Illegal Citizens: the troubled agents of Laetitia Masson (review)

Illegal Citizens: the troubled agents of Laetitia Masson (review)

The filmmaker adapts DOA's maousse novel, transforming its violent spy thriller into a melancholy drift in an Arte mini-series.

We have to start with the novel. In 2007, DOA published an explosive novel in the Série Noire. A 700-page behemoth book, based on globalized nonsense, which traveled the world at the speed of an Avangard missile. We went from Afghanistan to London or from Syria to Boulevard de la Villette in less than half a page. A record number of characters, heroes who changed sides as well as shirts, acronyms and acronyms galore, DOA took us into a parallel universe where sex, drugs, religion, geopolitics and secret services mixed dangerously.

This novelexplained the author in a recent interview book, aimed to follow the personal trajectory of an executioner of dirty works, code name Lynx, who comes to impact history at the dawn of the 21st century, in the aftermath of September 11“. Stifling realism, obsession with the truth (the multiplication of press articles and the – fascinating – digressions which redacted his book), and exposure of the flaws of the intelligence services (and thus of democracy), Illegal Citizens was a bomb of improbable fractal violence and hardness.

The kind of books that are impossible to transcribe on the small screen but which make a lot of producers dream. And it was finally Laetitia Masson who stuck to it.

Years ago, Masson adapted Why (not) Brazil and it's a long way from Christine Angot to DOA. Far also from the dangerous, behaviorist and globalized world of the novelist to the fantastical, mysterious and very psychological world of the filmmaker. It's immediately eye-catching. When does the first episode of Illegal citizens, a voice whispers slowly from Baudelaire. DOA undoubtedly loves poetry (he also cited the cursed poet), but his novel opened with another form of literature, the para prayer and a quote from Clausewitz. Two rooms, two atmospheres.

And then when Lynx, the hero, finally bursts into the frame, it is in the guise of Raphael Quenard, slender, very fine appearance, with this drawling and clashing accent. We are a thousand miles from the ideas we had of the character in the novels (personally, we have always imagined him under the mixed features of Daniel Craig and a young Sam Shepard).

We understand in any case, by this casting and this voice-over, that Masson therefore chose to change the terrain of operations. His mini-series will not be muscular and pyrotechnic but poisonous and melancholic. Inner rather than omniscient.

Rather than wanting to ensure the pyrotechnic quota, the filmmaker focuses on the romanticism of the work. To summarize the plot for those who have not read the novel (9.90 euros in your pocket, you no longer have excuses), we essentially follow three characters in the aftermath of September 11. Lynx, played by Raphael Quenard, is therefore a mysterious mercenary who works for a private pharmacy carrying out the dirty work of the French secret services. Fennec, played by Gringe (superb casting idea), is a spy infiltrated in a Salafist mosque; finally Amel (played by Nailia Harzoune) is a young idealistic journalist who tries to understand what all these idiots are doing in the shadows.

Because a real danger threatens: a terrorist group was able to obtain French nerve gas and intends to use it to foment an attack. But the filmmaker looks elsewhere. What interests him is less the convulsive movement of history, its secret lines of force, and its agents of change, than the romanticism of situations and the politics of feelings. Masson deliberately chooses to simplify the plot. She dismembered the monumental masterpiece to focus on the inner torments of her characters, their solitude and their existential sadness. Here, sentimental manipulations count as much as mysteries and political secrets.

We must emphasize the impeccable casting. Quenard ideally embodies certain facets of Lynx (his discretion, his ambiguous sensuality and his weaknesses) taking the hero towards a contemporary Smiley rather than towards a Neo Bourne. Gringe makes a formidable Fennec, all internalized rage, consumed by guilt. As for Nailia Harzoune, she recalls that DOA knows how to write complex female characters. Ambitious and clumsy, tormented and wild, her Amel is a success.

If some readers of DOA may cry treason, this is the characteristic of any adaptation. We would rather salute the work of Laëtitia Masson who, despite the obvious budgetary constraints, offers a personal adaptation of the book, romantic and centered on its characters.

The 4 episodes of Illegal Citizens are available on Arte.TV, they will be broadcast on the air on Thursday March 21

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