DVD Review: State Affairs

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.

State Affairs is available to order from Amazon.

Blu-ray Review: Django, Prepare A Coffin


In historical accounts of the Spaghetti Western the Django films are often overshadowed by Siegio Leone’s Man with No Name trilogy despite having at least eighty entries in the franchise, albeit of questionable legitimacy with the most recent being Quentin Tarantino’s Django Unchained. Whilst not a direct sequel, Tarantino’s film drew heavily from themes prevalent in the original films specifically a focus on wreaking revenge on an evil capitalist for the suffering Django’s wife has endured. With increased interest in the franchise since the release of the Tarantino film Arrow Films has given the 1968 sequel Django, Prepare A Coffin a HD restoration and Blu-ray release.

First appearing in the eponymously titled 1966 film, Django was originally portrayed as a Civil War veteran drifting across a newly reconstructed America. Dragging a sealed coffin across inhospitable terrains Django’s journey would not end until he had found the person responsible for this wife’s murder. Criticised at the time for its excessive violence the film was denied a certificate in Sweden and it wouldn’t be awarded one in the UK until 1993. Irrespective of whatever problems the film may have had in gaining a release in certain European territories it found an appreciative audience in Afro-Carribean countries, most notably Jamaica. In recent years the film, or rather its soundtrack gained a new audience when it was sampled by Gnarls Berkley on the worldwide hit Crazy.

The precise number of sequels to the 1966 film is almost impossible to pin down with estimates varying from eighty to over a hundred but for the most part, these are considered by aficionados to be unofficial. The criteria for deciding what constitutes a real ‘Django‘ film from the many imitators appears to be to be the participation of original lead actor Franco Nero the director Sergio Corbucci.

What differentiates Django, Prepare A Coffin from the numerous unofficial sequels is that a concerted effort was made to secure the services of Franco Nero and it was only when it became apparent that the production could not accommodate his commitments to an American project the decision was made to recast the role.

With a new Django on board played by Terrence Hill (They Call Me Trinity) the character’s backstory is substantially revised to the extent that this film could be called a reboot. Retiring from a life as a gun for hire in the services of an ambitious senator, Django heads off for pastures new with his wife. Whilst en route to California with a consignment of gold the trailer is attacked, his wife killed and Django left for dead.

Following the template laid down by the first film Django, Prepare a Coffin is a tale of revenge albeit somewhat less violent than the original. The subtitle plays on the audience’s foreknowledge of what is hidden inside Django’s coffin and the delaying of it’s reveal is part of an overall narrative strategy which is based upon misdirection and the implied promise of greater action to come.

Whilst not as well regarded as the 1966 film, Django, Prepare A Coffin is a classic example of the B-movie strand of Spaghetti Westerns. It most probably hasn’t looked as good at any time since the original release. In all previous domestic versions the image was softer, colours less defined. The restoration by Cinecteca di Bologna greatly enhances the range of visual information and this is particularly noticeable when viewing the exterior sequences. The overall package is complemented by some very well put together bonus content including an interview with Spaghetti Western expert Kevin Grant, optional English and Italian soundtracks, and a booklet by Howard Hughes.

Django, Prepare A Coffin is available to order from Amazon.

DVD Review: Accused

Continuing its programme of complementing the release of new series with titles sourced from the archives of Scandinavian film studios, Arrow Films brings us it’s latest DVD, Accused. Made in 2006 the film has parallels with Thomas Vinterberg’s 2012 movie The Hunt in that both are concerned with the consequences of allegations of pedophilia. Whereas the 2012 movie focused on the emotional and social consequences of an innocent man being accused of molestation, Accused‘s primary focal point is the slow destruction of a family when an allegation of incest is made by the daughter.

Director Jacob Thuesen and screenwriter Kim Fupz Aakeson have crafted a film that vacillates between dreamlike and nightmarish. The decision to be ambiguous about the accused’s guilt or innocence for much of the film is a deliberate editorial choice that results in the viewer feeling confused over what emotions should be experienced: sympathy or relief that justice is being metered out. Similarly, the stylistic choices made in the use of framing and lighting appear to have been made on the basis of not creating or accentuating a particular interpretation.

The film takes its inspiration from an incident in screenwriter Kim Fupz Aakeson’s childhood when a man from the local community was arrested for raping a woman at a train station. Forevermore tainted by the allegation he would no longer be regarded within the locality solely as a father, a friend, or good employee. From that moment onwards doubt would remain about his self-proclaimed innocence.

Whilst promoted as a Sofie Gråbøl starring movie, Accused’s lead actor is Troels Lyby who plays Henrik a father protesting his innocence, fighting against suspicion, whilst trying to prevent his wife from leaving him. With his wife Nina, Henrik should have an idyllic middle-class life but something is wrong, something is very wrong. The teenage daughter, Stine, should be an ever present physical presence around which the family revolves but is instead mysteriously withdrawn and it is this absence that creates a crack which has the power to destroy the very foundations of the household.

Henrik is a swimming instructor, and this choice of career allows the director and screenwriter to play a highly intelligent game with the viewer in which they explore the plurality of cinematic metaphors associated with water; source of life and representation of sexuality. As instructor, Henrik is in a position of responsibility that requires him to act as both carer and mentor, this parallels his duties as a father so therefore the potential risk should the allegations be proven is very great in terms of the home and the safety of those being tutored.

At first, it seems as though Henrik has a comfortable life: married to Nina, a secure job and the trust and respect of his colleagues and those being taught to swim. From the opening frames we, the viewers, know that this life must surely be torn apart, and throughout the rest of the film, we are not quite sure if it can ever again be put back together. Even if found not guilty will parents continue to allow him to teach their children to swim? Might the court of public opinion carry out its own independent verdict and sentencing?

At personal, familial, and social levels this film explores the devastation caused by that the spectre of pedophilia. That we are unsure of Henrik’s guilt or innocence for much of the movie creates an interesting situation in which we must explore our own attitudes to how cases are investigated, and if the support network for those making allegations is effective or overzealous.

An indispensable DVD. In common with Vinterberg’s The Hunt this is a film that will remain with you long after the end credits.

Accused is available to order from Amazon.