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4 Jan 2012

Special Forces

At its best moments, Special Forces approaches the Degree Zero of war films.

Director: Stephane Rybojad

Screeplay: Michael Cooper, Stephanie Rybojad

Cast: Diane Kruger, Djimon Hounsou, Benoit Magimel, Mehdi Nebbou, Tcheky Karyo

A war journalist (Diane Kruger) is ambushed and kidnapped by the Taliban in Afghanistan and transported to one of their strongholds in Pakistan. An elite team of the French special forces headed by Djimon Hounsou is activated to storm the fortress, rescue the abductee, and extract themselves from the hostile environment – by trekking through the AfPak mountain range while pursued by a seemingly endless stream of Taliban warriors, almost as though we're watching The Way Back instead of a war film.

Of course this is a war propaganda film centred on the myth that one innocent civilian caught by rogue elements is sufficient to justify unilateral military intervention in a failed state. It's quite a pile-on of hysterical elements and a rock soundtrack that enables any war propaganda film but the beauty of Special Forces is how it doesn't come across as a war propaganda film at times.

The genius of Stephane Rybojad is he seems to take his film lessons from Roland Barthes. In Writing Degree Zero, the philosopher identified a style of discourse that is so transparent, one forgets it is a piece of rhetoric, to appear so complete in itself that one forgets it exists within a discursive space, that it even exists to impress upon the reader.

In Special Forces, Stephane Rybojad jettisons much of the narrative style and genre trappings of war films to create a war propaganda film that doesn't explicitly appear to be one. Here, there is a deficit of the intricate backstories of the special forces team, their camaraderie and team dynamics, long Stockholm syndrome-inducing exchanges between the captive and her tormentors, and even moustache twirling fanatic villains. The special forces team aren't concerned about why they're doing their mission – theirs is to not to reason why but simply to do and die.

As a genre-savvy war propaganda film, the best moments in the well-produced Special Forces are when its minimalist plot and direction make you feel as if you're in a war zone without realising for a moment that this is a war propaganda film at all.

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