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Cannes: Netflix Buys French Action Thriller ‘The Stronghold’

In its first deal out of the 2021 Cannes Film Market, Netflix has snatched up worldwide rights, outside of France, for The Stronghold (Bac Nord), the hotly-anticipated French action thriller from director Cédric Jimenez (The Man With the Iron Heart).

Set in the crime-ridden suburbs outside Marseille, the film follows a police brigade using extreme and morally questionable means to improve arrest and drug seizure stats. Gilles Lellouche (Sink or Swim), François Civil (Love at Second Sight), Karim Leklou (A Prophet) and Adèle Exarchopoulos (Blue Is the Warmest Colour) star in the feature, which is based on real-life events.

The Stronghold has its world premiere out of competition at the 2021 Cannes Film Festival on July 12. Netflix will bow the movie on its service this fall. Studiocanal will release The Stronghold theatrically in France on Aug. 18.

Hugo Selignac (Sink or Swim, The Wolf’s Call) produced The Stronghold for Chi-Fou-Mi Productions. The Netflix deal was brokered by Aska Yamaguchi and Anne Chérel on behalf of Studiocanal.

Jimenez’s 2017 feature The Man With The Iron Heart was a period thriller about two Czech resistance fighters who set out to assassinate Reinhard Heydrich, the hideous mastermind behind the Nazi’s “Final Solution.” His previous films include the hacker thriller Paris Under Watch (2012) and The Connection (2014), about a French police magistrate trying to take down one of the country’s most powerful drug rings.

Greg (Gilles Lellouche), Antoine (François Civil) and Yass (Karim Leklou) form a team of experienced plainclothes cops who are also very close friends, with the third about to become a father with Nora (Adèle Exarchopoulos), who also works for the police. Not really on the rotten side (except for contraband cigarettes and coffee), unlike some of their colleagues, the trio are meeting very high quotas, to the satisfaction of their bosses, and add up many various little arrests. But they are frustrated by an interdiction to enter the housing estates, controlled by unpunished and heavily armed dealers who are very well organised in who they let in and out of their traffic zones. “It’s Bagdad over there, they fight each other. There are no more rules, it’s the jungle,” says Amel (Kenza Fortas), a secret mole of Antoine’s who asks for 5 kilos of cannabis resin in exchange for information that is vital to an operation finally authorised by the higher ups. The problem? They won’t be allowed to draw from the haul (the drugs are very recognisable and this would put the mole’s life in danger), or to help themselves, because their boss is opposed to it. He however accepts to turn a blind eye when the highly motivated trio (soon helped by the whole of BAC Nord) begin to collect the drugs by taking them from small clients. A violation of the law that will turn against the cops by the end of a spectacular raid at the heart of the housing estate…

In terms of action scenes and adrenaline, BAC Nord fulfills its contract perfectly, with the film also drawing a lot of its quality from its three lead actors. However, and this despite being based on real events which took place in 2012, a time when the north suburbs of Marseille apparently held the record for the highest crime rate in France, the film offers a very caricatural image of the local mood and communicates a rather dubious political message. One could argue that this does not matter so much, since the film does not aspire to sociology, but in its defence of police work executed outside the limits of law in order to be able to fight against “the zoo” lacks the nuance necessary to elevate it above its nature as a very effective and unsubtle film that will easily find its international audience.

BAC Nord was produced by Chi-Fou-Mi Productions and co-produced by France 2 Cinéma and StudioCanal (which is also selling its international rights).