The Army of Crime was the name used by the Nazis to describe a specific French Resistance group made up of people of different ethnic backgrounds. Many were young. From historical figures and events, director Robert Guédiguian who co-wrote the screenplay has made a gripping film about some unconventional heroes. Francophiles will be drawn to the subject. Good reviews and word of mouth could expand the audience base.
Members of The Army of Crime are being driven away in a prison van. Through the grated windows, they view life going on outside. Flashbacks tell their stories. Several characters are introduced to give a wide view of life in France under German occupation. Many came to France after fleeing persecution in their home countries, seeing France as "the land of human rights." The large cast create distinctive characterizations. The film eventually focuses on three members of The Army of Crime--it's leader, a swimmer and a student.
Missak Manouchian (Simon Abkarian, Casino Royale) is a poet who lost his family in the Armenian genocide in Turkey. He organizes the band of inexperienced fighters like an army for which strategy precedes action. Abkarian gives Manouchian a quiet force; his French wife, Melinee (Virginie Ledoyen, The Valet, always a vibrant presence), supports his Resistance activities. Guédiguian, whose father was Armenian and mother was German, said he's heard about Manouchian since birth.
Marcel Rayman (Robinson Stévenin), 21, is Polish and Jewish. In Stévenin's characterization, Rayman approaches the Resistance with the fervor and drive that made him the Seine swimming champion. An unusual aspect of Rayman is his profound concern for his younger brother. Wanting to keep track of his brother, he continually keeps him in sight, even bringing him along on hazardous missions.
Thomas Elek (Grégoire Leprince-Ringuet, Love Songs), 18, is a promising student who reacts with anger when his Jewish background is derided. His family had emigrated from Hungary. Ariane Ascaride, Guédiguian's wife and frequent star of his films, plays Elek's mother.
The script has a character complexity lacking in many films set in the Nazi Resistance era. The Army members are not romanticized. Guédiguian said that his film demystifies the historical heroes. The emotional after-effects of non-violent people driven to violence are depicted. One character says, "We kill because we are partisans of life." A conspirator says that his ethics prevent him from killing Germans.
Guédiguian's direction builds tension as this unorthodox army's actions escalate from throwing flyers from a rooftop to a violent deed that causes a day of mourning in Germany. Guédiguian has staged several exciting scenes of their dangerous exploits. Details of preparations for the missions add to the film's realism. Success causes bravado and over-confidence that could put everyone at risk. The isolated acts enrage the Germans. A French police inspector, Pujol (Jean-Pierre Darroussin, a frequent collaborator of Guédiguian), investigates The Army of Crime. His actions are complicated when he becomes attracted to a much younger Jewish woman for whom he does favors.
Guédiguian's fascinating historical tribute is stirring and often moving, particularly in the emotional scenes between Manouchian and his wife.
Distributor: Lorber Films
Cast: Virginie Ledoyen, Simon Abkarian, Robinson Stévenin, Grégoire Leprince-Ringuet and Lola Naymark
Director: Robert Guédiguian
Screenwriters: Robert Guédiguian, Serge Le Péron and Gilles Taurand
Producer: Dominique Barneaud
Genre: Historical Drama; French-language, subtitled
Running time: 133 min.
Release date: August 20 ltd.