If in his first film, Le Combat dans l’île (1962), the references to the war in Algeria remained concealed within the story’s subtext, with his next film, L’Insoumis, Alain Cavalier had the audacity to deal head-on with a subject that was taboo in French cinema of the period – and just three years after Godard’s Le Petit soldat (1960, banned in France until 1963).
Cavalier drew inspiration from the events that befell the lawyer Mireille Szatan-Glaymann, a member of the Communist party who, in contrast to the party line, had defended several Algerian FLN militants and was subsequently kidnapped and held hostage by the OAS. However, one of her jailers later set her free. The director and Jean Cau made this jailer the film’s protagonist under the fictitious name of Thomas Vlassenroot, painting him as a young man from Luxembourg who had fought in the foreign legion in Kabylie before deserting and taking refuge in Algiers. He is a contradictory character, a disillusioned and individualistic antihero who finds himself involved in the kidnapping of the lawyer Dominique Servet (Lea Massari) ordered by the OAS. Moved and seduced by her, they decide to flee together, and he repudiates his identity as a “legalised homicide professional”. In contrast with the female character, an intellectual with deeply held beliefs, Thomas is impulsive, a man of action who has lost all point of reference and is plunged into self-destructive behaviour and funereal atmospheres which recall certain American film noirs. Cavalier surrounds himself with a first rate crew: Claude Renoir as cinematographer, Bernard Evein as art director, Georges Delerue as composer and Antoine Bonfanti as sound recorder – all collaborators drawn from the Nouvelle Vague. He also enlisted Alain Delon, who recognised in Thomas certain autobiographical traits (he had fought in Indochina when he was eighteen) and gave one of his most intense performances. L’Insoumis also marked Delon’s debut as a producer, having signed a deal with MGM. But the film was a flop when it was released (in September 1964) and shortly afterwards Szatan-Glaymann pressed charges: “She withdrew the film after fifteen days for violation of privacy. There was a trial, and the court ordered a detailed series of cuts. The film was re-distributed in cinemas minus twenty five minutes of footage. Nobody wanted to see it. I felt as if they had torn off my ear and gouged out my eyes” (Cavalier). Fifty-three years later, L’Insoumis can finally be seen as its director intended.
Cast and Credits
Scen.: Alain Cavalier, Jean Cau. F.: Claude Renoir. M.: Pierre Gillette. Scgf.: Bernard Evein. Mus.: Georges Delerue. Int.: Alain Delon (Thomas Vlassenroot), Lea Massari (Dominique Servet), Georges Géret (il tenente), Maurice Garrel (Pierre Servet), Robert Castel (Amerio), Viviane Attia (Maria), Paul Pavel (Félicien). Prod.: Jacques Bar, Alain Delon per Cité Films, Compagnie Internationale de Productions Cinématographiques, Delbeau, Produzioni Cinematografiche Mediterranee. DCP. D.: 103’. Bn.
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