By William Wolf


Writer-director Michel Hazanavicius (“The Artist”) has loosely based his new film “The Search,” shown at the 2014 Toronto International Film Festival, on Fred Zinnemann’s 1948 film, but he has done something daringly different with this one, set in 1999. He has made a two-pronged drama, one element involving the search for a child, the other concentrating on the life of a soldier facing the horrors and demands of war. What’s more, the war involved is the Russian assault on Chechnya. The locale itself is unusual for film treatment.

A nine-year-old boy named Hadji (Abdul-Khalim Mamatsuiev) is orphaned when a brutal Russian attack on his village results in his parents being slaughtered. What is to happen to the lad? He wanders about, and fortunately is first taken under the wing of an American Red Cross worker, played by the ever-effective Annette Bening. She works hard to get Hadji to talk, but the youngster has been so traumatized that he is silent.

The next person to try to help Hadji is a representative of the European Union Human Rights Committee. She is played by the wonderful Bérénice Bejo (star of “The Artist” and the director’s wife), who struggles to unlock Hadji’s silence. Can he be reunited with his older sister, Raissa (Zukhra Duishvili), who is desperately searching for him? Count on a melodramatic, emotional resolution.

In the other story, Kolia (Maxim Emelianov) is a Russian musician and the last person who should be a soldier. But circumstances lead to his being drafted into the Russian Army, and he winds up fighting in Chechnya. He is not a killer, at least at the start, but swept up in the attitudes of his hardened fellow soldiers and brutalized by what he encounters, he is turned into a ruthless fighter a long way from his nature before entering the army.

The story of Hadji ultimately becomes uplifting with heartfelt impact. The story of Kolia is a devastating one. Both creatively communicate the toll of war, whether against civilians or soldiers, and in particular, the brutality of what has happened in Chechnya. Hazanavicius has done an about face from the bubbly mood of “The Artist” and made an impassioned anti-war film illuminated by his very human characters. Reviewed October 11, 2014.


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