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Movie Review: Soldiers defied by humanitarian values and madness in “Neither Heaven, Nor Earth”


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By Roger Costa

Amidst the chaos of war on the desert dry lands of Afghanistan, a dog wanders lost in search of salvation. New-comer director Clément Cogitore opens his thriller with this metaphor, as an essential element announcing the conflicts and conditions that follows. In an area as vast as it is claustrophobic, the mountains serve as home to local villagers, the herds of sheep and French soldiers working to re-establish order. The mission of reconstruction is developed very close and intimate with meetings happening between civilians and the military. They discuss strategies of security, both for the animals harmed on barbwire, and for themselves, fighting Al-Qaeda and the clan of terrorists. Suddenly after being attacked, which reminded them of the deadly and unexpected brutal zone they are dealing with, an incident related to a soldier’s failure results on the disappearance of a group of civilians being kept as refugees.

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Disturbed by the risks and consequences of losing them, the Captain (played by Jérémie Renier) stands firm to his duty and loyalty, commanding his men to fully engage on the rescue mission, wandering unknown zones in search of their loss. Along the way, they meet strangers evidently affected by war, who despite their hopelessness will help the soldiers with important clues through their investigation.

Eventually, the situation gets out of control, leaving the soldiers, and the prudent Captain, on the verge of breakdown, driving them into anger and madness, as they lack responses.

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The uncertainty of the rescue mission is intensified by the powerful performances, especially Renier, one of France’s most notorious contemporary actors. He’s a constant collaborator to the Dardenne Brothers and has previously appeared also on “Summer Hours” and “Kid with a Bike”. His professional crisis as well as his determination to accomplish the mission is the core of the film, ascending the aspects of humanitarian value explored in the narrative. The screenplay is written by Mr. Cogitore with collaboration from award-winning writer/director Thomas Bidegain (who penned all Audiard’s films) and is structured on these principles.

An examination on the consequences of contemporary war, and a statement to compassion and solidarity, the image of the lost dog predominates throughout the film, as it investigates how violence and danger can destructively shape and defy the resistance of integrity.

NEITHER HEAVEN, NOR EARTH (Opens Friday, August 5th at Film Society of Lincoln Center, NYC, followed by other cities. A Film Movement Release.)

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