SENTINELLE Review - Warped Factor - Words in the Key of Geek.

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Alexander Wallace reviews the recently released French action thriller, Sentinelle.
We in the Anglosphere tend to give the French military short shrift. We were raised on jokes about French cowardice and ‘cheese-eating surrender monkeys.’ England has had centuries of rivalry with France (Scotland actually spent some time in alliance with France against England), and America we remember their failures in the World Wars and, maybe, the mess that was the French war in Vietnam (and if you’re really lucky, Algeria). Those of us who speak this language (one that, we should remember, has an immense amount of French vocabulary) mock the French to a degree that is unhealthy at best and deeply prejudiced at worst.

But they did conquer most of Europe for a time, and built an empire of a size that could rival Britain at her height. To this day, they have a large presence in West Africa and took revenge for the slaughterhouse in the Bataclan by watering their furrows with the impure blood of ISIS. They are a nuclear weapons state and have gone as far as New Zealand to safeguard that option. The educated person knows that the French are not to be trifled with.

But that might is not often documented in popular film. This brings us to Sentinelle, the 2021 French thriller film directed by Julien Leclercq and starring Olga Kurylenko (of Quantum of Solace fame). Sentinelle is in many ways a French response to American dominance of this sort of film in much the way that Operation Red Sea is a Chinese response to the same.

This is a film about what being a soldier means, ultimately. Kurylenko portrays Klara, a soldier in the French Army deployed at first in Syria, where she witnesses a child blow himself up at his father’s behest (the scene reminded me strongly of a rather similar scene in Clint Eastwood’s American Sniper). Broken by the experience, she is transferred back to her hometown in Nice, on the Mediterranean coast. There, she reunites with her mother and her sister, Tania, who disappears when the two go to a nightclub; the culprit turns out to be a Russian oligarch’s son.

Klara demonstrates the revulsion and fury of any reasonable person confronted by the disappearance of her sister at the hands of a strange man; however, she is also still in the ranks of the French military. Following in the footsteps of many movies of this sort, she goes rogue, perfectly willing to roughen up people in order to save her sister. Naturally, she runs into the authority of the French state and its armed-to-the-teeth representatives. It’s the classic conflict of what is right versus what is legal, and I would say it was handled competently if not spectacularly.

Sentinelle is a very sparse, economical film; the violence is not flashy, but rather gritty and blunt. It’s also a rather short film at an hour and twenty minutes, credits included. It is a film that confines itself to only a few places, mostly around Nice. It does not indulge in melodrama or high-octane stunts. This is the action film stripped down to its essential elements; fortunately, we are reassured that these elements have endured for a reason.

Sentinelle, ultimately, is a serviceable action film whose greatest novelty comes from the fact that it is French. Other than that, it doesn’t do much that is terribly original in that genre. That being said, it’s perfectly enjoyable; just don’t expect anything as revolutionary as storming the Bastille. The home front, here, is plenty enough.

Alexander Wallace is an alternate historian, reader, and writer who moderates the Alternate History Online group on Facebook and the Alternate Timelines Forum on Proboards. He writes regularly for the Sea Lion Press blog and for NeverWas magazine, and also appears regularly on the Alternate History Show with Ben Kearns. He is a member of several alternate history fora under the name 'SpanishSpy.'

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