Wednesday, March 30, 2011


On December 24, 1994, Flight 8969 from Algiers to Paris was boarded and readying for takeoff when some Algerian Presidential Guards boarded the plane and began checking passports. Minutes later it was revealed that the men were not guards at all, but hijackers taking the Air France flight hostage. 220 passengers, crew, and a rather large plane became their property for the next two and a half days. Algerian negotiators begged the hijackers to release hostages (even to the point of bringing in the mother of the head-hijacker) while French leaders demanded entry into the situation. Both failed. When hostages began losing their lives, the Algerians agreed to let the plane take off on a flight plan to Marseille, France, where refueling would be necessary before continuation to Paris. During that flight, two significant things happened in France: (1) A GIGN assault team was readied for a possible raid on the plane, and (2) French intelligence learned that the hijackers' plan was to detonate the plane as a fireball just above the Eiffel Tower and thousands of tourists/citizens. The decision was made that the plane would not under any circumstances leave Marseille. What ensued was a wild shoot out inside the grounded aircraft, watched by a nation. In the end, it was considered one of the more successful raids in mass hostage situation history. We now know this day to have been a sort of predecessor to 9/11.

I know this because I went and saw a movie that depicts the story. It's a French movie. In French. So it was sort of a milestone for me. A year ago when I was barely into baby speak in my French learning, I set a goal to be able to watch and comprehend a French movie. My attempt at realizing this goal began in the Marseille metro when I saw a movie poster. The poster had the viewer staring down the barrel of an assault rifle into the goggles of a black-clad SWAT looking fellow, and the movie title "L'Assaut" (wait for it... "The Assault") written in bold letters. Since many American movies are shown in France, I thought, "Ooh, that's a fun-looking new movie, I'll have to check it out."
Then I read the subtitle: 24 Decembre, 1994. Marignane.
"Who sets a fictional action movie in the past?" I thought, "That doesn't make sense. Waaaait a second, Marignane is the Marseille airport, no way!"
Then I read the list of actors: "Vincent, Jean-_____, Jacques _____, I don't know any of these guys... oh, it's a French movie! Huh. Wait, I wonder if it's not fictional, but something real that happened. At our airport? That's creepy."

So a bit of toying around on the internet and asking some French friends taught me that the story was indeed true, and a movie had just been made to bring life again to a monumental day in the recent history of this country. After reading the news about it, I was hooked and wanted to go see it (plus, having a true story which I read up on would give me a significant advantage in understanding the movie!). I talked a couple of French friends into going along, and we checked it out. I was quite impressed, as were they. They couldn't believe that a French movie had done action that well. I had read that the GIGN (kind of like SWAT in the US I guess) had worked with the movie directors to reenact and properly portray the events. The movie directors did a good job of giving the movie a captivating storyline without diverting from the real story, and the manner in which they intertwined the actual news footage from 1994 was pretty cool.

If you speak/understand some French or like foreign films, I recommend this one. If you're really into that sort of history and hijackings and the like, I recommend it too, or read the wikipedia story about the events and how they unfolded on Christmas 1994. it's a pretty fascinating story, and one I'm glad I saw in my new language on the big screen!

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