CLOSE ENEMIES: Fantastic Fest Review and Interview with Director David Oelhoffen


Born and raised in a suburb ridden by drug trafficking, Driss and Manuel were like brothers. As adults, they have gone down exactly the opposite path: Manuel chose to embrace this thug life, while Driss completely rejected it and became a cop. When Manuel’s biggest deal goes terribly wrong, the two men meet again and come to realize they both need each other to survive in their worlds. Between betrayals and resentments, and despite their hatred, they renew deep ties around the one thing they have left in common: their visceral commitment to the place of their childhood.

CLOSE ENEMIES is the story of two friends, Driss (Reda Kateb) and Manu (Matthias Schoenaerts), who took separate paths, but still inhabit the same world – on opposites sides of the law.  A genre film, it plays out in a grittily shot, overcast urban Paris project.  On the surface it is a story of competing drug dealers, but at it’s heart it’s a story of immigrant Arabic families trying to maintain a sense of culture while assimilating in a land that’s not always friendly to them.

Driss, the narcotics officer, straddles both worlds with a world-weary attitude. He follows his adopted country’s rules and simultaneously tries to protect his family and friends, but they regard him as a traitor, and they ooze derision, suspicion and hate.  This distrust forces him to use his head to be one step ahead of both the police force and Manu and his drug-trafficking cohorts.

Early in the film, Manu’s close friend Irmane (Adel Bencherif), an informant for Driss,  is shot dead by a motorcycle bandit while in transit with Manu and one other person.  Manu’s harrowing escape from the hit when he uses the underbelly of a car to get away from the police who come to investigate is brilliant.

As the only survivor of the hit, Manu’s escape and flight casts suspicion upon him from both the law and fellow traffickers in the neighborhood.  To clear his name and for his friend Irmane, Manu searches for who is really responsible.

French Director/Writer David Oelhoffen, whose previous films have garnered attention at Cannes and The Venice Film Festival, spoke to us about this dark story during Fantastic Fest 2018 in Austin, Texas.

“As the film begins, it’s too late for the characters already because they had made wrong choices in life.  What I wanted to show is real life, not fantasy.  There is no romance in criminal life,” he said.

The relationship between Manu and Driss as they cooperate to find out who actually ordered the hit that killed Irmane feed some of the best scenes in the movie – Manu’s reluctance turning to resignation and acceptance.   A well-matched score by artist Superpoze complements the feeling cinematographer Guillaume Deffontaines executes with a mostly gray palette, painting a dreary and a sort of fatalistic backdrop for the characters.

Oelhoffen talked with a lot of drug dealers while researching the film.  His friend is a lawyer so he had access to clients, deciding to ask questions about the their lives and family.  He noted that there is a huge gap between the actual life of the real families and what we usually see on the screen.

The setting of the film, a suburb on the outskirts of Paris, touched on the fact that even though these immigrant drug dealers make “more money than they can spend,”  as a rule they still live in the projects and interact with extended families.  Their living is opulent in comparison to others in the same projects.  “It’s a question of money.  When I talked to the traffickers, I found the real problem to be competition between them.”

Oelhoffen continued that they feel both love and hatred for the projects.  In France, the political problem of immigration can narrowed down to scarce resources, jobs in particular.   A change from one social group to another is not easy.

This is evidenced in the film as betrayals and double-crosses lead to someone close to Manu, someone he’s known all his life and who is an important part of the immigrant community.  In the end,  “it’s just business”  as people more than try to survive, but carve out territories for themselves.

As Oelhoffer describes the making of CLOSE ENEMIES, a word he uses to describe the drug traffickers is “barbaric,” an interesting term to use as it’s meaning is “savagely cruel; exceedingly brutal” –  but the etymology traces back to an old greek word meaning “foreigner.”  Obviously, immigration and assimilation are problems as old as mankind.

CLOSE ENEMIES released in France on October 3rd.

Director: David Oelhoffen
Writer: David Oelhoffen
Cast: Matthias Schoenaerts, Reda Kateb, Adel Bencherif, Fianso (Sofiane Zermani), Nicolas Giraud, Sabrina Ouazani, Gwendolyn Gourvenec, Marc Barbe, Astrid Whettnall, Yann Goven, Omar Salim, Ahmed Benaissa


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