Ariane Labed and Soko in THE STOPOVER photo courtesy of SFFILM

Ariane Labed and Soko in THE STOPOVER
photo courtesy of SFFILM

The San Francisco International Film Festival (SFFILMFestival) presents the topical French drama The Stopover, which explores the after-effects of combat in contemporary warfare.  We also get a female lens on the acceptance of women in combat roles and on sexual assault in the military from the co-writer and co-directors, the sisters Delphine and Muriel Coulin.

The Stopover’s title refers to a French combat unit’s three-day stay in a luxurious Cypriot seaside resort.  The unit, heading back to France after a tour in Afghanistan, is supposed to decompress at the resort.  They are required to engage in group therapy, enhanced by virtual reality goggles.  As with any group of gung-ho and mostly macho twenty-somethings, talk therapy is not their thing.  But they sure need decompression, because their service included a terrifying engagement in which they lost three comrades.

This combat unit includes women, and The Stopover focuses on Aurore (Ariane Labed and Marine (Soko).  The strong and purposeful Aurore has physically recovered from an emotionally (and literally) scarring experience in Afghanistan.  The more impulsive Marine, on the other hand, is not a deep thinker, but has a serious chip on her shoulder.

Everyone in the unit wound very, very tightly. Some are fighting to keep psychotic outbursts from bubbling over.  Plopping these guys amidst tourists and locals in such an absurdly and artificially tranquil setting creates a powder keg.  From start to finish in The Stopover, we’re waiting for any and every character to snap or erupt.

Ariane Labed in THE STOPOVER photo courtesy of SFFILM

Ariane Labed in THE STOPOVER
photo courtesy of SFFILM

Labed is excellent as Ariane feels need to suppress her PTSD, to mask it with rowdy fun and, finally, to confront it.  Labed won Best Actress at the Venice Film Festival for a completely different kind of movie in 2010, the absurdly goofy Attenberg, which I also watched at the San Francisco International Film Festival.

I just can’t take my eyes of Soko, who is a French pop music star. Here, as Marine, she has a feral fierceness. Soko is also a force of nature in the excellent period drama Augustine. She stars in another movie out this year that I’m looking forward to seeing, The Dancer.  She brings a simmering intensity to the screen, in contrast to her offbeat, ironic pop music.
The rest of the cast is excellent, too, particularly Karim Leklou as a sergeant with an unresolved issue or two.

The Stopover plays the SFFILMFestival tonight and again this weekend.  It’s also programmed in Film Society of Lincoln Center’s sometimes traveling Rendez-vous with French Cinema series.  It’s an engrossing and powerful film.

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