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Saturday, 3 October 2009

Film – The Army of Crime – directed by Robert Guediguian

Star rating – 8/10

This is not a new story, but nonetheless very much worth retelling, as Robert Guediguian does here in this moving and passionately told new film. It focuses on the resistance to the Nazi occupation of France by a leftist array of characters including Jews, Armenians and Communists.

We see the innocence of the people who believe that Jews are safe because ‘This is France’ quickly unravelling. We watch their reactions as the Jewish people are rounded up and driven away on buses to their deaths, as they harbour vain hopes of one day being reunited, knowing that they do not yet realise the full horror of the concentration camps.

And we know from the list of people who ‘died for France’ that is read out at the start of the film, that there will in no way be a semblance of a happy ending here for any of the characters. The resistance fighters are shown to be brave and fearless in their opposition to the Nazis, sometimes being foolhardy in the extreme in their actions.

It is a very moving story, compellingly acted by some very strong central performances including the leader of the disparate group of resisters, Missak Manouchian (Simon Abkarian), and his devoted and loving wife Melinee (Virginie Ledoyen). There is a very moving portrayal of a young Jewish man Marcel Rayman (Robinson Stévenin), who joins the resistance after seeing his father deported to certain death in the camps, and his young brother Simon, who he guards protectively to the end.

The film contains great period detail, and does not pull any punches when revealing how the French authorities were more than complicit in the capture and torture of anyone the Nazis viewed as a threat. If I had to criticise one thing about it then could have been a little more tightly edited to reduce its length, which at 139 minutes felt slightly overlong.

But overall a stirring story of brave people who were not afraid to stand up for what they knew to be right. They did die for France, but they died for a whole lot more besides.

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