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French Conspiracy (aka The Assassination), The
Directed by Yves Boisset in 1972, The French Conspiracy (also known as The Assassination or L'attentat in its native France), is a French-Italian co-production loosely based on the real life Mehdi Ben Barka affair, where the prominent Moroccan politician was kidnapped and murdered in Paris in 1965. The screenplay was adapted by Jorge Semprún based on a story by Ben Barzman and Basilio Franchina.
The film opens with some CIA agents discussing a plot to do away with a political activist named Sadiel (Gian Maria Volontè), the man in charge of an African state whose politics lean decidedly left wing. This is done by having an old friend of Sadiel, François Darien (Jean-Louis Trintignant), who is married to Edith Lemoine (Jean Seberg) and who now works as an informant for the French police, bring him on to a television show to discuss current world events. Sadiel is abducted and tortured by Kassar (Michel Piccoli), the man who helped organize the abduction with the French police forces.
Wrought with guilt, Darien confesses to his hand in this and hopes to make things right, but before he can do that, there is interference from those who he previously collaborated with and a few others. Meanwhile, an American journalist named Michael Howard (Roy Scheider) starts poking around.
This is a well-crafted slow burn thriller that benefits from a really strong cast and some strong production values. The score, from the legendary Ennio Morricone, is spot on, just absolutely perfect, highlighting the action, suspense and drama in equal measure. Ricardo Aronovich's cinematography is also top-notch, understated in a lot of ways but always properly polished and frequently quite impressive. Yves Boisset directs with a controlled pace, the film never feels like it's in a rush (which stands in stark contrast to many modern day political thrillers) but it shouldn't have to. Instead, the movie and most of its characters are nicely fleshed out.
The film also benefits from an excellent cast. While the gorgeous Jean Seberg (who sadly died of an overdose a few years after this picture was made) isn't given as much to do as those who appreciate her work might want, she's good in her part if almost shockingly underused. Gian Maria Volontè (who was himself very politically involved in Italian politics and was at one point a member of the Italian Communist Party), is every bit as good here as you'd hope he would be. Those expecting him to dial things up to eleven the way that he has in some of his other roles might be disappointed, but he plays the part with deadly seriousness and does an excellent job with it. Jean-Louis Trintignant, widely and properly recognized as one of the finest French actors of his generation if not in all of history, is also in remarkably fine form here, crafting a truly sympathetic character, while Michel Piccoli is pretty chilling as one of the film's heavies. Roy Scheider is fun to see in the picture as well, but his role is more of a cameo than anything else and you can't help but wonder if he was only put in the movie to appeal to a North American audience.
Note that this disc includes the original French cut of the film (which runs 2:03:09 with the Studio Canal logo) as well as the dubbed English cut of the movie (1:38:23 with the Studio Canal logo). This shorter version is a reconstruction of the U.S. release sourced from a variety of elements and "is not an exact representation of The French Conspiracy. It features English language opening credits (though French language closing credits) and uses The French Conspiracy title card where the French cut uses a L'attentat title card. It's an interesting alternate version and it's great to see it included here but the longer cut makes a lot more sense and is the better version of the movie. It doesn't look like anything was added to the U.S. cut but instead that it is simply missing footage that is included in the original French version.
The French Conspiracy arrives on Blu-ray from Kino Lorber in an AVC encoded 1080p high definition transfer framed at 1.66.1 widescreen. The French version takes up 23.5GBs of space and the U.S. cut uses up 19.9GBs of space. There isn't any noticeably difference in picture quality between the two cuts of the movie included here. The picture quality here is pretty decent, with nice detail and good depth. The colors look a bit flat in spots but this could be intentional. Some mild compression artifacts can be spotted here and there but the odds are that if you're not looking for them, you're probably not going to notice them. There aren't any issues with any noticeable noise reduction or edge enhancement. All in all, the picture quality here is pretty decent.
The French version gets a French 16-bit DTS-HD 2.0 Mono track with optional English subtitles. The U.S. version gets an English 16-bit DTS-HD 2.0 Mono track, there are no subtitles offered for this cut. Audio quality is fine, the levels are balanced on both cuts of the movie. The French track sounds a bit cleaner than the English one but they both sound fine, and Morricone's score definitely benefits from the extra breathing room that it is afforded by the lossless treatment.
Aside from the two versions of the film, we get bonus trailers for The Hunter Will Get You, And Hope To Die, Max And The Junkmen, Last Embrace, Caravan To Vaccares, The Eiger Sanction, The Tamarind Seed, OSS 117: Mission For A Killer, The Violent Professionals and Puppet On A Chain (though no trailer for the feature itself), menus and chapter selection options.
The French Conspiracy isn't the greatest political thriller ever made but it's a very good movie made even better thanks to the fantastic ensemble cast assembled for the production and a top notch Ennio Morricone score. Kino's Blu-ray is light on extra features but it does include both cuts of the film and in decent shape at that. Recommended.
Ian lives in NYC with his wife where he writes for DVD Talk, runs Rock! Shock! Pop!. He likes NYC a lot, even if it is expensive and loud.