|Directed by:||Cédric Jimenez|
|Written by:||Olivier Demangel|
|Starring:||Jean Dujardin, Sandrine Kiberlain, Jérémie Renier, Anaïs Demoustier, Sofian Khammes, Lyna Khoudri|
|Released:||May 11, 2023|
On 13 November 2015, an Islamic State terrorist cell conducted a series of attacks across Paris which took the lives of 130 people. It was the deadliest attack in France since World War II. President François Hollande declared a state of emergency and in the days that followed, Parisians were urged to stay indoors given unanswered questions about what had unfolded, and the fear of further attacks.
November is a French drama which provides a condensed look at the five days following the terrorist attack from the perspective of local investigators. The film makes the curious decision not to show any part of the attack. After an unnecessary prologue set in Greece, director Cédric Jimenez opens the film with a powerful scene. A lone government agent is in a dimly-lit office building when suddenly, every phone starts ringing. He has no comprehension of what’s just unfolded but knows it must be serious.
In the same vein as Paul Greengrass’ brilliant United 93, November is trying to provide a gritty, documentary-like feel and illustrate the behind-the-scenes chaos as thousands of detectives and police officers piece evidence together. In keeping the run time to a concise 100 minutes, the film is largely centred on a small part of the investigation – the hunt to locate Abdelhamid Abaaoud, a Belgian-born jihadist who was suspected of orchestrating the terrorist attacks.
There’s not a lot of insight on offer here. This may have been one of the darkest days in France’s history this century but large chunks of the narrative feel they belong in a formulaic television show. Detectives work ridiculously long hours and put work above well-being. Gazillions of leads are phoned in by the public and it’s hard to separate useful from useless. Tension develops between colleagues and departments as they disagree over approach. Agents go rogue and “take matters into their own hands” for better or worse. None of this will come as any huge surprise.
The most interesting characters in this ensemble are those who aren’t working for the government. Lyna Khoudri plays a young Muslim woman who suspects her roommate is helping two terrorists on the run. She decides to betray her friend (a big decision in itself) but then has difficulty persuading detectives that her information is both truthful and relevant. There’s much second-guessing on her part as to whether she’s made the right call and whether her own life is now in danger.
The cast is headlined by Academy Award winner Jean Dujardin (The Artist) and is a name that will help with international marketability. France is known for producing a few top-notch dramas each year (e.g. Lost Illusions and Full Time in 2021) but November fails to live up to that high benchmark