Father and Soldier (Tirailleurs)
Set in the grip of WWI, Mathieu Vadepied’s Father and Soldier is unlike most war films. Though there are many compelling scenes of soldiers running over the trenches and hoping they don’t die, this film is primarily a father-son story that uses its wartime setting to explore themes of family, masculinity, violence and colonialism – all to varying degrees.
When the film opens, it’s 1917 and Bakary (Omar Sy) and his 17-year-old son, Thierno (Alassene Diong), are living a simple and happy life in their village – that is until the French occupiers forcibly recruit the teenager to fight in their war. Determined to bring his son back safely, Bakary voluntarily enlists. But as violence becomes part of their daily lives, both men begin to be affected in different ways.
Unlike most war flicks, Vadepied’s vision of war is subdued and nuanced, and this is both this film’s biggest strength and weakness. By stripping everything back, the filmmaker allows small moments to resonate, letting each sequence play out at its own pace. This is especially poignant when it comes to the depictions of violence. This isn’t a bloodbath; there are no scenes close to the excess of Saving Private Ryan’s opening sequence. Here, the violence erupts out of nowhere, it’s ugly, and it’s over almost just as quickly as it started.
However, this subtle presentation has an unintended but fatal consequence: poor pacing. As the narrative trudges on as listlessly as the soldiers’ marching, viewers will likely become just as exhausted with the tedium. Moreover, thanks to the lifelessness, moments that are meant to be devastating blows are treated as mundanely as everything else – and when they are followed immediately by scenes of soldiers laughing and joking, the production seems to be suggesting that (during war, at least), nothing matters. While it’s possible this was devised as a nihilistic statement of violence, the lack of dramatic stakes is nevertheless a hard blow for viewers to take.
Father and Soldier is a more thoughtful approach to the war movie that comes from a place of love and dedication. Despite the good intentions, though, it’s difficult to endure the sluggish pacing.
Father and Soldier (Tirailleurs) does not have a UK release date yet.
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Watch a clip from Father and Soldier (Tirailleurs) here: