In the Directors Fortnight section (“Quinzaine des Réalisateurs”), a thriving alternative to the official selection that is celebrating fifty this year, a war/revenge movie by French filmmaker Guillaume Nicloux, who previously brought “Valley of Love” to the Cannes Festival in 2015.
The First Indochina War took place in the fifties. Indochina was a French colony, then, that comprised parts of Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia. After the Viet Minh movement for independence whipped up into an all-out insurrection in 1945, the French government sent its troops in. Gaspar Ulliel plays Robert Tassen, a conscript who is the only survivor of a massacre in which his entire family was murdered at the hand of Vo Binh, the rebellion’s leader.
Tassen is now on a mission to find and kill Vo Binh to avenge his family. As the campaign to quell the rebellion drags on, his platoon’s men abandon themselves to addiction and prostitutes when they’re not getting shot at, bitten by snakes or, like one poor soul, getting their penis removed after a leech crawled into it causing it to infect.
Ulliel’s Tassen walks around, from messy battles in the bush back to the barracks and again, in a daze, one isn’t sure whether his appetite for retribution is eating him from the inside, or, like his compadres on the platoon, he’s dog-tired, from the sweating, the mosquitoes and the relentless gun fire coming at them. The only respite from the horrors of war, Maï, a young prostitute who patiently ministers to him.
Gérard Depardieu, who appeared in the aforementioned “Valley of Love,” is former military personnel, now retired. He’s his usual rotund bonhomie, drinks incessantly and plays a half-father figure half-Merlin, confronting Tassen about his plans for revenge while gently nudging him to start a new life.
“To the ends of the world” has that descent-into-hell quality that reminded me, it couldn’t be helped, of “Apocalypse Now,” or “Platoon.” Mosquitoes, sweat, unlimited jungle and a very unequal playing field, Viet Congs (or in this case, Viet Minh) who know the bush and torn-down, worn-out army conscripts who are high on opium or drunk, advancing through the jungle towards their death like zombies.
“To the ends,” all dramatic intensity, is a feverish and lyrical exploration of the tragedy of war, minting Guillaume Nicloux as a competition-worthy filmmaker.