Michel Hazanavicius’s latest film, The search, is miles away from his Oscar wining film The artist. The search is about the Second Chechen war, this time between the Russian federation and different Chechen fighters. It started in 2000 and lasted 9 long years of atrocities and human rights violations. The film concerns four individuals. One of them is nine-year-old Hadji (Abdul-Khalim Mamatsuiev) who flees his home with his baby brother after he witnesses his parents being killed by Russian soldiers. Soon he finds it too difficult to take care of a baby, trying to feed him and hiding from the army all at once, and he abandons his brother on the doorstep of a suitable family. The second person we follow is human rights worker Carole (Bérénice Bejo, married to Hazanavicius). Carole is working with refugee at a border town. She has been waiting a long time for a chance to speak to the UN and is a bit tired by the lack of actions of governments. Annette Bening plays Helen, a charity worker who does not think the UN is very efficient or care very much. What Helen does is concrete action. One day Carole sees Hadji, who is now homeless and living on the street. She takes him to live with her. The boy is either so traumatized or distrustful that he is not speaking and won’t tell Carole anything. The third character is Hadji’s older sister, Raissa (Zukhra Duishvili), who has found the baby and is now searching for Hadji. The last character is Russian teenager Kolia (Maksim Emelyanov), who finds himself enrolled in the army after he was arrested for smoking pot. Once in, Kolia is brutally harassed and beaten by his superiors. His story is hard to watch as he eventually joins in the violence and the killings (Echoes the saying, “If you can’t fight them, join them.”). The search is a compelling film well directed and photographed. But one of the annoying problem is that Carole is trying in vain to speak to an unresponsive Hadji. It becomes this long, incessant monologue and poor Bejo is not up for the task. And who would? It is lucky then that Hazanavicius found young Abdul-Khalim Mamatsuiev. He seems to be crying on cue and even with no dialogue for most of the film, he relies on his expressive eyes to convey Hadji’s turmoil and tell us his story. Impressive. The screenplay has the kind of concept and structure that I enjoy. But for a film that seeks to be a realistic reproduction of war, the ending is too pat and seems fixed, not real. Russia has been in the news too much lately, as it was then. Oh, well! Plus ça change…
You should know… The search is based on the 1948 Fred Zinneman film starring Montgomery Clift as Steve, an American army engineer who helps a young concentration camp survivor find his mother.