Army of Crime (15)

Film

War films

armeeducrime5.jpg

Time Out rating:

<strong>Rating: </strong><span class='lf-avgRating'>4</span>/5

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<strong>Rating: </strong><span class='lf-avgRating'>4</span>/5
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Time Out says

Tue Sep 29 2009

Just as director Rachid Bouchareb’s Algerian ancestry inspired him to tell in his 2007 film ‘Days of Glory’ of the Maghrebian contribution to the effort to recover France from the Nazis in 1944, so, presumably, French filmmaker Robert Guédiguian’s own background inspired this latest, equally revisionist wartime drama which offers a thrilling and informative new angle on the war in France.

Guédiguian is best known for modern-day, Marseilles-set films such as ‘Marius and Jeanette’ and ‘My Father is an Engineer’, but he is half Armenian and was latterly involved with the French communists, and this second of his historical films, after 2005’s ‘The Last Mitterrand’, turns out to be just as personal as his more ‘local’ ones, despite the grand period canvas on which it unfolds.

It focuses on the guerilla efforts of the ‘Manouchian group’ – a unit of Paris-based communists and immigrants who helped the armed struggle against Nazi occupation. Heading this unit with some initial reluctance was the Armenian poet Missak  Manouchian (Simon Abkarian) who directed a band of Jews, Hungarians, Poles and others to sabotage Nazi rule. What this film describes is the radicalisation of Manouchian and his comrades and the execution of their mission – a fatal mission, as we know from the 22 names heard over the opening credits to the refrain of ‘Mort pour la France’.

The title is a double nod – firstly, to the nickname given to Manouchian and his colleagues after they were executed in 1944 and, secondly, to Jean-Pierre Melville’s 1969 masterpiece ‘Army of Shadows’, a film which dramatised with cold brilliance the rituals of the French resistance. But while Melville suggested that all of France was resisting or supportive of the resistance, Guédiguian adopts a more nuanced stance. By dramatising the efforts of the Francs-Tireurs, the leftist resistance, he dispels the myth of a unified, Gaullist resistance – an assumption that was first and most powerfully exploded in cinema by Marcel Ophüls in his 1969 doc ‘The Sorrow and the Pity’.

Dramatically, though, Guédiguian doesn’t live up to Melville, who condensed the spirit of the resistance to a tense drama of few personalities. Guédiguian, meanwhile, calls on a rambling ensemble to serve the many points he has to  make about wartime France and why people did – and did not – join the resistance, from stressing Manouchian’s memories of war in Armenia and the motivations of French Jew Marcel (Robinson Stévenin) after his father is deported, to the idealistic communism of young Hungarian Thomas (Gregoire Leprince-Ringuet) and the self-serving collaboration with the French police of young Jew, Monique (Lola Naymark).

The breadth of Guédiguian’s story is sometimes at the expense of dramatic momentum, but nobody could accuse him of over-simplification. His film is always fascinating and is a crucial, stirring addition to the cinema about wartime France.
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Release details

Rated:

15

UK release:

Fri Oct 2, 2009

Duration:

139 mins

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<strong>Rating: </strong><span class='lf-avgRating'>0</span>/5

Average User Rating

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Noblesse Oblige

My takeaway is the vivid portrayal of the extent of the collaboration of the French right with the occupation, in its vendetta against the left and 'undesireables.' In the 1930s, France was hopelessly polarized between left and right. The occupation gave them the chance to settle the score. We are headed down that road now.

Robert Thornton

Sadly I thought this film lacked direction with little or no tension. It was so disappointing I just didn't get into the characters, it all seemed a charade with only the ending getting into gear.

Paul Murphy

Army of Crime is up with Guedigian's very best work. Characters and plot gripped me from start to finish in this ensemble piece, it had subtlety and power. I agree with Richard that political arguments such as about violence are shown to be organic to the film and historical action; and French collaboration is portrayed very sharply by Jean-Pierre Daroussin's repulsive police inspector.. Guedigian is often compared to Ken Loach and this is as good, if not better, than Land And Freedom. Absolutely teriffic.

Paul Murphy

Army of Crime is up with Guedigian's very best work. Characters and plot gripped me from start to finish in this ensemble piece, it had subtlety and power. I agree with Richard that political arguments such as about violence are shown to be organic to the film and historical action; and French collaboration is portrayed very sharply by Jean-Pierre Daroussin's repulsive police inspector.. Guedigian is often compared to Ken Loach and this is as good, if not better, than Land And Freedom. Absolutely teriffic.

Richard

This is a superb film. It is not merely a gripping and honest picture of the real second world war behind th the lines (as against the guff of Tarantino etc. all of which wish to pump up the role of Americans or British actors). It is also a really interesting reflection on the ethics of terrorism-- since let us be clear, this is what this group of resistance fighters were engaged it. It reminds us that against a powerful enemy on your own home territory that assymetric warfare which involves civilian casualties may be your only option. It also reminds viewers that it one looks at the real resistance fighters in France, Italy, Greece etc before the allies fought their way in, it was the Communists who led the way and usually suffered the most. In France for example, subtract Communists and Free masons (groups which in anyt event overlapped in France) and there would have been no armed clandestine resistance, particularly after Jean Moulin is captured. The other striking point the film makes is how well and enthusiastically French police and many citizens did the work of the Nazis: it was French police on their own initiative that rounded up thousand of Jews and sent them to Drancy from which they Germans took them to Auschwitz, Dachau etc. Vive la France and Vive l'Internationale!

Richard

This is a superb film. It is not merely a gripping and honest picture of the real second world war behind th the lines (as against the guff of Tarantino etc. all of which wish to pump up the role of Americans or British actors). It is also a really interesting reflection on the ethics of terrorism-- since let us be clear, this is what this group of resistance fighters were engaged it. It reminds us that against a powerful enemy on your own home territory that assymetric warfare which involves civilian casualties may be your only option. It also reminds viewers that it one looks at the real resistance fighters in France, Italy, Greece etc before the allies fought their way in, it was the Communists who led the way and usually suffered the most. In France for example, subtract Communists and Free masons (groups which in anyt event overlapped in France) and there would have been no armed clandestine resistance, particularly after Jean Moulin is captured. The other striking point the film makes is how well and enthusiastically French police and many citizens did the work of the Nazis: it was French police on their own initiative that rounded up thousand of Jews and sent them to Drancy from which they Germans took them to Auschwitz, Dachau etc. Vive la France and Vive l'Internationale!