Kris Rothstein's Blog

VIFF 2015: The Anarchists

Kris Rothstein

As the film still above suggests, The Anarchists includes a fair number of shots of beautiful people in black, about to rob banks or plant bombs. It is gorgeous to look at but slightly lacking in substance.

It's 1899 in Paris. Jean is a policeman. He is asked/ordered to go under cover. He works in a nail factory to meet elegant Eliseé, one of a small group of anarchists living together in the home of a friend. Jean knows just how to befriend people and he is soon embraced by the group (although one or two members do suspect him of being a snitch). He also falls for Eliseé's girlfriend, Judith. He gathers information until his superiors can catch the group in acts of terrorism.

This is an interesting study of the psychological stress of spying or working undercover at any time or in any place. The setting is lovely, but arguably irrelevant. This is really Jean's story and there are some additional angles to round out his character. He was raised in an orphanage. He father was a commuard (a supporter of the Paris Commune) who abandoned his family. Does that make Jean more wary of radical politics? Who knows. Though he is pulled into his new world, he never seems tempted to join the group for real - he remains all about the bottom line and getting ahead.

I do wish that the film had taken politics a bit more seriously. The actual beliefs of the anarchists, who are prepared to die, are peripheral, and all engage in dramatic utterances without really expressing anything. For me, Adèle Exarchopoulos (Blue Is the Warmest Colour) as Judith steals this film. She is very much hardened by her background and yet she seems to have more ideals than the men, even if the ideal has been boiled down to simply fighting together until death.

The Anarchists is a very good film which is more about looking great than offering a message.

October 3 1:30 pm at SFU Woodwards.



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