such as The Pianist (2002), this is not an easy type of film. Or some kind of adaptation of historical events that failed to make a strong impression. Both as an idea, context, play and strength of character and the message it carries.
The film is called J'Accuse . The film is adapted from a historical novel entitled An Officer and a Spy bouquet of Robert Harris . British novelist who has written a biography of Cicero in a slick trilogy: Imperium , Conspirata , and Dictator . J'Accuse first released August 30, 2019 in Venice. In the midst of strong protests over Polanski's sexual harassment case, this film won the Grand Jury Prize at the Venice Film Festivel. In addition, he received 12 nominations at the 45th Cesar Award, 28 February 2020.
in 4 categories at the 32nd European Film Awards held in Berlin, Germany. The four categories are Best Picture, Best Actor, Best Director and Best Screenwriter. Not a tin-tin type film, is it?
Before discussing the film, we may need to refresh our memory a bit about the Alfred Dreyfus scandal which is still an example of the struggle between the principles of "Individual Freedom Vs. State Regulation" (authoritarianism / militarism).
Brief Historical Background
Alfred Dreyfus was the son of a wealthy and Jewish textile entrepreneur. He was born October 9, 1859 and died July 12, 1935 in Paris, France.
of being a German spy. The allegations stem from the discovery of a letter at the German embassy in France. The cut is a handwritten, resembling Dreyfus'. This incident took place in 1894. An accusation mixed recently with anti-Semitic sentiment and the blind passion of (military) nationalism.
The day he was punished and sent to the Devil's island in French Guiana, the crowd who witnessed the sentence chanted, "Death to Judas! Death to the Jews! Marie-Georges Picquart (1854-1914), the former superior and head of the new military intelligence unit, had doubts.
Picquart, then about 40 years old, found evidence that the handwriting belonged to Major Ferdinand Walsin Esterhazy.
The Dreyfus scandal has at least been made into films since 1899. In 2019, a film with the historical background of this scandal was made again. The title is J'accuse , a name taken from the title of Emile Zola's letter. Open letter addressed to French president Felix Faure.
The letter challenged Alfred Deryfus' life sentence and accused the government of anti-Semitism and weakness in evidence. A letter which was his support for Alfred Dreyfus. This letter was published on January 13, 1898 in the newspaper L'Aurore .
Emile Zola's letter of protest sparked widespread attention from audiences. In fact, the French public at that time was split in two.
Those who belong to the Antidreyfusard class , generally united by a passion for nationalism. For them the Alfred Dreyfus case was an attack by an enemy of the nation which discredited the military and attacked national security . The group refused to have the case reopened.
Second , the Dreyfusards , those who demand liberation. This group sees the scandal as a threat to the principle of individual freedom under the issue of national security. In addition, the question of the sovereignty of the civilian authorities against the military authorities which act independently of the state.
Apart from the writer Emile Zola, one of the intellectuals who criticized this scandal was Julien Benda (1867-1956). Benda even called educated people trapped in a narrow celebration of nationalism (: Antidreyfusard) as a form of betrayal by intellectuals. His critique is written in La Trahison des Clercs (1927).
The film opens with a scene reading the verdict against Alfred Dreyfus in a field. The military symbols on his body were removed before being sent to exile. There were cavalry, top military officers and a crowd of people who felt they were arresting traitors to France.
After that, the camera will move to bring the audience to the atmosphere of the 1800s where the espionage work is still manual. From the dim and damp workspace of Georges Picquart (played charismatically by Jean Dujardin), the audience can soak in a cold and hidden atmosphere. In addition, the work units under Picquart's command also displayed power from the hidden hands of the state, which day and night protected what was abstractly called the status of national security.
Picquart who is careful and daring to reopen the mistakes of Dreyfus's accusations of treason is not really a straight man. He has an affair with an ex-girlfriend who is the wife of an employee at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. In other words, it has nothing to do with one's sexual life in its capacity to expose scandals.
So, what about the appearance of Alfred Dreyfus, played by Louis Garrel?
The captain didn't appear here much. He was only shown as a victim of a military decision mixed with anti-Semitic sentiments at that time. His thin face accompanied by minus glasses gave off the impression of a serious and hardworking person, if not too straight.
Apart from presenting the meticulous and charismatic Picquart or the serious and rigid Dreyfus, another depiction that presents the atmosphere of the era is the military court, which is more like a debate room. There are arguments going back and forth there, like a market but without physical chaos.
The atmosphere in the courtroom illustrates how the truth is checked through the legal process and dealing with the authorities who force the re-examination of Dreyfus' case to not happen. This kind of authority takes shelter behind the state's security status, especially in times of war.
In fact, they are actually protecting a handful of people who want to uphold military authority higher than civilian sovereignty. At the same time, it was hiding anti-Semitic sentiments. There is one scene where Picquart is examined by three military officers. He was forced to admit that he had worked for the Jewish union to scapegoat Esterhazy. Picquart refused to submit. Choose disciplinary action.
J'Accuse seemed to remind us that in an affair entitled for the sake of national security, the public is easily led to believe that there is a great danger threatening us inside. Equivalent to three dollars, the public or the masses are also fond of the tendency to come together to face and even justify any means when agreeing to the enemy in the definition of the state, military or for the sake of national security.
We are constantly reminded of the reflection of Elias Canetti, a Bulgarian-born Nobel Laureate in Literature. If I do not misunderstand, Canetti reminds if the mass is formed from encounters with something he does not know. In other words, the masses are a united crowd to reduce fear. The Alfred Dreyfus scandal must have been born in such an atmosphere.
Next, we are taken to the formation of small alliances that support Picquart's work. As head of the intelligence unit, he is being stripped of his influence. His stubbornness against warnings of not continuing the investigation reaped a backflow of punishment from higher ups. In a way, Picquart is facing a dead end made by high-ranking officials.
How to move tension and go beyond dead ends?
Nothing else. It takes alliances that dare to create counter narratives from outside the cavalier walls of militarist espionage. The fellowship then involved lawyers, parliamentarians and Emile Zola. This name then wrote an open letter, which then shifted the conflict map to the public domain. Mediates the formation of "Dreyfusard Vs. Antidreyfusard". Journalism is an involved part, albeit in a divided position.
With the shift in the conflict map becoming a part of public concern, the military apparatus and espionage units no longer have the immunity to act according to the tastes of the elite. Picquart is no longer fighting alone. Even if you have to go through a battle that took about 10 years .
Although the film lasted 2 hours 12 minutes is more apparent as the story of Georges Picquart than struggle Alfred Dreyfus, the main message J'accuse is the story of the success of the struggle to defend the principle of individual freedom. The success is sustained by the presence of clean military officials, intellectualism that is distant from the passion and throng of nationalism, and critical and courageous journalism. And don't forget public support as an added bullet.
A message that is still relevant to an era where the crisis of globalism in many areas has given birth to a strange desire for racial purification, the hardening of narrow nationalism and the will of political purification with the formalization of the teachings of the faith. Feel familiar with political battles in a country?
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