Director Robert Guédiguian discusses his 'Army of Crime'
The French director of ‘Army of Crime’ has ventured out of modern Marseilles to tell the story of the resistance from a new angle
The French director Robert Guédiguian, 55, was born to a German mother and Armenian father in L’Estaque, the new port of Marseilles, and has made most of his films there in the past three decades. His populist, lively portraits of his multicultural neighbours – films such as his 1997 breakthrough, the romantic comedy ‘Marius and Jeannette’ – put the new port on the filmic map. Latterly, however, Guédiguian has ventured further afield: to Paris, to make his superb political portrait, ‘The Last Mitterrand’ (2005), and to his father’s homeland for ‘Journey to Armenia’ (2006).
His latest, ‘Army of Crime’, is another departure: a ‘classical’ historical drama set in occupied wartime Paris which revisits the world of Jean-Pierre Melville’s ‘Army of Shadows’. But the difference is that Guédiguian celebrates the resistance fighters who were communists, Jews or immigrants to France. ‘What I wanted to show in this film,’ Guédiguian explains, ‘was the faith that animated these young people and the life and light in them. And, so, I decided to evoke some of the things that are well known – for instance, the fights between Gaullists and communist fighters – but not get bogged down in their details. I just wanted to show the fighters’ commitment.’
Unsurprisingly, there’s a large cast and an international dimension to the film’s dramatis personae – Jews, Hungarians, Romanians, Italians, Armenians – which differentiates it from Melville’s seminal, possibly over-shadowing, movie. ‘I’ve said that instead of making “Army of Shadows”, I wanted to make “Army of Light”, ’ he laughs, before admitting: ‘“Army of the Shadows” is a masterpiece. But it’s a Gaullist film. It accepts the myth of a unanimous resistance. In Melville’s film, everybody seems to resist and you don’t know why. I wanted to show why people resisted – not everyone did.’ Those motives are most startlingly examined in the character of Missak Manouchian, the pacifist Armenian poet played by Simon Akbarian, whose complex attitude to organising lethal attacks on the Nazi occupiers forms a template for the film’s moral position.
‘Manouchian is not quite a pacifist,’ the director objects. ‘He wants to fight, but with words and ideas. For him, a victim of the Armenian genocide, violence is unbearable. He symbolises that all these people would never have turned to violence if not forced to.’ Less edifying are the actions of collaborationist police inspector Pujol (Jean-Pierre Darroussin) – ‘the most repulsive person in the film’ – whose Machiavellian acts of seduction and betrayal are as shocking as they are sobering. ‘That sober tone was important. It’s a true story and one I was afraid to touch, so I wanted to keep a sensible distance from it. Making films, that’s always at stake – to move people but at the same time to allow them to watch with a critical mind.’
There were reports from Cannes that his film was sidelined, and Guédiguian is phlegmatic in confirming them. ‘In France, my films, though successful, are perceived as not quite French. Perhaps it’s my combination of political engagement, populism and formal interests that excludes me from the mainstream. I feel closer to the younger directors of the generation before me – people like Costa-Gavras and Bertrand Tavernier – than to those of my age.’ Guédiguian will return to L’Estaque for his next film, ‘a mad melodrama’. ‘But, wherever I am,’ he says, ‘ I’m always making a L’Estaque film!’‘
Read our review of the film here
Author: Wally Hammond
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