×

Film Review: ‘Full Contact’

Yet another drone-strike moral drama misses its target, this time going the arty route of getting lost within the head of a hard-to-read French pilot.

With:
Gregoire Colin, Lizzie Brochere, Slimane Dazi. (English, French dialogue)

Official Site: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt3702720/

The other drone-pilot drama in Toronto this year, buried in the festival’s hit-and-miss new Platform competition section, “Full Contact” will be seen by a tiny fraction of the audience who express interest in the relatively accessible “Eye in the Sky,” but that’s probably just as Dutch director David Verbeek intended it. Featuring expressionless French thesp (and Claire Denis regular) Gregoire Colin as Lt. Ivan Delphine, a cool-as-ice Gallic dude inexplicably recruited to oversee drone strikes for the American Army, the taxing moral drama imagines how the mostly-inscrutable Ivan reacts to the fact that he was responsible for mistaking a Muslim boarding school for an Al Qaeda training facility. What the character doesn’t express in words Verbeek illustrates via punishingly obvious metaphor as Ivan replays the incident in his increasingly troubled mind.

As modern warfare evolves in such a way that trained soldiers can strike and kill faceless enemies from half a world away, artists are well within their rights to question the ethics of these changes. Drone advocates would argue that this new technology protects the lives of American servicemen, who can now do their killing from the comfort of air-conditioned bunkers somewhere in the Nevada desert. Critics, on the other hand, can’t abide the fact that fates are being decided from such a far remove, evidently unaware (or else unwilling to consider) that innocents also die every day in face-to-face combat. War was also hell in “All Quiet on the Western Front” — and “The Iliad” so long before it — back when soldiers looked the complete strangers they murdered directly in the eyes.

At any rate, given the videogame-like ease with which adversaries can now be eliminated from afar, drone-based warfare makes an attractive subject for armchair moralists such as Andrew Niccol, who dramatized a pilot’s psychological unraveling in last year’s Ethan Hawke starrer “Good Kill.” While similarly short-sighted, that film gave eloquent voice to many of the same mental challenges Ivan faces in “Full Contact.” Basically, his crisis boils down to the fact that while following orders, he took out a boys’ school, seen as an innocuous burst of dust on his monitor so many miles away.

No question, this is an awful mistake, and now Ivan will have to live with it. Verbeek intends for this film to raise profound philosophical questions, but it’s virtually impossible to get past even the most basic logistical ones: Who is Ivan anyway, and what is this serial-killer expressionless French weirdo doing in the American Army? What is his interest in local stripper Cinderella (“American Horror Story’s” Lizzie Brochere), if not sexual, and why does he lie and tell her that he’s impotent?

In an early scene, Ivan studies his screen silently while a mosquito lands on his skin, mere inches from his trigger finger. The guy’s either a creep, a cold-blooded predator or both, which might explain his affinity for a pet tarantula repeatedly seen in closeup. (Frank van den Eeden’s cool widescreen lensing and Tindersticks keyboardist David Boulter’s ultra-minimalist synth score keep the film’s pulse on deep freeze.) Though vaguely enigmatic, these details are narratively inadequate, giving audiences too little to go on and even less reason to engage as the movie takes the increasingly taxing path of plunging into Ivan’s subconscious.

Roughly midway through, the movie abruptly abandons its Nevada reality and reawakens in Ivan’s head, as he emerges naked from the ocean onto a rocky island. (It is about this time that festival audiences started to walk out.) While not immediately clear, the idea seems to be that damned by technology, the character must start over, crawling from the primordial sea and learning to exist on his own. “I don’t need forgiveness,” he says, “I just need to be reborn.”

Ivan catches shellfish. He bonds with a dog. He makes a loincloth and stumbles around in a dark cave. After awhile of this, he eventually crosses over a small crest to see those he struck dead by drone playing football in the desert sand. Then the film jumps again, this time with Ivan infiltrating the training group he’d been tasked with eliminating. Now Ivan must kill them again, this time using a rifle. Is this sufficient to clear his conscience? Evidently not, for Ivan reappears in a boxing gym, facing off against faraway target Al Zaim (Slimane Dazi) in the ring. By this point, we get it: hand-to-hand “full contact” is the total opposite of the remote-controlled drone approach, but surely this was something the inventors of the bomb, the cannonball and the good, old-fashioned arrow grappled with back in the day.

Film Review: 'Full Contact'

Reviewed at Toronto Film Festival (Platform), Sept. 16, 2015. Running time: 105 MIN.

Production: (Netherlands-Croatia) A Lemming Film presentation of a Lemming Film, Nukleus Film, Wild At Art production. (International sales: Bac Films Intl., Paris.) Produced by Leontine Petit, Sinisa Juricic, Eva Eisenloeffel, Joost de Vries. Executive producer, Clea de Koning, Elsemijn Teulings.

Crew: Directed, written by David Verbeek. Camera (color, widescreen), Frank van den Eeden; editor, Sander Vos; music, David Boulter (Tindersticks); production designer, Mario Ivezic; costume designer, Zorana Meic; sound, Peter Warnier.

With: Gregoire Colin, Lizzie Brochere, Slimane Dazi. (English, French dialogue)

More Film

  • Azania Muendane

    Locations Africa Expo Sends Message in Durban: ‘Africa is Ready’

    DURBAN–The first edition of the Locations Africa Expo and Conference was held this week during the Durban FilmMart, with an eye toward identifying and growing the opportunities to lure incoming productions to the continent. “Locations Africa is trying to service a need on the continent to discuss the physical production…on the ground, highlighting film commissions, [...]

  • The Lion King

    China Box Office: 'Looking Up' is Surprise Weekend Winner Ahead of 'Lion King'

    Actor and comedian Deng Chao underlined his enduring popularity with mainstream Chinese audiences, delivering a surprise number one hit in “Looking Up.” It scored $38.6 million in its opening weekend, according to data from consultancy Artisan Gateway, and displaced “The Lion King” from its previous perch. “Looking Up” is a family comedy about a father’s [...]

  • Unathi Malonga

    Report Urges South African Media to ‘Step Up’ Against Gender Violence

    DURBAN–In a country with some of the highest rates of sexual and gender-based violence in the world, South African media must step up and play a greater role in the fight against gender inequality and gender-based violence. That was the conclusion of a report, “Gender, Diversity and Gender-based Violence in South African TV,” that was [...]

  • SAG-AFTRA HQ

    SAG-AFTRA Leaders Approve Proposal for New Film-TV Contract

    The SAG-AFTRA national board has approved proposals for a successor deal to its master contract covering feature film and primetime television — a key step in the upcoming negotiations cycle with companies. The board approved the package Saturday with the performers union declining to reveal any specifics — its usual policy. The board established the wages [...]

  • Cameron Crowe, David Crosby, A.J. Eaton.

    Cameron Crowe on Why He Loved Leaving David Crosby Doc on a CSNY Question Mark

    David Crosby may or may not have stuck a joint in Cameron Crowe’s mouth the first time he ever met the future filmmaker, when Crosby was peaking with Crosby Stills Nash & Young and his interviewer was a precocious 15-year-old Rolling Stone correspondent. As Crowe said to Jimmy Kimmel the other night, “I remember it [...]

  • Mokalik

    Nigeria’s Kunle Afolayan: African Audiences Shouldn’t Be ‘Second-Class’

    DURBAN–A young boy from a middle-class home gets an unconventional schooling in the ways of the world when he’s forced to apprentice at a mechanic’s workshop in a rough-and-tumble section of Lagos. “Mokalik” is the latest feature from Kunle Afolayan, a leading figure in the wave of filmmakers revitalizing the Nigerian film industry. The film [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content