Female Agents

Created on 6/7/2008

Today I went to see the latest Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian. I am pleased to report that there was a very long line to get into the cinema and the first couple of shows were sold out. I am pleased because I love to see the film industry doing well, but not so happy since I shall have to return another day to see the film. On this occasion I switched to plan B and went to see the largely unheralded French film, Female Agents instead.

The film is a tribute to the bravery of 4 unsung heroines of the French resistance. The story starts in war ravaged London with Louise (Sophie Marceau), who she has a rendezvous with her brother Pierre (Julien Boisselier) and is given orders by the famous spymaster Maurice Buckmaster (Colin David Reese) to round up urgently needed French female agents. Their mission was a recipe for self sacrifice: The women had to rescue a wounded British geologist (Conrad Cecil) who had been spying on the geology and defenses of the Normandy beaches, from a German military hospital in occupied France before the Nazis figure out who he is and torture him for information that could change the destiny of D-Day, and maybe the entire war.

Recruitment for this dangerous assignment proves not to be easy, and all methods are employed, fair and unfair. The first recruit is a tough, cynical prostitute Jeanne (Julie Depardieu), who is given the alternative, stay in jail for the murder of your pimp, and be hung by the neck until dead, or take your chances on a desperate mission. She is followed by young explosives expert Gaelle (Deborah Francois) and, finally, showgirl Suzy (Marie Gillain), whose former intimate relationship with a Nazi officer makes her unwitting and reluctant bait. Parachuted into France, they meet up with Jewish Countess Maria Luzzato (Maya Sansa) and continue on their perilous but thrilling mission.

There are so many threats and dangers facing the protagonists that you have to remind yourself that this film is based on real characters and situations. It has become fashionable to view everything that preceded the present as something that should be viewed with cynicism and irony. It is simply not appropriate to be a smartass with this piece of history.

The assertion from some critics that you could be forgiven for thinking you’re watching a big budget film version of the old, and more than a bit silly, TV sitcom, “Allo Allo” might make sense if the war hadn’t really happened. You have to remember that people did get killed in terrible circumstances, there were acts of incredible bravery and the role of women in the war has largely been ignored or diminished. It’s worth remembering how many heroes and heroines gave their lives so that the world could live in freedom. This film does their memory justice, is handsomely mounted and all the women are terrific especially Sophie Marceau and Julie Depardieu.

My only reservation concerns the casting for the roles of the British officers back in London. They don’t measure up to the very real quality of the rest of this film.