Lucie Aubrac (1997) A True Story of the French Resistance

I’m fascinated by Resistance stories and one of my projects is to watch at least all the French resistance movies that I can find. Claude Berri’s Lucie Aubrac is one of them. Like many other resistance movies it is based on a true story.

Lucie Aubrac is a quiet movie and despite some scenes of great violence, including torture, it has a gentle keynote.

At the beginning of the movie Lucie and her husband live in Lyon. He is in one of the resistance groups and, one afternoon, when they meet in the apartment of one of the members, he and his friends are arrested. If it wasn’t for his wife, who invents a cunning plan, he wouldn’t have been released so easily.

After this incident, they know, they have to move. Lyon isn’t safe anymore. They leave their apartment, get new passports and travel with their child to the South of France.

There are many different resistance cells all over France and Lucie’s husband is in the one that is in direct contact with de Gaulle. This is, of course, dangerous and it doesn’t take long and he is arrested again. Arrested and tortured, like his friends.

And that’s when the story takes off. Lucie’s love for her husband is so strong, she will do everything to get him out and save him from the firing squad. Her plan is amazing and to think that it worked amazes me even more.

This isn’t a very fast paced or dramatic movie, as I already said, it’s rather quiet and gentle. The focus is on the two main characters, Lucie (Carole Bouquet) and Raymond (Daniel Auteuil), their love and courage. The role of the nasty German is played by Heino Ferch.

If you are interested in the story of Lucie Aubrac here is the link to her book Outwitting the Gestapo.

The movie is available with English subtitles but I couldn’t find an English trailer.

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Les femmes de l’ombre aka Female Agents (2008) Women in the Resistance

Not every slick-looking movie with good-looking actresses on the French Resistance is a good movie. Unfortunately not or Les femmes de l’ombre would have been great. Don’t get me wrong, it isn’t bad it’s just not great. If you want an entertaining period drama, this is your movie (ok, there are a some torture scenes that dampen the experience a bit but nice clothes and make-up make up for it). It’s a little bit like Black Book aka Zwartboek but less convincing. The theme would have been interesting and worth dedicating a movie to.

Based on true events, it follows the story of Louise Desfontaine (Sophie Marceau), a sniper with the French Resistance. When things heat up in France she leaves for England and joins the SOE. One day she is contacted by an agent who happens to be her brother Pierre (Julien Boisselier) whom she suspected of being a collaborator. He hires her and four other women to rescue a British spy who has been captured in France by the Germans. The Germans aren’t aware of his identity and think he is German. The women will have to team up, two disguised as nurses, two as exotic dancers (yes, you will see them topless, it’s a French movie) and the fifth will place bombs under German cars.

The five women are a composite group, one is an ex-prostitute (Julie Depardieu), one the ex-girlfriend (Marie Gillain) of the Nazi officer (Moritz Bleibtreu) who tries to hunt them down.

What at first looks like a success soon goes awry. Louise’s brother get’s caught and we all know what that means.

The women go back to Paris on another mission and here things goe definitely very wrong as one gets captured and immediately crumbles under torture (one finger nail off and she spits it all out).

I can really not say why exactly I wasn’t too convinced. Because I have seen the brilliant L’armée du crime aka The Army of Crime before? Or some of the movies on Nordic Resistance that are truly good? I think it is in part due to a slightly off-key cast. Every woman wears heavy make-up which is nice, only Sophie Marceau has to look somewhat stony faced and unattractive (she isn’t successful, she’s too beautiful to look unattractive). I think the producers and directors were aware they would be criticized for their choice of too pretty women and tried to balance this out by not showing a heavily made up Sophie Marceau. She is the sniper after all… Why, if they didn’t want her to look her very best, did they not cast another actress? Because she is a great actress? I always suspected her to be far from accomplished, and she really isn’t too good. I would have preferred her to look as beautiful as she can and not try so hard to look efficient. (I’m thinking of Demi Moore as G.I. Jane who was much more convincing.) I think you can actually be cold-blooded without looking it. And I am not a big fan of Moritz Bleibtreu either. At least not in supposedly serious roles (I have seen him in German movies in which I found him very good). Julien Boisselier and the other four actresses are very good, especially Julie Depardieu and Marie Gillain.

Les femmes de l’ombre aka Female Agents is entertaining, just don’t expect to much of it. If you want the real deal, watch L’armée du crime.

Tomorrow We Live (1943) British Black and White Movie on French Resistance

Do NOT mix this up with the US movie with the same title. They are not exactly in the same league. The US movie is very clearly a B-Movie and has absolutely no war theme in it. Tomorrow We Live aka At Dawn We Die is a British movie on the French Resistance. It is unlike anything I have seen before. Apparently the film makers got the support of General de Gaulle. Be it as it may, this is forties cinema at its best. Atmospheric, black and white, gaslight feeling… It seems as if every scene was shot in the studio (and likely was) which makes it look at times like a theater play. It does look artificial but it also has a very special charm because of this. Many of the scenes reminded me of the feel of an Edith Piaf song.

Jean Baptiste, a member of the French Resistance is a fugitive on his way to England. He lands in a little occupied French town swarming with Nazis. A young woman, the daughter of the mayor,  helps him to hide and find a place where he can spend the night. There are quite a few female characters who all have an interest in Jean Baptiste. Some want romance, others see their son in him, and others just want to help him and use him for their plans. The mayor and his daughter are seen by many as collaborators. In fact this is just a cover for them. Unknown to anyone they are the leaders of the town’s resistance and organize many acts of sabotage. Like in any Resistance movie you have some vile and treacherous characters who really collaborate.It’s frankly quite entertaining but what I liked most is that it is so dated. Movies like this are not done anymore. They were probably not even done anymore in the fifties. I would say it has an appeal  for any cinephile and not necessarily for someone interested in war movies only. Some of the characters are great, reminiscent of Fellini. Many are funny eccentrics. And we got some mean and ridiculous Germans too. The way they are treated is quite amusing. They are so full of themselves, it’s easy to annoy them; loud yawning and singing during a broadcast of Hitler at the cinema will suffice, to infuriate them.

Tomorrow We Live is special and entertaining, the right thing to watch during the festive season. I can see how this was supported by de Gaulle. It bestowed a little light on those dark and bleak days of the Vichy Regime.

The Army of Crime aka L’Armée du Crime (2009) The Latest Addition to my Top 10 War Movies or A Gut-wrenching Movie on the French Resistance

Robert Guédiguian‘s movie L’armée du Crime or The Army of Crime is one of the best war movies I have ever seen. I already said that it entered my Top 10 immediately. The question that remains: which one I am going to kick out? I’ll have to think about this later. For now let me tell you why I think The Army of Crime is such a brilliant piece of filmmaking. Apart from being based on actual events and being historically very accurate it is beautifully filmed. The actors are outstanding. The protagonists are heroical like not many but at the same time the movie doesn’t shy away to point its fingers not only at the Germans but also at the extremely shameful role the French government played during WWII. We had the heroism of the Resistance and Partisan groups on one side and the cowardly collaborators in the government, the police and among normal people on the other side. Shame on all of them. The movie shows all these aspects, nothing is hidden.  This is the third French movie I have seen in a short period, L’armée des ombres aka The Army of Shadows being the first, The Officers’ Ward aka La chambre des officiers the second.  I must say these movies manage something that not many others achieve. They get under your skin. You don’t only watch these movies, you live them. They don’t let you indifferent. Especially not this one.

1943, Paris, the Armenian poet Missak Manouchian (Simon Abkarian) becomes the leader of a special unit of the French Resistance. His people, men and women, are all very young immigrants. They are Hungarian, Polish and Romanian Jews and Spanish, Italian and Armenian Communists. They decide to form a group and fight for France, the country of the Human Rights, to free and to defend her. They are determined and well-organized and soon will be declared enemies number one. The German occupiers and the French police strike back savagely. They hunt them and use every possible way to capture and destroy them, be it bribery, torture or coercion. In the end they are betrayed and all of them are shot.

The movie tells not only the story of the group and their actions as a whole but shows many intimate portraits of all the individual members. I have hardly ever seen a movie displaying so much diversity. This is underlined by a brilliant score with influences of the music of all the different countries that came together in this fight.

The torture scenes are very graphic. We are not spared anything. The most incredible is that with the exception of one person none betrayed the others. Not even under the worst of torture I have ever herad of. While they were operating in the underground most of their families were being deported to camps. Manouchian is an exemplary man. A larger than life character. He does not use arms lightly unlike some of the other reckless young people. He is a poet, an orphan, a gentle man, married to a beautiful French wife, Melinée (Virginie Ledoyen), whom he loves dearly.

I would like to urge each and every reader to watch this movie as my words will never really manage to convey its utter beauty. It is also worth mentioning that we see a lot of Paris.  The Army of Crime is one of those very rare movies that are, simply put, masterpieces in which every element is perfect.

The following people died for France: (AR = found on the Red Poster or Affiche Rouge):
Celestino Alfonso (AR), Spanish, 27
Olga Bancic, Romanian, 31
Joseph Boczov [József Boczor; Wolff Ferenc] (AR), Hungarian, 38
Georges Cloarec, French, 20
Rino Della Negra, Italian, 19
Thomas Elek [Elek Tamás] (AR), Hungarian, 18
Maurice Fingercwajg (AR), Polish, 19
Spartaco Fontano (AR), Italian, 22
Jonas Geduldig, Polish, 26
Emeric Glasz [Békés (Glass) Imre], Hungarian, 42
Léon Goldberg, Polish, 19
Szlama Grzywacz (AR), Polish, 34
Stanislas Kubacki, Polish, 36
Césare Luccarini, Italian, 22
Missak Manouchian (AR), Armenian, 37
Armenak Arpen Manoukian, Armenian, 44
Marcel Rayman (AR), Polish, 21
Roger Rouxel, French, 18
Antoine Salvadori, Italian, 43
Willy Szapiro, Polish, 29
Amédéo Usséglio, Italian, 32
Wolf Wajsbrot (AR), Polish, 18
Robert Witchitz (AR), French, 19

The Army of Shadows aka L´armée des ombres (1969): The Classic Movie on French Resistance

Bad memories, I welcome you nevertheless,  you are my distant youth.

If you are really interested in the topic of French Resistance there is no escaping this movie.  If you are truly interested in film there is no escaping this movie either. Especially not since there has been a recent wave of Resistance movies (Les femmes de l´ombre (Female Agents), L´armée du Crime ( The Army of Crime), Flame and Citron, Black Book, Winter in Wartime, Max Manus) and it is always good to see where they come from, what influences they had.

Jean-Pierre Melvilles´s L´armée des ombres aka The Army of Shadows (or in the Shadows) is a classic and a work of art.

It is beautiful like a foggy autumn evening, like the solitary cawing of a crow, like bare branches of a tree in winter, like the bluish colour of an early nightfall, like bitter sweet music and coffee drunk at midnight in an empty bar. (Would I  have to compare it to a contemporary movie, I think I would choose Shutter Island.  The movie as a whole and particularly the sad song during the end credits, Dinah Washington´s Bitter Earth blended with Max Richter´s On the Nature of Daylight, has a similar dense atmospheric quality.)

Gerbier (Lino Ventura) is captured by the Gestapo early in the movie. He manages to escape but knows he has been betrayed. Only one of his own could have told the Gestapo where this overly careful man was hiding.

Gerbier is head of a Resistance cell that operates between Paris, London, Lyon and Marseille. They always on the look out for people they can trust. They must always be careful, they could be betrayed anytime. They are hunted and on the run continuously. When they are caught by the Germans or the collaborators, they will be tortured mercilessly as the film shows drastically. But the group will risk everything to save one of their own.

The cell kills traitors as well  as people who become too risky. No matter how much they helped them in the past, no matter how much they like them. The group ultimately lives and dies for the cause.

Lino Ventura and Simone Signoret are fabulous in this movie. It is a pleasure to watch such assured actors.

A feeling of abandonment and utter loneliness pervades the whole film. It seems to illustrate the existentialist angst of the times. Melancholy in its purest form.

What impressed me most was the sound. No effects like we know them nowadays but so artfully and sparingly used noises and sounds and just a little bit of music. The rain in the beginning, echoing footsteps in empty streets, the ticking of a pendulum in a room, the distant cry of birds.

It is quite a sad movie and I would not recommend you watch it should you feel very blue. It would not cheer you up. But on days when you feel balanced enough you will admire these brave people and suffer with them when they find out one of them is being tortured but won´t speak, not even when he knows he is going to die.

And, please remember, this is a true story.