Search, The (2014): Hazanavicious Follow-Up to the Oscar Winning The Artist, One of Cannes Fest Worst Films

French filmmaker Michel Hazanavicius and his wife actress Berenice Bejo have collaborated to great effect in the charming black-and-white silent, The Artist, which world premiered at the 2010 Cannes Film Fest and went on to win the Best Picture, Director and Actor Oscars.

Whether or not intended as proof of range, their follow-up, The Search comes across as a sober, didactic and flat exposé of Chechnyan war crimes, so enamored of its self-importance that it cannot be bothered by dramatic storytelling.

Close to the Chechnyan-Russian border in 1999, mangy dogs prowl amid the rubble, sniffing around for a scrap of food or an undiscovered corpse. .

Bejo, in an unglamorous role, plays Carole a delegate from the EU’s human rights committee, filing a report to debunk Russia’s talk of an anti-terrorist operation to justify their air-strikes.

The other main character, Hadji (Abdul Khalim Mamutsiev), is a Chechen orphan of 9 whom Carole takes into her care. Hadji suffers from a post-traumatic shock, having seen his parents killed in the opening scene, and left his baby brother on a doorstep while fleeing from the Russian army.

Carole’s attempt to break Hadji’s silence draws heavily on Fred Zinnemann’s touching 1948 movie of the same name, which starred Montgomery Clift as a private in post-war Berlin trying to help a young Czech boy to locate his mother.

Clearly a message film, The Search is meant to raise awareness of the unbearable fate of Chechnya’s children

An unconvincing subplot concerns a defiant Russian youth, Kolia (Maksim Emelyanov), who gets arrested and conscripted into the army.  A superior officer kicks him repeatedly in the head until he shouts, “I get it!” while Hazanavicius cuts to a framed portrait of Boris Yeltsin on the wall.

Annette Bening plays a local aid worker ground down by the horrors around her, and Zukhra Duishvili is Hadji’s surviving sister, who at one point intervenes to stop a street brawl between some boys.

Bejo’s Carole puts up an angry fight to make herself heard, and has one embarrassing ranting scene on the phone.

Left alone, Hadji goes through Carole’s music collection and–inexplicably–picks out the soundtrack to The Deer Hunter

Some secondary characters narrate the ghastly things they have witnessed, summed up by Bening’s generic statement: “It’s just all… horrifying.”

Hazanavicius seems to have confused pain and horror with filmic or emotional impact, and it does not help that the film overstays its welcome by at least half an hour.

The press screening I attended was hissed so I doubt if any American distributor would risk releasing in the competitive American market this well-intentioned but somber but poorly handled melodrama.