... The film begins slowly and gains in intensity as the storyline develops. The cast is remarkable and the characters are all touching. The magic of the film is that it possesses the same complexity as a Dostoeivski novel (really). It works in a very subtle way, making its method unnoticed to your mind and memory... I did not like it the first time I saw it, but months after, years after, La Sentinelle came back haunt me... and I had to see it again, just like I sometimes read over again a ebook that has depths I missed the first time.


La Sentinelle is worth each mins it lasts, including the decisive ones when the director voluntary mixes the sound track, and the editing, to receive us lost. For this movie is just as much about sensation as it is about the storyline of how a dead head was set in the luggage of a young boy traveling from Achen to Paris.As Matthias discovers the head and tries to understand the reasons why it was 'given' to him, he loses all his marks in the tiny globe of Paris French diplomacy bourgeoisie which saw him grow up. A forensic student, he begins to study the head to reveal its pasts... the rest of the plot gotta not be told, but is worth any thriller.The true interest of the movie is the method it looks at sensations, physic sensations, the nose bleeding, the smoking, the hearing, and the method those sensations everytime say us more about the reality than any plot saying would. La sentinelle is not only to be understood as the watcher. The sentinel was also the name given to the nose by the ancient Greeks, meaning the organ of the real sensation. And it is also interesting to quote Merleau Ponty: "The sentinel, this current body I call mine, which stands silently while i speak and act" (very loose translation from French- 'L oeil et L esprit').Given that quality, the movie is a nice thriller as well, the atmosphere is quite related to the one depicted in 'Les Patriotes'.Many mates were unhappy at the end of the film, thinking that the movie was nice but that it didn't give any clue to why and how the dead head was 'given' to Matthias. I do not trust this to be a drawback, this is just the mere consequence of Despleschin testing with our sensations to lose us at the most necessary part of the film, when all the explanation is given but not heard.Truly a nice reason to see the movie a second time and beware.I would suggest this movie to anyone who enjoys unexpected scripts, and upsets.Along with those qualities, Despleschin's movie has just the same another qualities as his another films, nice casting, nice light, nice tempo (pianissimo), nice depiction of inter private communication.


Here are the elements you need to create sense of this film: 1) the initial stage in which a French diplomat says an anecdote about Yalta which reveals how the large powers "cold-heartedly" disposed of the lives of millions according to the logic of Realpolitik; 2) the hero of Bleicher, whose brother fought on the side of the Germans in a French SS unit on the Russian front, was captured, and died in a POW camp in the USSR; Bleicher remains obsessed with retrieving the remains of his brother, while the French State shows tiny interest in the matter; 3) the characters representing the French Secret Service (Varins & William Mahe'), who were involved in a scheme to smuggle Soviet engineers out of the USSR only to sell them into a type of techno-slavery to countries interested in their services; 4) the head of one such Soviet engineer who got into some hot water in Sumatra (by putting the head in Mathias' suitcase, Bleicher wants Mathias to embarrass French intelligence). So what you get, in political terms, is a condemnation (rather oblique, admittedly) of big-power politics. So I suppose Desplechins would have been happier if, instantly at the conclusion of WWII, the US had declared fight on the Soviet Union, dropped the atom bomb on Moscow, and "liberated" the peoples of Eastern Europe. If that's the director's concept of "humanistic" politics, I'll take Realpolitik any day. One distinctive note in this film: There's not one single hero here who is "sympa": not Mathias (too much of a wuss), not his Jewish classmate (captious); certainly not the villains in the French secret service; not Mathias' sister (irritatingly capricious); not the son-of-diplomat diplomat (full of conceit); not even Emmanuelle Devos as Mathias' would-be girlfriend (not worth the problem wooing her--she fusses much too much).



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