I Saw Ben Barka Get Killed (3 stars)

(15) 102min


Ex-Cahiers du Cinema critic-turned-director Serge Le Péron revisits the intriguingly murky circumstances surrounding one of Gaullist France’s greatest political scandals. On 29 October 1965, an exiled Moroccan dissident Mehdi Ben Barka (played by Simon Abkarian) was abducted from a Parisian street in broad daylight by police officers, never to be seen again. Were the French secret services responsible for his ‘disappearance’, or was it the work of the feared Moroccan General Mohamed Oufkir, acting with the complicity of the CIA?

Freely mixing fact and speculation, Le Péron offers a version of these events from the perspective of a bit player in the drama, one Georges Figon (Charles Berling), who serves as the film’s Sunset Boulevard style narrator. An ex-con from a bourgeois background, who’s keen to make it in the film business, Figon is approached by underworld contacts to produce a documentary about decolonisation. But he and his collaborators - the director Georges Franju (Jean-Pierre Léaud) and the writer Marguerite Duras (Josiane Balasko) - are unaware that the undertaking is actually a trap to lure the charismatic Barka to the French capital.

With its clandestine dealings and lethal betrayals, I Saw Ben Barka Get Killed (the title derives from an interview a fugitive Figon gave to L’Express) unfolds as a conspiracy thriller, echoing Jacques Rivette’s paranoia-infused Paris Belongs to Us. Claustrophobically shot in wintry tones, and accompanied by an evocative jazz score, it features an impressive performance from a seedy-looking Berling, whose volatile fabulist is hopelessly out of his depth in such treacherous waters.

GFT, Glasgow from Fri 22-Thu 28 Dec only.

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