Being good at a job that shatters morale is the belly-ache that groans deep in Sandrine (Louise Bourgoin), the steely-spirited thirty year-old who returns home from Paris and finds work at the dog kennels belonging to her uncle, Henri (Jean-Hugues Anglade). The kennels turn much of their profit by buying and selling illegally imported puppies from Eastern Europe. Unsentimental and committed to her job, just like a soldier, Sandrine establishes herself as a respected link in the trafficking chain.
However, like the dogs, Sandrine’s freedom is restricted; and Henri’s demands are gruesome – he asks her to throw the numerous dead puppies in a burning metal bin. Sandrine descends into dark self-reflection; one so deep and powerful, it creates a canon ball of energy, giving her the momentum she needs to find a way out.
Laurent Larivière directs his first feature with a palate of greens, greys and subtle dirty blues, reflecting the bleak kennels, and the internal worlds palpable in Anglade and Bourgoin. Together, they create a sad, poetic ballet, memorable less for its dialogue than their intense interaction of ‘looks’ (worth noting the film was selected for Cannes’ ‘Un Certain Regard’ category this year).
Anglade is trapped in his own kennel too, one of defeat and depression. He is a man rotting in malpractice, his face an etched map of strong feeling. With a controlled physical presence, he presents as a strong man, yet he has little strength. Anglade’s a performance is built on beautifully judged contradiction.
Like Isabelle Huppert or Juliet Binoche, Bourgoin’s eyes are cathedrals of emotion. All expression rests in her ‘regard’ and how she holds her face. Je suis un Soldat is Sandrine’s odyssey of self-discovery. When the colours refuse to change, Henri’s demands increase and the barking gets louder, the soldier inside Sandrine stretches out its arms. She is released, and can now move towards new liberty.
Director: Laurent Larivière (2015)