The White Knights


Reviewed by: Amber Wilkinson

The White Knights
"A fiercely intellectual film, Lafosse shears away any shred of sentimentality, although humanism remains."

With refugee camps scattered all over the globe and thousands of international non-government organisations registered with the United Nations, Joachim Lafosse embarks on a timely fictional exploration of the real-life tale of the Zoe's Ark controversy that rocked France in 2007 - when NGO workers were arrested in Chad for trafficking children they claimed were war orphans.

Lafosse takes perhaps a little too much time to lay out the complex moral maze faced by the aid volunteers who headed to Africa but he also puts a human face on the quandry of decision-making faced by those involved. He also shows how innocent children can easily be caught in the crossfire of money, lies and good intentions.

Copy picture

Vincent Lindon is Jacques the brusque and driven head of NGO Move For Kids freshly arrived in an unnamed African country in a bid to find orphans to repatriate to France. The business, though no doubt based on fine ideals, is murky from the start, with the involvement of local go-between (Reda Kateb). Money changes hands with the villagers for news about 'orphans' and the volunteers lie to the locals by saying that they are intending to give the parentless kids a good education at their camp for the next 15 years.

The idea that the kids will be sticking around is where the problems start, as the village see the opportunity to make a quick buck, while mums think they can save themselves a mouth to feed but still have visiting rights. By making the deal transactional and basing it on a fabric of lies, it's only a matter of time before trouble starts to brew. Lafosse captures the dilemma of those involved, the damned if you do and damned if you don't decision making they are facing and the way that mutiny can quickly breed in an atmosphere that is being stoked by fabrication. In the heart of the camp is journalist Françoise (Valérie Donzelli) a surrogate for us, the viewer, watching on and torn between the desire to help the children have what many would consider better life and doing the warring 'right thing' of leaving them in their homeland.

The middle of the film is complex, talky and dense, as members of the camp begin to grapple with the complexity of what they trying to achieve, while Skype calls back home fuel the moral equivocation. This does slow the pace to the verge of being laboured, while the sheer weight of the acting ensemble prevents us from getting wedded to a single point of view - although the ambiguity of which side of the argument holds most sway is almost certainly the point Lafosse is driving at. A fiercely intellectual film, Lafosse shears away any shred of sentimentality, although humanism remains, to ask difficult questions and leave us to find the answers between a rock and a hard place.

Reviewed on: 06 Oct 2015
Share this with others on...
Dramatisation of the Zoe's Ark controversy.
Amazon link

Director: Joachim Lafosse

Writer: Zélia Abadie, Bulle Decarpentries, Joachim Lafosse, Thomas van Zuylen

Starring: Vincent Lindon, Louise Bourgoin, Valérie Donzelli, Reda Kateb, Yannick Renier, Stéphane Bissot, Tatiana Rojo, Tibo Vandenborre, Philippe Rebbot, Travis Kerschen, Jean-Henri Compère, Luc Van Gunderbeeck

Year: 2015

Runtime: 112 minutes

BBFC: 12A - Adult Supervision

Country: Belgium, France

Search database: