Capitaine Conan, a 1996 film from French director Berrand Tavernier ('Round Midnight), is a complicated, deeply affecting WWI drama set in the semi-official war zone of southeast Europe, where the War To End All Wars sputtered on for some time after the declaration of peace. It's an appropriately ambiguous setting for a film, based on the semi-autobiographical novel by Roger Vercel, which plunges deep into some gray moral territory. Philippe Torreton plays the title character, a courageous but unconventional officer in charge of a group of soldiers who are rough even by military standards. Fiercely protective of his men (whom he sees as the kind of unappreciated front-line cannon fodder who truly won the war) even after it's made clear the destructive impulses of some have been redirected toward innocent civilians, Torreton finds himself at odds with the military machinery. This includes his friend Samuel Lebihan, a sensitive lieutenant placed in charge of an investigation against Torreton's charges. Beautifully acted and filmed (largely with handheld cameras), Capitaine Conan is an involving look at the larger issues brought to light by war, with an emphasis on the ethical choices individuals make. These factors and its ambiguous characters—Torreton's in particular—help make Capitaine Conan memorable viewing, a war film that finds humanity in inhumane surroundings.
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