Cannes: The Search review

All eyes were on Michel Hazanavicius following his Oscar win for The Artist, but when it was announced that he’d follow up with a remake of Fred Zinnemann’s superb, and rather serious, The Search, many were skeptical. Could Hazanavicius successfully diverge from a career of making comedies into something more serious?

Now the film has screened, it’s clear that the transition was not an easy one for the director. Some of The Search really is excellent, but Hazanavicius does seem to have stretched slightly too far for his reach.

This remake relocates what was a post war story set in the aftermath of the holocaust to Chechnya in 1999. Many of the lead characters are children, with one child in particular and an adult at the centre. In 1948, this adult was Montgomery Cliff and, in 2014 we get Berenice Bejo.

Bejo is the one thing Hazanavicious has one-hundred per cent right with The Search. She’s an extraordinarily talented actress, as recently demonstrated by her deft navigation of The Past, and here she’s given many more opportunities to shine. There are emotional scenes, comic sequences and, with the most startling effect, a moment where her character explodes with anger over the crisis in Chechnya. Her ferocity and passion in this scene brought out whoops from the audience and I felt a desire to punch the air.

Bejo plays an NGO worker named Carole, which is a nod to the child’s name in Zinneman’s film. Her mission is to to convince the European Union to recognise the conflict in Chechnya and then intervene in some way. Into her life walks Kolia (Maxim Emelianov), a young boy whose mother and father have been killed by Russian soldiers. He’s distrustful of everyone and everything and has even stopped speaking. As she battles to get through to the EU, Carole also fights to break through with Kolia.

This blend of the personal and the political was clearly interesting to Hazanavicius. There are moments where he leverages the mix to very effectively tug at the heart strings, but mostly he shows too heavy a hand to successfully communicate any of the more subtle ideas.

Hazanavicius also hammers the audience with his subplots. One follows a Russian soldier and his transformation into a ‘killing machine,’ and it’s there to reiterate points about the horrors of war and institutionalised inhumanity. Sadly, its dramatic effect is drained away by the torpid presentation. Whenever I found myself becoming invested in this story, Hazanavicius would then overwhelm me with excessive polemic.

There are a few wonderful moments in The Search, most of them with Bejo, but these are few and far between. Unfortunately, what we have here, for the most part, is a somewhat leaden and middle of the road drama.