WARS are unsettling for everyone, at the very least. The post-battle trauma has been captured on celluloid from the 1968 The Deer Hunter to the 2005’s Jar Head, among others.
In The Stopover, the stress of war is shown from the female combatants’ viewpoint, in a fascinating study of the dynamics of “brotherhood”, of being part of the “team”, or are they really? This movie is an honest, realistic telling of the impact of war on its participants, as well as the countries that see refugees passing through them. It is sincere, almost documentary-like, in its delivery of the message – the cost of war.
Written and directed by the Coulin sisters, the tale revolves around three women soldiers – Fanny (Ginger Roman), Aurore (Ariane Labed) and Marine (Soko) – who are sent to Cypress with their battalion after a harrowing stint in Kabul, Afghanistan.
It’s obvious from Marine’s behaviour from the start, on the plane to Cypress, that something happened which did not sit easy on her mind.
The battalion is to undergo a decompression programme on the Cypress resort. When the troop members arrive, in their army fatigues, their juxtaposition against that of the resort’s other guests is surreal to see. As an impactful dialogue line states: “Going from burqas to thongs…”
In the film, “decompression” means the individual soldier reliving their worst experiences guided by therapists who use “virtual reality” video imagery to correspond to the soldier’s narrative.
That’s a cool idea. Production notes state that this technique has been used since 2008, wher every French soldier returning from a tour of duty goes through a “decompression period” (Canadians do the same thing and US soldiers too). They are taken to a five-star hotel for three days where they are supposed to forget about the war and relax among tourists enjoying their vacation.
The programme, devised by army psychologists, includes aquagym and relaxation classes, boat excursions and group meetings where everyone must tell the story of their individual experience during the six months spent in a war zone. This military therapy is more or less successful, run the notes.
In the decompression, the soldiers recount their feelings for one particular harrowing incident. As the hours pass, friendships like that Marine and Aurore – school buddies from the military town of Lorient, France – are threatened.
Aurore finds the retelling of one failed tank exercise in Kabul cathartic, but Marine shows she thinks the exercise futile. In fact, all that fun on the beach and computer games “won’t make us forget the war”, she thinks.
Some of Aurore’s male colleagues are holding in pent-up violence, and are not happy anyone wants to talk about the war incident. At one beach outing, some of the men reveal their lethal emotions to one “squealer”.
In the midst of these flailing emotive moments, along comes two Cypriot men who are drawn to Aurore and Marine. The women, with Fanny, leave the resort with this duo for some real down-time.
We get to see this Greek island’s beauty but also the reality of today. The people are literally divided by country politics, driving home that war does not just mean guns.
That ride to see Cypress leads to an unforgettable night where emotions finally explode, and the women soldiers realise who their real friends are.
The Stopover won Delphine and Muriel Coulin the Cannes Film Festival 2016 Un Certain Regard – Screenplay Prize. The movie is part of the Le French Festival 2017 Malaysia. It is playing at GSC cinemas.
** This review appears in the new Straits times. Cover pic courtesy of GSC Cinemas.