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Simon Abkarian & Virginie Ledoyen in ARMY OF CRIME (Photo: Lorber Films)

Directed by
Robert Guédiguian
Produced by
Dominique Barneaud, Marc Bordure & Guédiguian
Written by Guédiguian, Serge Le Péron & Gilles Taurand
Released by Lorber Films
French with English subtitles
France. 139 min. Not Rated
Simon Abkarian, Virginie Ledoyen, Robinson Stévenin, Gregoire Leprince-Ringuet, Lola Naymark, Yann Tregouët, Ariane Ascaride, Jean-Pierre Darroussin

There has never been a dearth of French films about the World War II Resistance movement, including classics from directors Jean-Pierre Melville (Army of Shadows), Louis Malle (Lacombe Lucien), and Bertrand Tavernier (Safe Passage). For the new Resistance saga, Army of Crime, director Robert Guédiguian brings to the screen the true story of a group of fighters of various nationalities, led by Armenian poet Missak Manouchian, whom the German-Armenian Guédiguian grew up idolizing as a hero.

Army of Crime opens with a haunting voice-over refrain, the names of fallen Resistance fighters—all with decidedly un-Gallic names—who “died for France.” The movie's early scenes leisurely depict these nascent freedom fighters in their everyday lives, like Manouchian (Simon Abkarian) with his beautiful French wife (Virginie Ledoyen) before his arrest (for being a communist) and confinement in a prison camp. Only after he's released does he begin his involvement with the underground, which includes young immigrants from Eastern and Southern Europe. Since they don't take orders from others very well, their daring is both their strength and weakness—we see their recklessness paying off against the Nazis, but it's also their downfall as a unit.

Guédiguian's bold, intelligent drama methodically explores the psychology of an array of men and women who throw themselves into hobbling, if not destroying, the Nazi war machine. A pivotal moment comes when Manouchian (who earlier said that he could not kill anyone) takes a grenade and, for the first time, kills several Nazi soldiers. Afterward, he stands over the dead bodies, staring at the carnage he has caused. Although the poet had tried to avoid outright murder, he now realizes that it's the only way to try and prevent the Nazis from winning the war, even if it costs him his own life. Throughout, Guédiguian emphasizes the moral quandary of guerrilla warfare over action or suspense.

For Army of Crime, the director and his collaborators have painstakingly re-created wartime Paris; that verisimilitude—along with a uniformly strong cast—adds to the film's stunning sense of place. Guédiguian also augments original chamber music by French film composer of the moment, Alexandre Desplat, with well-chosen works by Mozart, Bach, and Vivaldi. The refreshing complexity of Army of Crime honors the courage of many ordinary men and women who fought and died for their adopted country. Kevin Filipski
August 20, 2010



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