by Natasha Theobald
Alright, I'm going to have to be a girl about this one. I liked the romance. I feel shame for it, but I wanted to see people find love in these extreme and horrific circumstances. Mea culpa. Please forgive me.Charlotte (Cate Blanchett) is recruited into a program which sends women into France to help fight the Germans by carrying information from one party to another and being available to participate in both delicate and overt acts of war. Charlotte yearns for adventure and aches to help in any way that she can. She has studied in France, and, though not necessarily politically minded, she feels strongly against the German occupation there. Added to this, her affair with a pilot comes to an abrupt stop when his plane is lost, she thinks, in France. Going there is an opportunity to do good for the cause and, perhaps, dare she hope, find him.
"What would you do for love or country?"
Things begin going badly almost the moment she arrives, as her first contact is escorted away by police. She finds shelter and safety through Julien (Billy Crudup), staying with his father (Michael Gambon) and posing as nanny and maid. The children in her charge are two Jewish boys whose parents were taken just nights before by the Germans. During the time spent with this humble group, Charlotte grows to have strong feelings for her charges and their benefactor. She learns about the nature of war and the realities of life in far greater detail than she probably ever thought possible. As danger closes in, Charlotte also learns what it means to be strong in the face of uncertainty and follow her instincts to survive.
The look of the film is gorgeous. The colors are deep and rich, and, at the end, the sun shines so beautifully on a place that has finally found peace. The costumes are rich in detail, as well, and different from any I remember seeing of the time. The settings seemed a step back in time, surrounded by green and filled with buildings cobbled of stone. I would love to go wherever they made this film, if it is as it appears, not ruined by progress.
Billy Crudup is one of my favorite actors. He always is good. He always makes me feel something true. Pairing him with Cate Blanchett, also always good, seemed, before I even watched the movie, like a really great idea. This casting virtually guaranteed that the acting would be exceptional, and it is. Charlotte grows wiser through the events of the movie, and you can see it in the way she looks and carries herself. Julien is headstrong and emotional, conflicted yet unwavering. He has been battered by the war but will not let himself be broken by it. His father is the kind of man who has regret but does not live with it. He is wise and sometimes weary. Watching these characters interact with one another was the great pleasure of the movie. The strength of the performances carried me through some moments of the film that didn't feel as authentic as others. The characters were always indelible, and I was invested in seeing what would happen because I cared about them.Although it seemed a bit odd that Charlotte was recruited for speaking French then never did, I was able to forgive small details, having been swept up with the story and the overwhelming themes of love, perseverance, and hope. Near the beginning, Charlotte is asked which she thinks is greatest -- faith, hope, or love. I wonder what she would have answered by the end.
link directly to this review at http://www.efilmcritic.com/review.php?movie=5687&reviewer=317
originally posted: 01/03/03 04:52:20