The explosion of a plane carrying an illegal arms cargo above the Gulf of Guinea and the murder of a sex worker in a Paris car park are somehow intertwined. With a Presidential election looming dark forces in the heart of government will stop at nothing to prevent any politically toxic information from leaking into the public domain. Nora Chahyd (Rachida Brakni) is a police officer of Algerian origin who is prepared to go lone wolf and head the investigation no matter what cost to her career and life.
Adapted from a novel by Dominique Manotti, State Affairs is a complex thriller directed by Éric Valette (Braquo) that is not ashamed to celebrate it’s enthusiasm for Americana. The film’s Gallic Noir credentials are impeccable; André Dussollier starred in Micmacs, Rachida Brakni appeared in Chaos and is married to Eric Cantona with whom she fronts a fashion label but in emphasising State Affair’s French connections we might accidentally overlook the movie’s implicit agenda of being a love letter to that most American of genres, the Western. Through use of incidental music, poster placement, and narrative tropes, State Affairs illustrates how a specific genre has been imported into European culture and modified before being exported back to its spiritual homeland.
Attracted to the property because of the characters moral ambiguity, Valette, in conjunction with his screenwriters, elected to retain the overall story structure albeit with some streamlining to ensure the adaptation remained coherent and emotionally satisfying within the available screen time. Amongst the revisions made to the story is an updating of the timeline, in the book events take place in Mitterand era but now they occur in twenty-first century France, albeit a version with an unnamed President. Other amendments include Nora Chahyd being a Muslim who doesn’t observe Ramadan which creates so many potential layers of meaning in terms of a French cultural identity possibly being how more important to the character than adherence to a religious belief system.
Over two hundred years have passed since the French Revolution and yet characters still refer to the ‘new Republic’. The film establishes very quickly that the ideals which were behind the state’s founding have been compromised by a trail of corruption the leads all the way to the Presidential office. The tainting of the promised land and debasement of the principals underpinning a young and fragile society is a theme prevalent in many Westerns and by focusing on Nora Chahyd’s quest to uncover the truth and bring the guilty parties to justice the filmmakers are drawing from another common trope; the outsider who enters a community and despite insurmountable odds wages a battle to reclaim the land and restore moral certainty.
The Western motifs are carried over into the score which is comprised of a mixture of original pieces in the vein of Ennio Morricone, Gianfranco and Gian Piero Reverberi’s work and archival recordings from classic Spaghetti Westerns (did I spot a snatch of Django, Prepare a Coffin’s bass theme?). Further proof of the director’s affection for the genre is provided by the use of classic Western posters adorning the walls of the detective’s department within the police station, most notably Johnny Hamlet.
This frenetic thriller is brimming with action and intrigue. Loaded with subplots that dissect the heart of modern democracy and show it to be as black as a lump of coal State Affairs is blessed with a high-reaching script that opens with a bang and then accelerates the pace right up until the film’s final moments.