FRERES ENNEMIS (Close Enemies) by David Oelhoffen (France/Belgium, 111 min). Cast: Matthias Schoenaerts, Reda Kateb, Adel Bencherif, Sofiane Zermani, Nicolas Giraud, Sabrina Ouazani, Gwendolyn Gourvenec, Marc Barbé, Astrid Whettnall. Interview with David Oelhoffen.

FRERES ENNEMIS (Close Enemies) – Synopsis

Born and raised in a suburb ridden by drug trafficking, Driss and Manuel were like brothers. As adults, they have gone down exactly the opposite path: Manuel chose to embrace this thug life, while Driss completely rejected it and became a cop. When Manuel’s biggest deal goes terribly wrong, the two men meet again and come to realize they both need each other to survive in their worlds. Between betrayals and resentments, and despite their hatred, they renew deep ties around the one thing they have left in common: their visceral commitment to the place of their childhood.

Interview with The director David Oelhoffen

Where did the idea for FRÈRES ENNEMIS originate?

I have a lawyer friend who had quite important drug traffickers among her clients. I thought it would be interesting to meet them to try and understand how their lives were organized concretely. Most agreed to talk to me. It turned out the gap between how we usually fathom criminal life and what it’s really like was huge. There are a lot of expectations, a lot of fear and little romanticism. It made me want to see this same reality from the “opposite side”, within the police. The project was born. At that time, I was offered to co-write L’AFFAIRE SK1, a movie directed by Frédéric Tellier about Guy Georges, the first serial killer to ever be identified in France. This co-writing allowed me to broaden my knowledge about the institution. To understand what this profession meant. And to forge unexpected links. So I had quite a unique documentation from both sides of the fence of drug trafficking and I started to build a story on that theme.

Didn’t setting the action in the suburbs – an area that’s showed a lot in movies – seem like a pitfall to you?

What I wanted to do at first was to film the suburbs as they are and not shoot suburb fantasies. Just as I wanted to do it for police life and crime life. I didn’t want to imitate things I had seen in other movies, to recycle images. This is a framework we established from the beginning with Marc du Pontavice, the producer. He does not particularly relish crime fiction – no more than I do. The only way to give life to our movie in this now hard-to-finance movie genre was to consistently ensure its uniqueness. During the writing process, with the help of Jeanne Aptekman – who was a co-scriptwriter on the movie – we then tried to bring these characters the same nuances and the same complexity as in any drama, whether they were suburbanites, drug traffickers or policemen. Private, political and family conflicts probably develop in different ways in underprivileged areas or in ghettos, but they have the same intensity everywhere. In each and every one of my movies, I try not to simplify them.

Did you have a model in mind?

Not a model, no. References and influences, yes! FRÈRES ENNEMIS is resolutely looking to grasp what’s happening in France in 2018, with the inherent features it contains and with as little biases as possible. In terms of approach, I was inspired by Matteo Garrone’s GOMORRA. It’s a movie about the Italian reality that doesn’t mimic a violence that would come from American movies. It brings a singular and sharp vision on a really specific and local reality. And it becomes universal thanks to that.

You build your movies around the pursuit of identity…

My first movie, NOS RETROUVAILLES (IN YOUR WAKE) already dealt with this matter through the questioning of a young man who has to grow up in opposition to his father. In LOIN DES HOMMES (FAR FROM MEN), the two characters have to resist community isolation. In FRÈRES ENNEMIS, the characters struggle with the group that is supposed to define them and give them their identities. The cop is confronting his own identity too. He rejected his North African and suburbanite origins. The thug is almost a twin character since he is someone who found his identity in the family that’s not his own. I like to talk about this tension between personal freedom and the groups to which we belong: the family, love, social and political environments. A dysfunctional geographic area such as the ghetto can be a protection as well as an isolation. It is a refuge and a prison at the same time.