Cinema in quarantine: The officer and the spy

Image: Isaura Pena (Jornal de Resenhas)


Commentary on Roman Polanski's film about the Dreyfus Affair

If a sentence of acquittal is the confession of a judicial error (Foucault), subsequent rehabilitation, followed by a pardon, is an admission that the conviction was the final act of a legal farce. This is the logic that stems from the Dreyfus affair, which shook France at the turn of the XNUMXth to the XNUMXth century. Legal pantomime, with anti-Semitism and false evidence, the Dreyfus case illustrates several themes that are extremely topical. Among them, the judicial dissimulations, in which the purity of the forms creates a filthiness of the contents. It is justice as farce. Today we call it "lawfare".

Why did Polanski address this issue? This question suggests a recurring topic in film criticism. One can go back to André Bazin (icon of French criticism, intellectual father of François Truffaut). For Bazin, films reveal (sic) author directors. This is the thesis of “authorism”. In other words, a tape is a work centered on the cosmology of a given author. I dare to say that the option for resuming a legal farce and a historical injustice can be, in some way, an argument, in its own cause. Polanski's response to the very serious accusations leveled against him in the United States. Controversial subject. Comparison is possible. There is no naivety.

Let us return to the Dreyfus affair. Information symmetry. Alfred Dreyfus, a French army officer, Jewish, of Alsatian origin, was accused of selling French military secrets to the Germans. Strong anti-Semitism raged in France at the end of the XNUMXth century. The case was tried secretly, behind closed doors, “hiut-clos”, How do you say it in French. Edgard Demange, lawyer for Dreyfus, did not have access to several documents that incriminated his client. Condemnation was unanimous. Life imprisonment with hard labor. The cards were marked. The army was convinced that this was a question of state that should be resolved with the summary elimination of Dreyfus.

In defense of Dreyfus the writer Emile Zola, who published a bombastic libel in favor of the accused. The central piece in the dismantling of the plot was Colonel Georges Picquart, relentlessly pursued by the fakers. Picquart is the central character of the film. It is in the obstinate colonel that Polanski centers the indignation against the false conviction.

Polanski is very competent. He snubs moving paintings. Photography is breathtaking. The art direction recreates the Paris of Belle Epoque with can-cans and men who invariably wear mustaches. There is a cut with a car, primitive, that crosses with a small carriage. Changing times. Including direction. The actors shine (and how they shine). Jean Dujardin is the colonel who is unhappy with injustice. The assembly is flawless.

The plans show huge rooms, with huge ceilings; in the background, a permanent light, as if stating that the truth (which is light) shakes the lie (which metaphorically is darkness). The imaginary duel scene is a master class in the use of space and color in the formation of an illusion. In time. How long was dueling allowed in France? 1967, according to some records, although the practice became obsolete by the end of the XNUMXth century. Answered.

For the gallery of eventual flaws (perhaps intentional), the opening scene, with the Eiffel Tower in the background. The degradation of Dreyfus took place before the inauguration of the famous tower. The tower is from March 31, 1889. Dreyfus had already been condemned and humiliated before the other soldiers.

A film to be appreciated as a sculpture. Like the scene in the Louvre, when Roman copies of Greek originals are glimpsed. Nothing fake. Just a copy. Scene illustrating the film's ultimate proposal: a copy of a fact, not a falsification of a lived story.

* Arnaldo Sampaio de Moraes Godoy is a professor at the Faculty of Law of the University of São Paulo (USP).


The Officer and the Spy (J'accuse)

France, 2020, 132 minutes

Directed by: Roman Polanski

Cast: Jean Dujardin, Louis Garrel, Emmanuelle Seigner.

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