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.

Advertisements

Max Schmeling – Fist of the Reich aka Max Schmeling – Eine deutsche Legende (2010) Biopic of the German Heavy Weight Legend

Yes, I did it, I watched a Uwe Boll movie. I have never watched any of his other movies before, it seems they are a bit on the trashy side and I’m not tempted to watch the controversial sounding Auschwitz. Now that this has been clarified, I will concentrate solely on Max Schmeling – Fist of the Reich aka Max Schmeling – Eine deutsche Legende. The reception of this movie is a bit surprising. It got 4.1 on IMDB, the only person who reviewed it gave it 3/10. The reviewer is German. On amazon.de the reviews are mostly 1/5 and 2/5 stars. When you hop over to amazon.co.uk you are in for a surprise. The reviewers rate it  mostly 5/5. I’m pretty sure, I can tell you why this is the case. (Personally I would rate it 3/5 or 6/10).

The way the story is told is somewhat plump. It’s linear storytelling apart from the very first moment where we see Max Schmeling in uniform traipsing around Corfu. These are painful moments for German-speaking people as we hear the “actor” Henry Maske talk. Imagine Schwarzenegger talking through a half-swallowed potato… You can hardly understand what the guy is saying, it’s obvious he is no actor. Every time he opens his mouth during the movie, native German speakers will either laugh or cringe. I’m quite sure this (plus Boll’s reputation) were the main reasons why it got such bad German ratings.

Once you have passed this initial bad scene you will start to understand that Henry Maske was a perfect choice. Even Schmeling himself was wishing for Maske to play the role one day.

Schmeling was a gutsy boxer, one with courage, who loved to prove himself. At the same time he was very fair with his opponents. When the Nazi’s started to rise he was on the rise as well. They liked to win over athletes as they corresponded to the Nazi ideal of strength, health and invincibility. Schmeling who held the heavy-weight champion title for quite a while was especially liked by Hitler. But when Schmeling announced that he, his trainer (Heino Ferch who is excellent as always) and his Jewish agent were flying over to New York to fight against Joe Lewis, the Nazi leaders were strictly opposed. Joe Lewis had the reputation of being invincible. He knocked out all of his opponents in a few minutes. And he was African-American which seemed hardly the right choice for someone belonging to the master race, as the Nazis called themselves. It took guts to disregard the orders and fly to New York anyway.

What happened in New York is boxing history. Max Schmeling knocked out Joe Louis and after this he was definitely  the Nazis’ favourite pet athlete. Still, when he announced he would go back to New York and face Joe Luis again, they didn’t approve. They were right this time.

He returned beaten and was sent off to war immediately. No other athlete had to go to war, but someone who lost against an African-American and ridiculed the master race had to be punished.

All these are things, I didn’t know. I didn’t know either that Schmeling and his wife were one of the most famous couples in German history. She was an actress and they got married before he flew to New York for the first time. They stayed happy together until her death in the 80s. Schmeling lived until 2005. After the war he had a hard time making a living and wasn’t denazified at first.

For all those who moan about Henry Maske’s acting I’d like to say, that it is not fair. This is a boxing film. 60% of the movie centers on the fights, training and boxing. If you like boxing, you will like this movie as Maske is an excellent boxer. He was the world title holder for many years – not in heavyweight but in light heavyweight – and used to be one of the best-liked German sports people. He is originally from the former German Democratic Republic which explains the mumbling to a certain extent as their accent is a bit on the rough side.

I’m fond of Maske, he is a likable person, I also like boxing and found the fights gripping. Certainly not a great film but entertaining and interesting.

I only found a German trailer but the movie has been subtitled.

Der Baader Meinhof Komplex aka The Baader Meinhof Complex (2008)

The Baader Meinhof Complex is another movie on the border between war and terrorism. It takes a close look at Germany’s Red Army Faction (RAF) or Rote Armee Fraktion, one of the earliest terrorist groups that made terrorism their profession. They were responsible for robbings, killings, kidnappings in the late 60s and early 70s. What the movie doesn’t show is the fact that there were different waves. The Baader Meinhof group was the first wave of the RAF. Their initial aim was never to kill people but once that started and got out of hands, more radical groups followed, like the one led by Brigitte Mohnhaupt (portrayed by Nadja Uhl) also called Deutscher Herbst (German Autumn).

Not everything is as it should be in Germany in the 1970s. The children of the Nazi generation are afraid that nothing has changed in Germany. Many of the old National Socialist party got away and are in prominent positions in the government. A group around the enigmatic figures of Andreas Baader (Moritz Bleibtreu), Ulrike Meinhof (Martina Gedeck) and Gudrun Ensslin (Martina Wokalek) are fighting a violent war against what they perceive as the new face of fascism: American imperialism supported by the German establishment.

At first they bomb empty buildings, but get more and more violent in the process. One of their two main enemies are the Axel Springer Verlag and the American bases in Germany. They try to fight the war in Vietnam and bomb an American base which costs the lives of soldiers.

The ideas behind their doings were far from wrong. They wanted to build a new society where there was no room for fascism and totalitarianism. Despite the violence, the support in the German population was huge and the whole nation followed how they were hunted down and captured.

Once the heads were arrested they were isolated and held under inhumane conditions which they fought. But even inside of prison, they still organized terrorist acts  and their collective suicide must be seen as a last attempt to right the wrong.

The Baader Meinhof group is highly interesting. This was the birth of terrorism. Nothing like this has been seen before. They went to training camps in Jordan and fought together with the Palestinians against Israel that was considered to be an enemy like the US.

These were not mindless people, they were students and intellectuals, Ulrike Meinhof was a well-known journalist.

Although I cannot approve of their methods, there were too many killings and kidnappings, I can’t help thinking that they changed the fate of Germany for the good. The German society after WWII was still highly infected by Nazism. Many Nazis got away and played important roles in Germany. The Baader-Meinhof did denounce and unmask this. Without them, who knows what Germany would look like today?

The cast of this movie is excellent. The hunted are well chose and so are the hunters. The head of the police force is played by Bruno GanzHeino Ferch stars as his assistant.

The heads of the first wave all died. Meinhof, Ensslin, Baader and Raspe committed suicide in prison. It was rumoured that it was murder but nothing could ever be proven.

The second wave, among them Brigitte Mohnhaupt, left prison a while back (2007), after 25 years of incarceration.

The Ogre aka Der Unhold (1996) or Nazism, Symbolism and the Erlking

Volker Schlöndorff’s The Ogre aka Der Unhold (France/Germany/UK) is based on Michel Tournier’s novel Le Roi des Aulnes aka The Ogre. The Ogre is a highly symbolical, original and complex  movie that attempts nothing less than to explore Nazi symbolism and ideology, German culture and mythology by telling the incredible story of Abel Tiffauges, a man who loves children and animals and who makes himself believe he is more than just human. The movie is filmed in English, French and German.

Plot

Abel Tiffauge’s story has five very distinct parts. Part I. Childhood. The French boy Abel grows up in a Catholic private school for boys. He is the outsider, the odd one, the one others pick on, the one the priests punish whenever someone has done something. Especially a very fat boy exploits Abel whenever possible. But he is also his only friend. When Abel is wronged again he wishes a catastrophe upon everybody. And it happens. From now on he believes he is invincible and powerful. Part II. Grown-up. Abel is still odd and a loner but he is also an auto mechanic with a flourishing business. Abel is also an amateur photographer and likes to take pictures of kids. There is nothing he loves more than kids. This very innocent fondness is mistaken for child molesting. Instead of being sent to prison, the falsely accused is sent to war. Part III. POW. Abel is captured together with his officers and sent to a German camp, somewhere near the Polish (?) border. During the day when everybody works he sneaks off to an abandoned hut and befriends a moose. One day he meets Goering’s forester. Part IV. Goering. If Goering was anything like the Goering portrayed in this part, then he was one of the most revolting beings to have ever walked this Earth. Abel is to help on his hunting lodge and gets a close look at the way the Nazis and their friends spend their leisure time. Drinking, eating, hunting. Very vulgar. Part V. The Erlking. Abel is sent to Kaltenborn Castle an elite training camp for German boys. He is happy like never before and loves to be able to take care of these boys but he also takes an active part in their training. Soon he starts to collect the boys from the neighbourhood and the people who are afraid of him call him the ogre. He doesn’t realize that he is doing wrong. When the Russians approach and people from concentrations camps are liberated, he starts to understand what he has been part of. He tries to help a Jewish boy and almost gets killed.

Meaning

So much for the content of The Ogre. But that is only one part. The movie shows us in stunning pictures what it must have been like to face Nazi ideology. The power of the imagines they created by using potent symbols is amazing. The visualization of this ideology is fantastic. Just take a look at the trailer and you see some of it. The boys standing in the form of a giant Swastika holding burning torches in the night. But then there is also the undercurrent of German culture, of everything that was good about Germany and was perverted by the Nazis. The love of the forest, love of animals, children, poetry.  Goethe’s famous ballad The Erlking is quoted and put into pictures in a very spooky way. Without knowing this poem a great part of the movie’s meaning stays hidden.

Who’s riding so late through th’ endless wild?
The father ‘t is with his infant child;
He thinks the boy ‘s well off in his arm,
He grasps him tightly, he keeps him warm.

My son, say why are you hiding your face ?
Oh father, the Erlking ‘s coming apace,
The Erlking ‘s here with his train and crown!
My son, the fog moves up and down. –

Be good, my child, come, go with me!
I know nice games, will play them with thee,
And flowers thou ‘It find near by where
I live, pretty dress my mother will give.”

Dear father, oh father, and do you not hear
What th’ Erlking whispers so close to my ear?
Be quiet, do be quiet, my son,
Through leaves the wind is rustling anon.

Do come, my darling, oh come with me!
Good care my daughters will take of thee,
My daughters will dance about thee in a ring,
Will rock thee to sleep and will prettily sing.”

Dear father, oh father, and do you not see
The Erlking’s daughters so near to me?
My son, my son, no one ‘s in our way,
The willows are looking unusually gray.

I love thee, thy beauty I covet and choose,
Be willing, my darling, or force I shall use!
“Dear father, oh father, he seizes my arm!
The Erlking, father, has done me harm.

The father shudders, he darts through the wild;
With agony fill him the groans of his child.
He reached his farm with fear and dread;
The infant son in his arms was dead.

The Cast

John Malkovich as Abel Tiffauges is astonishing. I think it is one of his best roles. He is such a weird-looking actor and that is perfect for this role. I particularly like the three German actors Heino Ferch, Armin Müller-Stahl and Gottfried John. But everybody else, especially those many little boys and girls, are very convincing.

The Director

Volker Schlöndorff can look back on a career with many an important movie. He is not just any director but one of the very great. He has done the war movies The Tin Drum and The Ninth Day and the movies Swann in Love, The Handmaid’s Tale and Ulzhan.

The Score

Michael Nyman is one of my favourite composers. He is foremost famous for the scores he wrote for Peter Greenaway and Jane Campion. This one here is OK but not as outstanding as his other work like Draughtman’s contract, Gattaca and The Piano to name but a few.

For me this is a 5/5 star movie. It has incredible pictures, is dense and complex and invites you to rethink Nazi ideology and symbolism like not many others. It is better than the Boy in the Striped Pyjamas that is for sure. But not as good as Pan’s Labyrinth.

Other war movies with children as main characters can be found on my list  Children in War Movies.