The White Knights (2015) Film Review

The White Knights (2015) Film Review
Jacques Arnault is a man for whom the end justifies the means. The casual mendacity he deploys while operating in a country devastated by civil war is in no way offset by his messianic desire to "save" children. Director and co-writer Joachim Lafosse apparently wants to avoid any moral judgements regarding his characters. The fact that the story is told entirely from Arnault's point-of-view, however, suggests that Lafosse finds something heroic about his protagonist.

"The White Knights" is set in Chad, formerly a French colony, although the country is never referred to by name in the film. Arnault (Vincent Lindon), head of the charity "Move For Kids", is indicative of the colonial mindset. He plans to remove three hundred orphans in order for them to be adopted by couples in France. Arnault misleads the local communities by saying his NGO will house and educate the children, on-site, for fifteen years; the reality is he plans to evacuate in thirty days. Naturally, non-orphaned children are offered to Arnault by distraught parents who have no means to care for their offspring.

Except for Bintou (Bintou Rimtobaye), the translator employed by Arnault, the Chadians are mainly anonymous spectators. The composition of the frame favors the French characters over the indigenous people. In one scene, a desperate mother implores Arnault and his volunteers to take her baby. The action is staged with the woman's back to the camera, making it difficult to empathize with her. There are frequent close-ups of Arnault and the other aid workers, but few of the Africans. It may be that Lafosse is commenting on the arrogance of colonialism but the effect on the viewer is a lack of emotional involvement.

This is not the case with Lafosse's previous film "Our Children" ("A perdre la raison", 2012). The plot of "Our Children" focuses on the psychological distress of one woman and her family. The structure of the film makes its tragic ending infinitely more potent than any scene presented in "The White Knights". Near its conclusion, Arnault and his associate Laura (Louise Bourgoin) sit with Bintou and nonchalantly explain that everything they told her has been a deception. They are taking the children and leaving in the morning. Laura assures Bintou that the children will be well-cared for in France. She then delivers what should be the film's most devastating line - "Trust us." Lafosse immediately cuts away, robbing the moment of its impact. Like Arnault, "The White Knights" circumvents any hard truths.

"The White Knights" ("Les chevaliers blancs") was released in 2015. The film is in French, English, and Arabic with English subtitles. Available on DVD, I watched "The White Knights" at my own expense. Review posted on 9/29/2019.

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