Film: The French Conspiracy

The French Conspiracy (1972) is only one of this film’s titles (it was released as L’Attentat in France, and is also known The Assassination). I’m going roll with that title here, because boy, is this film ever French. Talky and cerebral, this spy thriller focuses on a dastardly assassination plot. The cat’s paw is Francois Darien (Jean-Louis Tritingnant), a mediocre writer and former Algerian resistance member with a history of opportunistically changing sides to save his skin. Darien is friendly with the exiled French-African leader Sadiel (Gian Maria Volonté), whom the current dictatorial regime in France is looking to eliminate. They blackmail Darien into cooperating with their scheme to lure Sadiel home in order to take him out. Darien does their bidding, but becomes a fly in the ointment when his conscience gets the better of him, inspiring him to take on the conspiracy and save his friend.

Loosely based on actual events, The French Conspiracy is a slow-ramping potboiler that would probably benefit from specific political knowledge about the era. Even without a firm grounding in the milieu, I enjoyed decoding its largely conversational mysteries, which ultimately escalate into suspenseful action and a dark, cynical resolution. Tritingnant makes for a relatable protagonist, a flawed idealist whose proclivity for failure renders him vulnerable, while the cast is enhanced by the likes of Jean Seberg (as Darien’s similarly idealistic nurse girlfriend), Roy Scheider (as a shifty American publisher), and François Périer (as an honest cop trying to help expose the plot). This one probably won’t be a broadly entertaining watch for the casual viewer, but spy film junkies looking for authentic, intellectual espionage—and, as a bonus, an eerie Ennio Morricone soundtrack—might find enough structural and political intricacy to warrant their attention.

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