Friday, September 30, 2011

SHOULD I READ IT? The Army of Crime

     “The Army of Crime” is a war movie that fits firmly into the French Resistance sub-genre. It is a French movie directed by Robert Guediguian. He intended it to be an homage to the FTP-MOI branch of the French Resistance. This group consisted mainly of Communist immigrants who conducted missions to kill Nazis in Paris in 1943.

     The movie opens with a preview of the end. Members of the group are on their way to torture and execution by the Gestapo. This probably worked well with a French audience which I assume knows the sad result of the Affiche Rouge affair, but for me it ended the suspense of who would survive. The rest of the movie is a flashback to how they got to that police van.

Marcel takes out another Nazi
     The movie follows several characters who eventually link up to work together. The leading character is an intellectual Armenian poet named Missak Manouchian (Simon Abkarian) who has a dedicated wife Melinee (Virginie Ledoyen). We first meet him as he is released from Gestapo captivity after he signs a document recanting his communism. Thomas (Gregoire Leprince-Ringuet) is a Jewish student who joins the movement and brings a bomb to a party (in a hollowed out copy of Das Kapital, naturally) full of Nazi officers. Marcel (Robinson Stevenin) is a Jew whose father has been deported. He takes vengeance by offering German soldiers cigarettes and then shooting them. He is a loose cannon, but does not dispute this. They hook up when Manouchian forms a group to carry out terrorist activities.

     At first, Missak refuses to kill, but it does not take long for him to get his hands dirty. In a cool scene, he throws a grenade in the midst of some marching German soldiers and then Marcel finishes them off. Later, the group attacks a bus in an orgy of quick and efficient violence.

     The movie is consistently somber, but there is some levity in a scene where the crew plans to use a grenade to blow up a brothel frequented by Germans. The first guy returns after refusing to kill teenage prostitutes, then shockingly Marcel wimps out as well. To make matters comical, they lose the grenade pin and have to go home to Melinee to get a sewing needle to disarm the bomb.

     Their run of luck ends when Marcel’s girlfriend is bribed by the evil French policeman into ratting out the gang. The various members are rounded up with Missak unrealistically going down without a fight even though he must know he will be tortured and killed. Only Melinee survives. The Nazis put out a poster (Affiche Rouge) to discredit them as communist troublemakers. The title of the film comes from an accusation from the poster.

      “Army of Crime” is fairly accurate. The three main characters are actual historical figures and are realistically portrayed. Most of the violent episodes are based on actual events., but I found no evidence for the brothel grenade scene. It also appears that the traitorous girlfriend and her police paramour subplot was fictionalized. More disturbing, it seems that Manouchian was actually the one who turned in the others under torture. The executions and poster are based on fact. One controversial aspect of the film is the accusation that Guediguian makes that the French authorities considered the Communist Resistance to be a bigger threat than the Nazis and thus collaborated with the Germans. The French police are bigger villains in the movie than the Gestapo. The French public is depicted as apathetic about German occupation and even upset with the boat-rocking FTO-MOI. There is also the implication that the ethnicity of the group played a role in their lack of support from average French people. Ironically, these “foreigners” were more interested in dying for “liberte, egalite, fraternite” than the French were. It may be exaggerated, but it feels authentic.

     I liked this movie much more than the similarly themed “Army of Shadows”. It does not drag and the action sequences are well-paced. The cinematography is crisp in color. The acting is very good, especially Abkarian and Stevinin. The production design and costumes take us back to wartime Paris.

OVERALL - 9/10


  1. Hmmm 9/10 is fairly high, yet, while reading your review and although I know you liked it a lot I had a feeling you were giving it a much lower rating.
    For me this is a clear 10/10. I don't see the tiniest in flaw in this movie and it made it on my Top 10 right away.
    It's the best French Resistance Movie I've seen.

  2. the war movie buffOctober 4, 2011 at 9:22 PM

    I thought it was clear I liked it. Especially in comparison to other French Resistance movies. I think it will make my 100 Best, but not the top ten.


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