Capitaine Conan

Nashville Scene

DIRECTED BY: Bertrand Tavernier

REVIEWED: 11-30-98

In many ways, Bertrand Tavernier's World War I drama Capitaine Conan and the Academy Award-winning documentary The Long Way Home couldn't be more different, but they are alike in their surveillance of the postwar landscape. War doesn't stop on a dime, both films explain. There are occupying forces, refugees, and scars that don't heal overnight.

Tavernier's film follows (loosely and sometimes confusingly) a pack of ruthless French soldiers, who after Nov. 11, 1918, are reassigned to keep the peace in a small Romanian village. However, the men find it hard to adjust to state dinners and guard duty, and it's not long before their pent-up aggression explodes in a series of petty (and not-so-petty) crimes. The plot revolves around court-martial proceedings, but the debate is not one of law but one of appropriateness--how can you expect a war hero to become a paper pusher? How are you going to keep 'em down on the farm after they've razed Paris?

Similarly, The Long Way Home deals with displaced persons, as it meticulously details the years between the liberation of the German concentration camps (1944) and the foundation of the state of Israel (1948). "The Jewish Problem," as it had been called for centuries, threatened to choke a rebuilding Europe, as a decimated people wandered between villages and military installations, looking for the remnants of homes and family.

The Long Way Home begs for a sequel, to show how the Jews went from overcoming adversity and building a new homeland to degrading the Palestinians almost as shabbily as they themselves were degraded after the war; but even the incomplete story is fascinating and loaded with context. What lingers is the single-minded vision of a people determined to survive, if only to show their children that the world can be just.

--Noel Murray

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