The hunt for 13 November terrorists makes it to the big screen

The hunt for 13 November terrorists makes it to the big screen
The attacks in Paris in November 2015 brought a heavy police and military presence onto the streets of Brussels © Belga

The feverish five-day manhunt for the 13th of November terrorists in Paris is captured in one of this fall's most awaited films, 'November'— a fast-paced thriller starring Jean Dujardin and Sandrine Kiberlain— which is due for release in cinemas on 5 October.

This new film by Cédric Jimenez (director of 'Bac Nord,' with 2.2 million admissions) looks back on the deadliest attacks ever perpetrated on French soil, that left 130 dead in one evening in Paris and Ile-de-France. It was the "trauma of incredible violence" that makes this film "important," said Jimenez during the out-of-competition presentation of the film at the Cannes Festival in May.

'November' is one of the films that most directly addresses the period of the terror attacks, which cinema is only now beginning to pick up seven years later.

'Revoir Paris,' with Virginie Efira and Benoît Magimel, produced in early September, adopted the perspective of the victims and imagined a fictitious attack in a brewery, without showing the faces of the killers, only their legs.

A third film, 'You will not have my hatred,' with Pierre Deladonchamps, is inspired by the testimony of Antoine Leiris, companion of a victim of the Bataclan attack. It will be released on 2 November.

An specialist in thrillers flicks,  Jimenez confides that he hesitated to broach the subject of 13 November, but allowed himself to be convinced by Olivier Demangel's screenplay, which leaves the attacks themselves completely off-screen. This is a perspective that also reassured Sandrine Kiberlain, who admitted her initial reluctance to accept the role of Héloïse, who heads the counter-terrorism sub-directorate of the judicial police, "due to the proximity of the facts."

The screenwriter initiated the project in 2017, with the idea of recounting " the shock wave" that followed the terror attack. Result: a total immersion with the police, which starts in the middle of the evening of 13 November and ends five days later, after the assault on Saint-Denis, where the terrorists were taking refuge.

Stressed phone calls, police custody and body searches follow one another. Yawns and injury at times betray the fatigue of the characters, under pressure to find the most wanted men in France before they commit other attacks.

Tunnel

Like the police after the attacks, the characters of “November” are in a “tunnel”, “at the service of the investigation”, and the film shows nothing of their private life or their feelings. The director wanted the characters not to share any intimacy with their loved ones during this hunt, "because that's really what they went through 24 hours a day without interruption."

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The only scenes where the emotion of the 13 November massacre stands out are those of the questioning of the survivors in hospital. The team itself had to "put aside its emotions," he said, "for example when we replayed the video of President Hollande (during the assault on the Bataclan), it brought things to mind."

Cybersurveillance, the experience of the police just a few months after the attack on Charlie Hebdo and the Hyper Cacher, and technological tools are little compared to intuition, which allows the character of Inès (Anaïs Demoustier) to trust the key witness in the case, however implausible her statements.

This witness - played by Lyna Khoudri, and inspired by 'Sonia' —the young woman who helped the police to locate the leader of the 13 November commandos and is now a protected witness living under a false identity— was at the heart of legal wrestling match.

Renamed Samia on screen, the character wears an Islamic veil, which does not correspond to reality, 'Sonia' complained about this portrayal, went to court, and obtained an amicable agreement from the producers to provide a disclaimer on the screen explaining that her portrayal is not true to character.


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