Les Sanguinaires (1999)

“We’ll either die of cold or boredom.”

In the French film Les Sanguinaires, as the millennium approaches, Francois (Frederic Pierrot) the Paris-based owner of the Jetlag Travel agency plans a special ‘getaway,’ and he invites a group of friends to join him in what he promises to be a unique experience. While Paris is clogged with those who seek to celebrate the millennium,  Francois, his wife Catherine (Catherine Bauque) and their friends travel to one of the Sanguinaire islands located near Corsica. The plan is to sit-out the millennium and basically avoid it.

sanguinairesThings begin to go wrong almost immediately. Stephane (Jalil Lespert), the young man who runs the island’s lighthouse is supposed to be there to meet them and take them to their rented house. Although he does show up hours later, a grim mood begins to descend on the holiday makers as they realize that the island is so isolated, they are basically stranded. But it gets worse…when Stephane does show up with the food, everyone realizes that the lodgings are primitive and without heat. Although some of the adults and the small children try to put a happy spin onto the adventure, the teenagers, who already resent being ripped away from Paris, are appalled.

As the days wear on–without television, telephones or radio, the determination to have a good time stretches very thin. Tension mounts when Stephane begins to be very popular with the children and inadvertently the leadership role shifts from Francois to Stephane. Francois resents Stephane’s popularity, and as some of the adults begin to plan a New Year’s Eve party, Francois becomes increasingly more taciturn and depressed.

Les Sanguinaires is not Cantent’s strongest film. It’s a strange tale that begins as one man’s avoidance of the crass, commercialism of the millennium, and it’s entirely conceivable that a travel agent, who has spent the last few months planning other people’s holiday destinations for the millennium,  would cringe at the flamboyant celebrations and massive numbers of tourists who will descend on Paris for the event. So it makes sense that Francois would invent an alternate way to celebrate,  and that those plans would involve a quiet escape far from the crowds. It soon becomes apparent, however, that the island getaway isn’t so much an alternative as much as it’s Francois’ attempt to deny that the millennium is taking place.

After reading short descriptions of Les Sanguinaires, my impression was that it was some sort of feel good film about a bunch of aging yuppies who got together for chats and intimate exchanges as they wax on about the future of the planet, the wankerism of politics and embarrassing confessionals about their relationships. Les Sanguinaires is not a feel-good film; it’s a vaguely disturbing and unsettling tale. While the group struggle to put a brave face on the choice of destination, it becomes increasingly apparent that avoiding the millennium means a great deal more to Francois than anyone can possibly understand.

The film raises questions which are never addressed by the plot, and this contributes to the film’s overall disturbing mood. There’s an underlying menace throughout the film which is emphasized by the bleak island; will Francois go postal or will Stephane abandon this lot of spoiled Parisians who sometimes don’t treat him particularly well? Although Francois gathers a fair number of friends for this little get-together, most of the other characters seem to be there for decoration. There’s little time spent exploring the thoughts or reactions of the friends as the situation becomes increasingly more uncomfortable.  Since Francois is a travel agent, and cooking up bang-up holidays is his business, it seems plausible that his friends would have expected something a bit more exotic than this bleak, subsistence-level destination, but apart from a few significant looks, the friends remain mute on the subject–a little disgruntled bitching would not have been out of place.  Les Sanguinaires could have been a much better film, but that said, it’s not bad. The film’s underlying air of mystery and unresolved questions linger long after the credits roll.

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