Adynamic retelling of the hectic and violent closing weeks of the Algerian war in 1962 through the eyes of a freshly arrived French army journalist, “Poorly Extinguished Fires” benefits from skillful period production design, lively lensing and multiple points of view. Gallic B.O. looks to be modest, but this visually vivid undertaking is fine for fest, specialized and tube outlets with audiences keen on history, war and youth themes.
Philippe Labro’s 1967 novel, on which the movie is based, drew sales and acclaim as a wrenching portrait of a generation scarred by the moral abyss of the Algerian conflict, in which joint casualties totaled nearly 750,000. Title is taken from a verse by turn-of-the-century Gallic writer Apollinaire about the prematurely snuffed light in a comrade’s eyes.
Story starts in Paris where, before shipping out to Algiers, Jerome Cartier (Manuel Blanc) is interrogated and beaten up by men who confiscate some politically sensitive photos sent him in confidence by Algiers-stationed friend Francois (Emmanuel Salinger).
As Algerian independence draws near after eight years of war, Francois is working for reconciliation between factions. But, as Jerome sees from day one in the country, carnage is everywhere, as vindictive French forces adopt a scorched-earth policy. The photos makeFrancois and his associates marked people.
Francois is subsequently murdered, and Jerome is drawn to his g.f. (Maria de Medeiros), a local radio announcer, in the wake of his death.
Abrupt sequences of wholesale slaughter and booby-trapped cars exploding are well-handled. Pic brims with naked, bloody corpses of French soldiers in the morgue and doesn’t shy away from showing the aftermath of civilian massacres.
Blanc is good as the curious novice later emboldened by the murder of Francois. De Medeiros shines as the high-spirited g.f. who seems insulated from danger by her smile and style. Christophe Malavoy plays a dashing and enigmatic figure whose true identity is a late-arriving shock.
Helmer Serge Moati is a prolific documaker and miniseries director who’s worked primarily for TV since the late 1960s. The almost totally hand-held camera work (blown up to 35mm from Super-16) bristles with nervous energy and often has a washed-out documentary look.
Pic contains only establishing shots of Algiers and the Casbah. Bulk of the movie was shot in Tunis, Marseilles and Paris.