Neither Heaven Nor Earth
Directed by Clément Cogitore
Starring Jérémie Renier, Kévin Azaïs, Swann Arlaud, Kevin Azais and Marc Robert
Afghanistan 2014 As the withdrawal of troops approaches, Captain Antarès Bonassieu and his squad have been assigned a surveillance mission in a remote valley of Wakhan, on the border of Pakistan. Despite Antarès and his men’s determination, control of the secluded valley will slowly fall out of their hands. One dark night, soldiers begin to mysteriously disappear in the valley.
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★★★★½ review by Steven Cohen on Letterboxd
Set in Afghanistan in 2014, French artist and now feature filmmaker Clément Cogitore's Neither Heaven Nor Earth uses the setting of war to tell a more existential story about unknowability. Amidst social conflict with a local village and violent engagement with a branch of the Taliban, a military unit led by Captain Antarès Bonassieu (Jérémie Renier, who helpfully put two accent marks in his name to distinguish him from Jeremy Renner) begins mysteriously losing soldiers in the night. Holes are easily poked in any reasonable explanation for the disappearance, and Bonassieu soon finds himself grappling with ideas greater than simple desertion.
Cogitore approaches the picture with a standard handheld visual style, but it's the many scenes set at night that reveal his strengths as an artist. Shots of frightened men lit only by the glow of their night vision goggle and the embers of their cigarettes, pair well with the visuals from the goggles themselves - both the now-very-familiar green aesthetic and the glowing white infrared that Roger Deakins used so effectively in last year's Sicario. Some of these scanning and exploratory sequences in Neither Heaven Nor Earth evoke a tension similar to that third act of Denis Villeneuve's drug war picture, though without the built-in threat of a gory confrontation.
If the movie has a weakness it comes from the anonymity of the characters; besides Renier's captain and another older sergeant played by Marc Robert, the rest of the soldiers are so devoid of personality that they just blend into a single mass. Perhaps that's intentional on Cogitore's part, but it makes references to characters hard to follow, especially when those characters no longer appear in the narrative. But the rest of the film is a real delight. Its mood is one of its best features - not only uneasy but also deeply compelling due to the movie's enigmatic nature. In its best moments it feels akin to Michelangelo Antonioni's L'Avventura, not just for its missing-person plot, but also for the self-investigation prompted by the central event.
Neither Heaven Nor Earth stuck with me for some time after watching it - a notable feature when one watches as many movies as I do. It's not about solutions or explanations - it's a movie of pure experience. And when the credits roll, Cogitore has made you feel like you were puzzled in the desert along with those men. You walk out into the light as dazed as they do.
★★★½ review by stueygeorge on Letterboxd
Soldiers mysteriously disappear from a French outpost in Afghanistan, and those that remain team up with the Taliban to discover what happened to them. Ultimately, it is an enigmatic and moving meditation on man's impotence in war and even of the unknowability of God.
★★★½ review by Colin on Letterboxd
A superstitious war thriller with some great visuals. With the disappearance from both taliban and French soldiers, a cease fire is called so they can team up to find their missing men. What they discover is something quite more mysterious.
★★★½ review by cinemagazine on Letterboxd
"De angst die de groep uiteendrijft trekt je als kijker het scherm in en sleurt je in zoverre mee dat je je zelf ook ongemakkelijk gaat voelen. Is er meer tussen hemel en aarde? Waag je aan ‘The Wakhan Front’ en oordeel zelf."
★★★★ review by QED on Letterboxd
Directed by Clement Cogitore this film also known as “The Wakhan Front” stars Jeremie Renier and Kevin Azais. French troops manning an outpost in Afghanistan start to disappear one by one in the night.
Using the supernatural as an allegory this film does a good job of looking at the effects of war on soldiers fighting in Afghanistan. The plot is simple but effective and builds up a nice level of tension. The direction goes for realism over cliched genre shocks and it really helps keep the film grounded.
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