Neither Heaven Nor Earth
Ni le ciel ni la terre
Monday, September 3, 7pm
Davis Theatre, Whanganui Regional Museum
Clément Cogitore • Belgium/France • 2015
98 mins • M animal slaughter, offensive language
In French and Farsi, with English subtitles.
Whanganui Film Society presents another directorial debut this week with Neither Heaven Nor Earth (Ni le ciel ni la terre) from young French writer-director Clément Cogitore.
A company of French soldiers mysteriously disappears in a remote Afghan valley. Is it the Taliban or a more existential threat?
"A contemporary ghost story that's both unabashedly mystical and thrillingly pulpy." — Slant
"At once otherworldly and firmly tethered to stark reality."
— Melissa Anderson, Village Voice
"On the most fundamental level, Neither Heaven Nor Earth is an impressive stunt, a horror movie masquerading as a film about the horrors of war. But its gravity and intelligence — the unassuming authority of Mr Renier's performance and the sly self-confidence of Mr Cogitore's direction — make it something more. It's not just spooky; it's genuinely haunting."
— A.O. Scott, NY Times
"For a still-young subgenre, it can feel as if the narrative possibilities of the war in Afghanistan soldier study are approaching exhaustion — until a film like Clement Cogitore's clever, curiosity-stoking Neither Heaven Nor Earth points out the pockets of uncanny experience that lie within it still. A portrait of tense frontline routine in which the most urgent threat to troops' survival takes a distinctly metaphysical form, this brooding broadcast from the Twilight War Zone stars the steadfast Jérémie Renier as a committed French army captain whose authority gradually deserts him when his men begin unaccountably disappearing."
— Guy Lodge, Variety
"A movie this confident in its blend of the supernatural, the philosophical and the grounded — without telling us what to think — is rare indeed, especially in a first film. Neither Heaven Nor Earth is a war movie that eschews body count for a more inward crumbling of belief, like a mournful dispatch from the unruly realm between faith and certainty."
— Robert Abele, LA Times
You've never seen a war film quite like Neither Heaven Nor Earth. A strange mixture of the military, the metaphysical and the downright mysterious, this debut feature by French director Clément Cogitore has a highly suggestive philosophical agenda, but at the same time functions as a gripping, subtly eerie drama which keeps you guessing even while it maintains its supernatural (or theological) undertow simmering beneath the surface ... The film is uncategorisable in standard terms — anyone expecting this Afghanistan-set drama to remotely resemble, say, The Hurt Locker is in for a surprise.
The setting is a desolate, rocky region in Wakhan Province in Afghanistan in 2014, near the Pakistan border. A detachment of French troops, headed by Captain Antarès Bonassieu (Jérémie Renier ), is patrolling a valley inhabited by a village of shepherds and frequented by local Taliban. At the start, local relations are tense but under firm control, and the level-headed, competent Bonassieu seems to be running things smoothly. Then the inexplicable happens: two French soldiers disappear without trace. Then there are further disappearances, among the Taliban too, and no-one can account for what's going on in this landlocked Bermuda Triangle. As matters escape Bonassieu's control and understanding, the officer's psyche begins to frazzle. Cogitore — writing with sometime Jacques Audiard collaborator and Cowboys director Thomas Bidegain — musters an eerie mood that gradually erodes the prevalent masculine rationalism to suggest the encroachment of unearthly forces.
The use of military tech visuals — including heat-sensitive imaging and night vision — is in striking contrast to the increasing strangeness that creeps in, creating a mood akin to the elusive creepiness of, say, The Blair Witch Project. But rather than merely providing chills, Cogitore has more philosophical themes in mind, and the story's upshot is that humanity's constant warring has finally prompted the natural (or divine) order of things to take an apocalyptic turn.
A distinctive score takes in grinding techno and classical pieces on the viola da gamba, and the theme of visibility and invisibility is brilliantly played out throughout in visuals that show the khaki-clad men constantly disappearing into (or suddenly surging from) a singularly inhospitable, colourless landscape. — Johnathon Romney, Screen Daily