Saturday, October 1, 2016

The Search

The Search; war / drama, France / Georgia, 2014; D: Michel Hazanavicius, S: Abdul Khalim Mamutsiev, Bérénice Bejo, Maksim Emelyanov, Zukhra Duishvili, Annette Bening

In '99, war criminal Vladimir Putin orders the invasion of the newly independent Chechnya in order to create Greater Russia. Among the casualties is a Chechen married couple - witnessing their execution from the house, their child, the 10-year old Hadji, takes his baby brother and decides to flee into the unknown. He lands in a refugee centre in Ingushetia, where he is adopted by Carole, a French human rights worker for the EU. Hadji is at first mute from trauma, but finally manages to speak thanks to Carole's golden heart. He is reunited with his sister... A young Russian lad, Kolia, is drafted after being caught with drugs, and sent to the Russian army for a military drill. Finally, he is sent to Chechnya to the battlefront - and films how Hadji's family was shot.

For a contemporary and actual remake of Zinnemann's '48 Holocaust drama "The Search", director Michel Hazanavicius took on a "worthy" successor in his eponymous 2014 film, Goreshist Russia in the Second Chechen War. It is a refreshing and welcomed, rare topic that gives voice to the often ignored war: Chechens lost at least 8.5% of its entire population in both Chechen wars in the 90s and 00s, thereby proportionally suffering almost three time worse mortality rates than the Bosniaks during the Bosnian genocide, and the Chechen war marked Moscow's sixth genocide, making Kremlin the most genocidal regime in the last 300 years. "The Search" plays out as some sort of "Short Cuts" set in Chechnya, consisting out of two stories, yet they are uneven. The story that revolves around the military training of a young lad from Perm, Kolia, works as some sort of an "Come and See" in reverse, going full circle, thanks to gruesome, chilling details and effective scenes of the military drill: the most clever messages are hidden in small details, such as the older cadets bullying young cadets (during lunch, one of them pushes a lad's lunch plate to the the edge of the table) up to the colonel kicking a lying Kolia in his office with his shoes, while the camera switches to the photo of the Russian president of that time, slyly implying the inherent brute nature from top to bottom of the hierarchy, and the fermentation of a culture of hate in the army, necessary to sustain Goreshist territorial nationalism. Unfortunately, the story revolving around a homeless Chechen boy is a lot weaker: Hazanavicius does not rise to the occasion there, and instead just gives a standard, "bare" drama since the relationship between Hadji and the French woman, Carole, who adopted him, has no inspiration and thus feels like a 'stranded whale'. Their relationship is just there, without any sense for enchanting emotions, details or spark that would engage the viewers, resulting in a very flat, thin, didactic refugee storyline. "The Search" is thus an uneven combination of two stories, yet it is an ambitious and refreshingly honest, humane film that contemplates how kindness and humanity can heal many wounds - and how lack of it can cause them all.


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