Given little choice, Kolia is forced into the army and bullied, beaten and finally brutalised before being shipped off to fight the "terrorists". These scenes are perhaps the most powerful and convincing, complete with an unremitting grimness. However, although Hazanavicius' intention in following Kolia's transformation is clearly to provide a balance, the fact that the Russians are so uniformly awful rather defeats the point. The teen becomes thoroughly indoctrinated as he's physically abused, whilst everyone yells at him that all Chechens - even the children - are terrorists and the enemy. There's no doubting Hazanavicius' sincerity in trying to bring the Chechen conflict, the war crimes committed against the civilian community and the indifference of the international community to light, but it's this righteousness that gets in the way of The Search working as a film first and foremost.
Carole and Helen are both furrow-browed, finger-wagging cardboard cut-outs, whilst the cloth-eared dialogue makes everyone sound like they're really talking to the camera and not to each other. Carole's subplot, for instance, seems utterly uninspired. When Carole gives a speech to the EU Foreign Affairs committee, she seems surprised to see that they don't jump into action. Afterwards, she's told by an MEP "not to get emotionally involved". She scowls, and would probably have wagged her finger if the lift hadn't come. The occasional comic moments are misconceived and The Search as a whole reeks of a suspension of critical thought. Everything is used in the service of a worthy argument, but its melodramatic plotting, its banal characterisation and heavy-handed point-making rob the film of the essential credibility it needs if it's going to intervene in the conflict effectively.
The 67th Cannes Film Festival takes place from 14-25 May 2014. For more Cannes coverage, simply follow this link.