“A VIOLENT LIFE”— Punishment and Crime


Punishment and Crime

Amos Lassen

Thierry de Peretti’s “A Violent Life” focuses on the violent nationalist struggles that plagued Corsica, throughout the 1990s. In 1997, Stéphane (Jean Michelangeli), an 18-year old Corsican student ends up in prison because of his friendship with a small group of delinquents lands him in prison. The film explores his transformation from a middle-class youth with conventional aspirations to a radicalized activist with dangerous ties. This is a haunting story of a young man’s rise and fall that is set in the unique social and cultural climate of Corsica, a land divided that has one foot stuck in Italy, another in France and its own folkloric history. The film rests somewhere between Corsican nationalism and crime.

Since the move to armed conflict by the National Liberation Front of Corsica in 1976, many dissident events, fratricidal wars and serious crime have reinforced the opacity that national media manage to report on once in a while and then by speaking about nights filled with explosives and murders. The filmmaker here tries to fill in what we do not really know about the Corsican independence movement that has seen invisible maneuvers, reconciliations, conflicts and betrayals that end in bloodshed and hide political radicalism. The film begins in Paris in 2001, when Stéphane learns of the death of a relative and decides to g home to Corsica for the funeral. Then, in flashback, we go to Bastia, to the prison where Stephane is seduced by the independentist discourse of his prison mates and especially by the leader François. After his release, Stéphane acts as an intermediary between his criminal friends who agree to work for this new nationalist movement, albeit without any “official” role and with the freedom to continue their illegal activities. This small group is able to create explosive chaos on demand but this leads to them disturbing other hidden, Mafia forces that are trying to gain control of the island’s economy. Francois is well aware of this and he receives threats. However, if Francois falls, the fate of Stéphane and his friends will be sealed because they are only pawns and puppets in a much bigger game. The film viewers see a clinical representation of a mess and suggestive portrait of a highly impenetrable local panorama and begins to understand the circumstances of the dominant conflict as a macrocosm through Stephane’s journey. This resulted in his being given a death threat yet despite that

, Stéphane decides to return to Corsica to attend the funeral of his childhood friend who has been murdered the day before. It is the occasion for him to remember the events that saw move from being one of the petty bourgeois from Bastia, delinquency to political radicalism and underground. We see that on the island of Corsica, young people do not know where to belong and find a way to be useful by going against the government by being militant. They are into racketeering, prostitution and dealing drugs raise money for the cause. In the beginning of the film you see Stephane in Paris when he receives the phone call that his childhood body has been murdered. This bring back memories of when there were a lot of confusion about what they wanted to do with the cause and where it was supposed to go. The director uses real footage of the National Liberation Front of Corsica and mixes it in to the story story. We see how nice student from a good family ends up in a Marxist revolutionary cell bent on asserting Nationalist goals against encroaching Mafia-style powers-that-be.

Opening words on screen explain that the citizens of Corsica have protested the covetous and disrespectful outside influence since the island was sold to France by Genoa in 1768. In the 1990s political resistance faced lethal opposition from criminal elements that built up increasingly objectionable ways of putting pressure on local residents and resources and decided to fight back, And so, intent on preventing their beautiful island from going the way of Sicily or the French Riviera, there were those who decided to fight back. 

We see Stephane when he was just a typical apolitical young man attending university. His path toward armed resistance began by being born Corsican, but it intensified when he agreed to transport a duffel bag full of weapons for friends. Unfortunately the weapons in question were used in terrorist attacks and traced to him and he is sentenced to prison where he remains stoic and bookish but is singled out by older, not at all intellectual men who supplement his thinking and raise his consciousness.

Stephane is smart enough to know that the situation he finds himself in is not what he imagined when he set out to correct the imbalances as a result of colonization.

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