‘Made in France’: Film Review

Made in France Poster - P 2015
Courtesy of Pretty Pictures

An utterly topical subject is transformed into a tense if often generic thriller.

Director Nicolas Boukhrief (‘Cash Truck’) explores homegrown French jihad.

Exploring a hot bottom topic through the prism of a boilerplate undercover thriller, Made in France delves into the extremely timely phenomenon of homegrown Gallic jihadism with the kind of filmmaking usually reserved for less consequential material. Shot before the Charlie Hebdo attacks in January, and slated for release on November 18th when it was pulled from the lineup following the devastating Paris attacks on Friday, this sixth effort at the helm from genre specialist Nicolas Boukhrief (Cash Truck) has a hard time finding the right balance between its movie-made scenario and the real-life issues at its core, resulting in a film that ultimately teeters toward the B side.

Still, a handful of well-crafted action sequences and a tensely dark atmosphere may help France export to a few territories abroad, where its ripped-from-the-headlines subject could lure viewers onto select VOD platforms. If and when the film gets released at home, box office will likely fall short of expectations, with local audiences unwilling to watch traumatic events reworked into this sort of Hollywood-style suspenser.

The two major terrorist attacks carried out this year were only the most recent of several incidents that have occurred on French soil over the past three decades, including the bombing of a Paris commuter train station in 1995. That episode partially inspired Boukhrief – along with co-writer Eric Besnard (Babylon A.D.) – to craft a tale about a domestic terrorist cell infiltrated by a Franco-Algerian journalist, Sam (Malik Zizi), hoping to survive the ordeal long enough to publish a tell-all book about what happened.

But Sam must first contend with the group’s psychotic leader, Hassan (Dimitri Storoge), a man who claims to have been trained by Al-Qaeda in the Middle East and is now back in France to carry out their dirty work. To pull off his mission, Hassan recruits three young believers willing to do anything for the cause: Driss (Nassim Si Ahmed), a North African tough guy who served time in prison; Sidi (Ahmed Drame), an African nice guy hoping to revenge the death of his cousin; and Christophe (Francois Civil), a Breton white guy trying to get back at his rich parents, allowing the cell to set up shop in his dead grandma’s suburban home.

Each character arc is rather broadly sketched out, even if Boukhrief accurately reveals how French jihadists can hail from all walks of life – though they are usually found in working-class households with immigrant origins (a reality depicted much more soberly in director Philippe Faucon’s very similar 2012 drama, The Disintegration). But whatever research the filmmaker conducted for his story winds up getting sucked away by the demands of the genre, leaving us with lots of predictable twists and reversals, as well as a final act that loses its grip on any socio-political context.

Most unfortunate is the portrayal of Hassan, who comes across as a certifiable nut case nobody would ever follow into the heat of battle, let alone entrust with a high profile mission. Boukhrief eventually explains from whom Hassan receives his orders, but the reveal is truly a let down, turning the threat of jihadism into a pure scenaristic MacGuffin. Likewise, the methods of the French police seem hardly believable: would they really let Sam risk his life without any guidance or tactical support?

Credibility aside, the director knows how to stage convincing set-pieces, working with DP Patrick Ghiringhelli (Geronimo) to create a handful of taut action sequences taking place in close quarters (the most memorable being a standoff between the cell members in their communal living room). Adding to the anxiety is a score by electro pop musician Rob (Horns) that has a very late-'70’s vibe, even if Made in France – despite all that's actually going on in France right now – feels more like a byproduct of the shoot’ em up '80's and '90's.

Production companies: Radar Films, Pretty Pictures
Cast: Malik Zidi, Dimitri Storoge, Francois Civil, Nassim Si Ahmed, Ahmed Drame
Director: Nicolas Boukhrief
Screenwriters: Nicolas Boukhrief, Eric Besnard
Producers: Clement Miserez, Matthieu Warter
Director of photography: Patrick Ghiringhelli
Production designer: Arno Roth
Costume designer: Florence Sadaune
Editor: Lydia Decobert
Composer: Rob
Casting director: Elodie Demey
Sales agent: WTFilms

No rating, 94 minutes