L'ARMEE DU CRIME (THE ARMY OF CRIME)
France, 2009, 139 minutes, Colour.
Simon Abkarian, Virginie Ledoyen, Robinson Stevenen, Jann Tregouet.
Directed by Robert Guediguian.
A film about the French Resistance, centred principally on Paris and its surroundings. It begins with a long list of names of people who are declared to have died for France.
Once the Germans occupy Paris, they begin, with the help of the French police, to target the Jews, sudden round-ups, visits to police stations and disappearances, then the wearing of the star, then bus loads to local camps and then to Poland.
While the scope of the film is large and runs for well over two hours, the focus is principally on three groups. Simon Akbarian portrays an Armenian intellectual exile who lost his family in the Turkish genocide. (Guedigian is of Armenian origins and stresses Hitler's words of 1936: 'who remembers the Armenians?'.) His wife is played by Virginie Ledoyen. A second family runs a restaurant and the son, insulted at school and angry, is ripe for the Resistance. A third family sees the father disappear, the mother confined to home. The older son (Robinson Stevenin) is a champion swimmer under a less Jewish name and is protective of his fourteen year old brother. He is also trigger happy and begins to shoot German soldiers in the street.
Once the Resistance is organised, with the Armenian in charge of the local group, acts of sabotage proliferate. German officials and the press brand the perpetrators as terrorist Jews, Communists and immigrants.
It is inevitable that they will all be caught and executed. However, the dynamic of the film is to see them planning, in action, squabbling amongst themselves concerning tactics. Very striking is the liason between the swimmer's girlfriend and an ingratiating, ambitious policeman who begins an affair, showers her with gifts and gleans information from her. As the drama goes on, the personal stories become more telling enabling the audience to respond emotionally to the arrests, the graphic torture and the grief in persecution and scapegoating.
Robert Guedigian usually makes dramas about his city, Marseilles. More recently, he made a film about Mitterand. The Army of Crime (the title of the booklet produced by the Nazis to vilify the Resistance) broadens his scope and interests.
1.The title, the book prepared by the Nazis to condemn the Resistance? The images of the cover, the denunciations, the photos?
2.Audience knowledge of World War Two, of the French Resistance, of occupied France? Sufficient information supplied, illustrated?
3.The director and his Armenian background, quoting Hitler in 1936 that no-one remembers the Armenians? His passion for the story, for the Armenian leader?
4.The introduction, the bus, the passengers, the list of names, the statement that they had died for their country?
5.Paris, the 1940s, ordinary, the parks, pools, music, homes and shops? Yet the occupation, the swastika on the Eiffel Tower? The role of the French police, collaboration with the Gestapo? The extent of torture? The rise of the Resistance? Their going into action? The place of the Jews, the roundups? The buses taking them to the camps?
6.The three central stories: Missak Manouchian, with Melinee? Marcel and the Reiman family? Thomas and the Elak family? The arrests, the insults, the disappearances, angers? The characters and their coming together in the Resistance?
7.The officials, the Germans, the French police? The Nazis and the soldiers in uniform? Guarding the camps? The ordinary German soldiers but still declaring they were enemies? The Minister for Intelligence, the recruiting of officials, promotions? The torturers? Pujol? His role, judgment on him? On the collaborating French?
8.Missak, at home, his love for Melinee, being taken, in prison, his having saved Melinee’s life when she got a cramp, her decision to save Missak’s? Her riding the bike to the camp, taking the food, confronting the soldier? Missak getting out, his decision, the Resistance, taking part in the organisation? His contacts, the codes, the meetings? The importance of discipline? The variety of action? The higher officials demanding better results? The killing of the general? His meeting with the leaders?
9.Marcel and Monique, their relationship? Marcel and his concern about Simon? Simon at fourteen? The father and his disappearance? The mother and her coping? Protective? Marcel changing his name, the swimming training, his winning the Paris championship, the possibility for Olympics? His friends and their work in the Resistance? His anger about his father’s disappearance, shooting Germans in the street? Missak explaining that he had to be a member of a team? Going to the club – his bravado being challenged, not able to set off the detonator because of the women in the club? The grenade pin – and having to search in the sewing box for a pin to save the grenade? His love for Monique, her sharing so much with him, the swimming and his championship? Her coming to see him, well dressed, explaining her situation, yet betraying him?
10.Thomas, his parents in the restaurant, his father’s continual reading? His painting sickles on the university walls? His being insulted as a ‘dirty Yid’? The discussion with the principal, his potential to become a physicist?
11.The other young men, going into action, members of the Communist Party, the arrests? Their torture, singeing their bodies, electrodes? Their being taken out to be shot?
12.The treatment of the Jews, the greater persecution, having to wear the star? Closing shops and restaurants? The threats? Their finally being rounded up – and the procession of buses taking them to the camps?
13.The blame and scapegoating by the French, the communists, migrants, the Jews, the inferior people from Eastern Europe?
14.Petra, in command, strong, his orders? Being arrested, the torture, his giving the information?
15.Pujol, his being promoted, his work with David? The attraction to Monique? Using her, the sexual relationship, giving her presents? The information about Marcel? His trying to save him – but the women being suspicious of such information and not warning him?
16.David, young, ambitious, merciless? His participating in the torture?
17.The information, the arrests, the rounding up of the Resistance? Missak and the others?
18.The interrogations, their holding fast, not giving information?
19.The photos, the book, The Army of Crime?
20.The execution of the central characters? Their last stances and words? The quoting of Missak’s last letter to Melinee before he was executed?
21.The end, the reprise of the list of names, dying for their country, despite the scapegoating by the Vichy government and the Nazis?