On December 24, 1994, when four heavily armed terrorists from the Algerian Armed Islamic Group hijacked an Air France plane bound for Paris at Algiers' airport, the 227 passengers on board seemed destined for tragedy. After hours of tireless negotiations the plane was granted permission to leave only to head to Marseille for refueling. Mindfully avoiding politics and emphasizing only the events themselves, The Assault weaves together the violent and claustrophobic onboard drama, with backstories of the tough SWAT officer and father Thierry (Vincent Elbaz), the determined jihadist from the slums of Algiers (Aymen Saidi), and an overly ambitious French Interior Ministry worker.
Action-savvy director Julien Leclercq (Chrysalis) boldly returns with this taut, real-life thriller that culminates in an explosive gun-wielding standoff—which, at the time, aired live in front of an audience of 21 million television viewers. Leclercq seamlessly intertwines this harrowing real-life footage, heightening the stakes while driving home this heroic but foreboding event in French history.
Director's Statement Collapse
26th December 1994. 17h12.
I was fifteen years old at the time, and one of the 21 million people watching the GIGN assault on the Airbus, hijacked by four GIA terrorists, live on television. The images, which would soon be broadcast all over the world, remain etched in my mind: three sets of boarding stairs being driven into position alongside the Airbus; the difficulty the men had trying to open the aircraft door; the co-pilot falling to the tarmac.
Fourteen years on, the GIGN welcomed me in. Drinking coffee in the barrack's cafe and talking with members of the group has given me a unique insight into their world. The more I visited them the more I became immersed in the "spirit" of the GIGN. I have spent over a year and a half questioning the men, including those who were there at Marignane. They spoke to me about the waiting, the suspense and then the hell inside the Airbus…. Several members of the group are technical advisors on the film. They were on hand to work with the actors during several commando training courses, and to advise the actors throughout filming.
When it came to choosing a hero for this story, Thierry Prugnaud's personality and experience made him the obvious choice. The political and strategic dimension within the subject matter made me want to explore the viewpoints of two further characters: that of a young ambitious Foreign office technocrat, and Yahia Abdallah, a determined jihadist who grew up in the slums of Algiers. All the events are explored through these three protagonists. Each of the characters has radically different reasons and motivations. The final outcome of the story, after 54 hours of suspense, lies in the confrontation of the three character's motivations.
Thierry's commitment is set against Yahia's hatred and desire for destruction. The group spirit within the ranks of the GIGN is in marked contrast to Carole's selfish political opportunism. Carole's capitalist logic clashes with Yahia and Ali Touchent's hateful beliefs.
My visual cues come mainly from the work of Paul Greengrass: Bloody Sunday and United 93. But my ultimate reference is probably Spielberg's Saving Private Ryan.
The hijacking of Flight AF 8969 is a very important and difficult chapter in France's history. I want to make a film that will be a political thriller and that is both brutal and moving. In brief, a film that reflects that period.
Cast & Credits Collapse
Primary Cast Vincent Elbaz, Gregori Derangere, Melanie Bernier, Aymen Saídi, Marie Guillard, Chems Dahmani
Director Julien Leclercq
Screenwriter Simon Moutaïrou
Producer Julien Leclercq, Julien Madon
Director of Photography Thierry Pouget
Executive Producer Marc Olla
Composer Jean Jacques Hertz, François Roy
Production Company Labyrinthe Films
Coproduction Companies Labyrinthe Films, Mars Films
DOP Thierry Pouget