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CANNES 2021 Out of Competition

Review: The Stronghold

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- CANNES 2021: Cédric Jimenez’s punchy film with an American style and a Manichean ideology centres on three Marseille cops of the anti-crime brigade

Review: The Stronghold
François Civil and Karim Leklou in The Stronghold

It is quite surprising to see, in the Official Selection of the 74th Cannes Film Festival, two films about the northern suburbs of Marseille as dissimilar as Good Mother [+see also:
film review
trailer
interview: Hafsia Herzi
film profile
]
(well-received in Un Certain Regard) by Hafsia Herzi (who filmed a family saga in an environment where she herself grew up) and The Stronghold [+see also:
trailer
film profile
]
by Cédric Jimenez, presented Out of Competition. The two films do not belong to the same categories, the latter high on the energy of the action film, replete with chases, shootouts, packs of hooded villains reigning over their territories and the illegal activities of a trio of cops from the BAC (“Brigade anti-criminalité,” the anti-crime brigade), bent on blowing apart the drug network in an impregnable neighbourhood. These ingredients, all set to white hot temperatures, seduced Netflix, which announced in Cannes its acquisition of the film’s international rights (except for France).

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Greg (Gilles Lellouche), Antoine (François Civil) and Yass (Karim Leklou) form a team of experienced plainclothes cops who are also very close friends, with the third about to become a father with Nora (Adèle Exarchopoulos), who also works for the police. Not really on the rotten side (except for contraband cigarettes and coffee), unlike some of their colleagues, the trio are meeting very high quotas, to the satisfaction of their bosses, and add up many various little arrests. But they are frustrated by an interdiction to enter the housing estates, controlled by unpunished and heavily armed dealers who are very well organised in who they let in and out of their traffic zones. "It’s Bagdad over there, they fight each other. There are no more rules, it’s the jungle," says Amel (Kenza Fortas), a secret mole of Antoine’s who asks for 5 kilos of cannabis resin in exchange for information that is vital to an operation finally authorised by the higher ups. The problem? They won’t be allowed to draw from the haul (the drugs are very recognisable and this would put the mole’s life in danger), or to help themselves, because their boss is opposed to it. He however accepts to turn a blind eye when the highly motivated trio (soon helped by the whole of BAC Nord of the original French title) begin to collect the drugs by taking them from small clients. A violation of the law that will turn against the cops by the end of a spectacular raid at the heart of the housing estate…

In terms of action scenes and adrenaline, The Stronghold fulfills its contract perfectly, with the film also drawing a lot of its quality from its three lead actors. However, and this despite being based on real events which took place in 2012, a time when the north suburbs of Marseille apparently held the record for the highest crime rate in France, the film offers a very caricatural image of the local mood and communicates a rather dubious political message. One could argue that this does not matter so much, since the film does not aspire to sociology, but in its defence of police work executed outside the limits of law in order to be able to fight against “the zoo” lacks the nuance necessary to elevate it above its nature as a very effective and unsubtle film that will easily find its international audience.

The Stronghold was produced by Chi-Fou-Mi Productions and co-produced by France 2 Cinéma and StudioCanal (which is also selling its international rights).

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(Translated from French)

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