(director/writer: Giacomo Abbruzzese; cinematographer: Helene Louvart; editors: Fabrizio Federico, Ariane Boukerche, Giacomo Abbruzzese; music: Vitalic; cast: Laetitia Ky (Udoka), Franz Rogowski (Aleksei/Alex), Michal Balicki (Mikhail), More Ndiaye (Jomo), Leon Lucev (Paul), Matteo Olivetti (Francesco), Robert Więckiewicz (Gavril); Runtime: 92; MPAA Rating: NR; producers: Lionel Massol, Pauline Seigland; Big World Pictures; 2023-(France-Italy-Belgium-Poland-in French, Russian, Polish, Igbo with English subtitles)

“A narrative where the dream-like journey is the thing.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

The Italian director Giacomo Abbruzzese makes his debut memorable in this lively French Foreign Legion film, whose theme is finding one’s identity for a man always on the move. It’s divided into 3 chapters, showing the protagonist changing himself while in different locations.

Aleksei (Franz Rogowski, German actor) is from Belarus. He comes to Poland by bus on a tourist visa with his pal Mikhail (Michal Balicki) and a few other countrymen. Aleksei and Mikhail sneak off the bus and hitch a ride west with a truck driver. Eight days later in Paris as illegal migrants, they join the French Foreign Legion, with Aleksei using the name Alex as he opts for a five year recruitment stint so he can become a French citizen.

Alex survives a brutal basic training under the indifferent commander (Leon Lucev), and his unit

gets sent to Nigeria to rescue French hostages, as it fights for the Big Oil exploiters over the natives.

On the mission the unit gets into a gunfight with freedom fighter Jomo (More Ndiaye) and his sister Udoka (Laetitia Ky), who lead an insurgent paramilitary group in the Niger Delta and are holding the hostages.

The battle scene during a nighttime raid by the Legionnaires is beautifully shot in the legionnaires’ infrared goggles.

Back in Paris with his victorious unit, Chapter 3 opens on the dance floor, where Alex is overcome by his memories, and immerses himself in thoughts about Jomo and his dream to be a nightclub dancer, a “disco boy,” if born as a privileged white man (the reason for the title).

It’s fair to compare Abbruzzese’ French Foreign Legion film with the masterpiece Legion film made by Clair Denis, the 1999 “Beau Travail,” even if this provocative version, a harrowing mood piece, is more promising than on that level of scope.

Adding more excitement to a narrative where the dream-like journey is the thing, is the mesmerizing Rogowski performance, the throbbing electronic score by Vitalie and the imaginative photography by the DP Helene Louvart.

It played at the Berlin Film Festival.

  REVIEWED ON 1/10/2024  GRADE: B+