Sunday, 11 October 2009
The Army of Crime
I always make a point of keeping up with the latest productions of the French cinema industry, seeing what I can, when I can, where I can. I have a particular interest in anything to do with life in France during the German occupation, movies like The Army of Shadows and Lacombe Lucien, the first about resistance, the second about collaboration. So, off I trotted at the weekend to see The Army of Crime (L'armée du crime), directed by Robert Guédiguian, now on limited release in this country.
The story centers around a resistance cell in Paris, later depicted after their execution in the infamous Affiche Rouge (Red Poster), a widely distributed poster in which the Vichy authorities tried to show resisters not as liberators but as criminals. The cell itself was largely made up of foreigners, headed by Missak Manouchian (played by Simon Abkarian), an Armenian poet who lost his family in the Turkish genocide. Although some limited success is obtained in hit and run attacks on the Germans, the cell is finally destroyed after the assassination of a senior officer.
What might surprise people who know little of the historical background is that the worst persecutors of the resistance-and the worst torturers-were not the Germans but the French themselves, in the shape of the police force. Though the active pro-German faction, the fascists among the so-called Paris collaborators, was of no great significance, the Germans were greatly aided, both in combating resisters and in rounding up Jews, by the agencies of the French state. The director makes no concessions to any residual national sensitivity here: the police are shown bussing Jews to Drancy and the notorious Vel d’Hiv, transit points for Auschwitz. There are also shown torturing suspected partisans in the most hideous manner, which I take to be a truthful account. The moral corruption and venality of the police is well-captured in the character of Inspector Pujol, played by Jean-Pierre Darroussin
The movie itself is, well, worthy but largely unfocused. It rambles slightly and there are too many overlapping plots, overlapping lives. It’s certainly interesting though, given the subject matter, I found it surprisingly unengaging. It’s simply too ambitious, too broadly conceived to serve the purpose that Guédiguian intends. I don’t think The Army of Crime could ever have been a great movie, but with a little more discipline, fewer characters, a little more structure, and a firmer story-line it might have been more than simply a good one. Even so, I much preferred it to the inane Inglourious Basterds.