L ennimi Intime opens to a confusing setting: a battalion of French and Algerian soldiers is spearheading a series of operations in the heart of Algeria during the Arab country s fight for independence. The villagers they meet are battling with their affiliation, whether to support the National Liberation Front (FLN) or the French Army.
The confusion recedes gradually, not because affiliations were getting clearer, but because in war, as the film tries to say, it s humans who suffer regardless of their nationality.
The stench of war – the massacres, the charred dead bodies and the chaos of gunfire – reeks in scenes reminiscent of World War I and II films. Yet, the soldiers’ internal struggle is what takes center stage, showing the truly ugly side of war.
Lieutenant Terrien (Benoît Magimel), a self-righteous army officer with a strong belief in equality and freedom, admits early on that this war is useless: The Algerians have a right to fight for their independence and they will eventually win.
In the same conversation, he raises the question that sets one of the film s important debates: If the French are claiming to fight barbarism, should they resort to the same practices their enemies are adopting?
The film doesn t offer a philosophical answer to the question. Instead, it showcases an in-your-face reality of how people are forced to change inside-out. How far can war push humans into doing what they once thought impossible?
The Algerian soldiers fighting alongside the French brag about their World War II wounds and the battles they helped the French win – battles that contributed to the allies victory. Some of them see their participation in the French Army as a natural progression of their role a decade earlier. Others are fueled by their feud with the FLN, which massacred their families in an attempt to force these fine soldiers to join the struggle for independence.
Could their loyalty change? Are they capable of killing their own countrymen?
The French soldiers, whose survival technique is to drown the noises of war with music and heavy drinking at camp, remain suspicious of their Algerian colleagues.
Even the villagers – who are first portrayed as neutrals, pledging allegiance to whichever side guarantees their survival – struggle with their own internal conflicts. A teenager, orphaned by FLN and rescued by Lieutenant Terrien, seems to have a clear perspective on the war, deciding his affiliation early on. But like the Lieutenant who saved him, he discovers how radically war can transform people.
At one point, Lieutenant Terrien believes that whatever atrocities he has seen or was forced – or tricked – into committing were the FLN’s wrongdoing, leading to a spree of vengeance that contrasts with his original stance on war practices.
After he slips further in what he initially thought was barbaric behavior, he goes back home for a vacation, but freezes when he sees his six-year-old son from afar. It s at this moment that war confronts the innocence and idealism he once cherished.