War is a nightmare, and Oscar-winning director Michel Hazanavicius’ The Search is a stark reminder of that. The film is set in 1999, during the second Chechen war, when Russian troops invaded the then-independent Chechnya in the name of subduing terrorism.
Civilians are ruthlessly killed to the seeming amusement of Russian troops; but Hazanavicius depicts both parties as victims of a political game. A portrait of Russian president Boris Yeltsin grins at colonels violently abusing their young officers while European Union leaders arrive late and fall asleep during meetings about the war.
What’s most heartwrenching is witnessing 19-year-old Russian musician Kolia (Maksim Emelyanov) transform into a brutal killing machine, as all traces of dignity are stripped from him through superiors’ merciless beating and constant humiliation. You understand how he has little choice but to lose respect for life in order to keep his own.
As Kolia becomes a monster, traumatised nine-year-old orphan Hadji (Abdul Khalim Mamutsiev) is slowly able to enjoy life again with the help of Carole (Bérénice Bejo), an EU human rights delegate. This storyline is rather uneventful, but several heartwarming scenes provide some solace to this depressing film.
The ending is ingenious, and brings to light that war is a sad cycle in which millions are still trapped today. How can you bear to stay indifferent?