1848. Henry Dunant, born of a well-to-do Geneva family, is sent to Algeria on his first job as a fund manager for the company of Mr. Bourg-Thibourg. True to the open-minded spirit of tolerance he first embraced as a teenager, Henry wants to help improve the natives' living conditions.

Henry Dunant à Solferino
Henry Dunant in Solferino (Photographer:David Koskas)

Henry Dunant à Solferino
A universal symbol is born (Photographer:David Koskas)

Henry Dunant à Solferino
Henry and Cécile (Photographer: David Koskas)

A dam must be built to deal with the drought problem. Having failed to obtain the necessary authorizations from the colonial administration, Henry decides to seek out the Emperorin person. Napoleon III is waging war against the Austrians - never mind! Henry will go to him, into the battlefield. His life changes forever when he reaches Solferino. He is horrified upon discovering the unbearable atrocities of war and the thousands of wounded abandoned by the troops. He rolls up his sleeves and tries to organize some relief, and even persuades the army to let prisoner doctors and surgeons treat the wounded, whether Austrian or French.

This inspires his great idea, the goal he will never stop fighting for - alone against the world, in spite of all the threats - the recognition of the neutrality of the wounded and medical staff alike. While crossing the enemy lines in a daring attempt to bring back the wounded, he creates a symbol that is now recognized worldwide: white flags with red crosses traced in the blood of the wounded. It is the willpower, the audacity and the conviction of this man that gave birth to the International Red Cross Convention. In his struggles, Henry will often be faced with disillusionment and betrayal. But he will also stir up public passion. Two women will accompany him in this fight: Cécile, a deliberate, yet humble young nurse, and Léonie, a proud bourgeois woman who will draw on her political connections to help him. They both know better than to ask anything in return from this man who cherishes freedom above everything else and who is willing to devote his entire energy to promoting his ideas.

His friend Samuel joins the struggle as well by offering him his newspaper Le Journal de Genève as a forum to speak out about the atrocities of war. Samuel will also publish Dunant's book, A memory of Solferino, which has the effect of a bombshell and helps him finally meet Napoleon III, whose support will influence other sovereigns. However, wrapped up in his concern for the war wounded, Dunant neglects his financial management duties in Algeria and is blind to the traps laid by those who would lay claim to his ideas. Accused of embezzlement, he is ostracized from society and will remain in debt to the end of his days. It is thirty years before his deeds are finally recognized. They earn him the very first Nobel Peace Prize.

The adapted truth of an exceptional man

" We wanted to portray Henry Dunant as a hero whose struggles, commitments and convictions could speak to us and stir us in our modern lives... To do so, we needed to bend the historical facts by selecting the symbolic highlights of his life, by condensing his actions in time (the foundation of the Red Cross was in fact a long and tedious process that took ten years), and by reducing the number of characters involved to those who best expressed his conflicts and hurdles, his opponents and his supporters. What struck us most in Dunant's character was his hard-line attitude, his conviction of being the bearer of a mission for which he was willing to sacrifice his own happiness. Dunant was a dual figure, therein lies the richness of his character: he was sensitive, very human, on the margins of society, the bearer of a certain social conscience and ideal, but he was also a leader, stubborn, authoritarian, proud, someone who knew how to use his relationships and rally political leaders to achieve his goals. The two women at his sides also symbolize his many facets: Léonie embodies the conventional Geneva bourgeoisie Dunant was raised in, while Cécile represents the modern woman, ready to sacrifice her position in society for the sentimental and moral values she believes in. The same contrast exists between Daniel, Dunant's brother, a strict conservative concerned with appearances, and Hubert, the humanist grandfather. Or between Moynier, the salon lawyer, and Appia, the devoted surgeon... Dunant indisputably remains a rare character, one that takes on all the more importance today at a time when humanitarian action is so often required to compensate for the weakness of national governments."

Claire Level
Claude Michel Rome