I Saw Ben Barka Get Killed

I Saw Ben Barka Get Killed


Reviewed by: Angus Wolfe Murray

As a real life murder mystery, the kidnap and disappearance of the Moroccan dissident Mehdi Ben Barka outside the Brasserie Lipp on the left bank of Paris in October, 1965, is a gift for a filmmaker with the skill and imagination to cut through the misinformation, secret service spin and criminal deception surrounding it. That filmmaker is Serge Le Peron, one time editor of Cahiers du Cinema (1976-1984).

The story is told in three chapters, which are neither chronological, nor comprehensive, accompanied by the narrative voice-over of a dead man. If that sounds surreal and artistically reckless, you need to pay attention.

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The lead character in a drama stuffed with star names is a small time ex-con from a bourgeois background, called Georges Figon (superbly played by Charles Berling), who is trying and failing to make a go of publishing a scandal magazine. Constantly on the look out for a money making scheme and still in contact with his underworld chums, he decides to become a film producer and make use of his acquaintances amongst the Saint-Germain-des-Pres set, who include director Georges Franju (Jean-Pierre Leaud) and writer Marguerite Duras (Josiane Balasko).

When gangster-turned-Gaullist-security-service-operative Georges Boucheseiche (Frank Tiozzo) tells him to meet a Moroccan by the name of Chtouki (Azize Kabouche), with the aim of financing a film, Figon leaps at the chance. As a neurotic, paranoid, low grade confidence trickster, whose attention span resembles a gnat in a gale, his performance as a knowledgeable producer is immediately compromised, not that Chtouki is listening, because he makes the running, explains what is required, promises riches later, but "no advances on this deal."

The film they will make is a political documentary on the subject of decolonisation, the Algerian war of independence having ended only three years previously, with Ben Barka (Simon Abkarian) as "historical advisor." Gathering the intellectual backing of Franju and Duras, who are excited by the project, Figon goes to Cairo to discuss the project with Ben Barka. A meeting in Paris is arranged.

Of course, Chtouki and the CIA are closely monitoring every move Figon makes and so the trap at the Brasserie Lipp is set. Although there is material here to make a thriller in the style of The Constant Gardener, Le Peron approaches it with the originality you might expect from the avant-garde.

Leaud, Truffaut's favourite actor, and Balasko, a fine writer herself, are borderline eccentric and as sharp as a knife, while Berling's portrayal of a man in permanent flight from his own machinations, whose only defence is lies, cannot be overrated.

Reviewed on: 18 Oct 2006
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How a small time crook is used as a decoy in the kidnapping of a Moroccan dissident in 1965.
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Director: Serge Le Péron, Saïd Smihi

Writer: Serge Le Péron, Frédérique Moreau, Saïd Smihi

Starring: Charles Berling, Simon Abkarian, Josiane Balasko, Jean-Pierre Leaud, Fabienne Babe, Mathieu Amalric, Azize Kabouche, Francois Hadji-Lazaro, Jean-Marie Winling, Franck Tiozzo

Year: 2005

Runtime: 101 minutes

BBFC: 12A - Adult Supervision

Country: Morocco/Spain/France


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