The 4 Soldiers (Les 4 Soldats): Fantasia Review

French-Canadian quasi-war film will have viewers thinking of Terrence Malick.

Four militants in a near-future class war find an oasis amid chaos.

MONTREAL — A handful of youths form a family in the midst of desolation in Robert Morin's The 4 Soldiers, a French-Canadian tale that creates a sprawling near-future civil war only to envision a temporary refuge from it. The quiet, introspective picture played here less as a war story than like a dreamy cousin to the fest's sci-fi apocalypses; it should find admirers in more mainstream quarters of the festival circuit as well.

Camille Mongeau plays Dominique, a young survivor with short-cropped hair and large, worried eyes. Setting the stage in voiceover, she tells us that "the war began when there were too few rich" and the impoverished multitudes had to take up arms to survive. But Morin isn't interested in depicting class warfare, instead starting the film just as one band of ragtag militiamen are told to set up camp in the countryside and await future orders.

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Dominique's narration continues throughout and -- in a stagey maneuver that works better than it should, partly thanks to Mongeau's persuasive delivery -- is sometimes spoken directly to camera: She talks to herself aloud while marching, at the campfire, and sometimes even addresses us in the middle of a conversation, revealing her concerns in ways she can't with another desperate straggler.

After meeting Mateo (Christian de la Cortina) and Big Max (Antoine Bertrand) early on, she realizes that for the first time in the war "I wasn't only afraid for myself." The three new friends enlist gentle, dreadlocked Kevin (Aliocha Schneider) for help building a shanty in the troops' scavenged junkyard camp. They have an easy camaraderie, ordinary people who, the film's title notwithstanding, behave less like soldiers than the rowdy, gun-happy men surrounding them in camp.

While hunting one day, the quartet discovers a hidden pond. Their enjoyment of this Eden is the Malick-like heart of the film: Every day, they leave their chores and trek through the tall cornfield hiding the pool, swimming and fishing and telling stories. When they're ordered to take teenaged Gabriel (Antoine L'Ecuyer) into their care back at camp, their reluctance to take him to the pool reflects the film's belief that the what the four are sharing is a magic that could easily by disrupted.

It is disrupted, of course, and the film is less effective than it might've been in capturing the lapsarian heartbreak of its surviving characters. It gives only hints at life after the fighting, suggesting peace is less blissful than an oasis found during war.

Production Company: La Coop Video de Montreal

Cast: Camille Mongeau, Christian de la Cortina, Antoine Bertrand, Aliocha Schneider, Antoine L'Ecuyer

Director-Screenwriter: Robert Morin

Based on the novel by Hubert Mingarelli

Producers: Stephanie Morissette

Director of photography: Jean-Pierre St-Louis

Production designer: Andre-Line Beauparlant

Music: Patrick Watson

Costume designer: Sophie Lefebvre

Editor: Nicolas Roy

No rating, 83 minutes