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Army of Crime
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by Lybarger

"Fighting the Nazis isn’t a task for people who aren’t willing to stick out."
4 stars

The current citizens of France owe an enormous debt to a disorganized but deeply committed group of Communists, immigrants and other social outcasts who had the courage to resist the Nazis. Possibly the most frightening thing depicted in the new fact-based thriller ‘The Army of Crime’ is that an appallingly high number of French men and women did nothing to curb the excesses of German occupation.

The title “Army of Crime” was actually given to partisans by the Nazis and their collaborators to demean a group who’d be considered heroes in another age. French director Robert Guédiguian paints vivid but human portraits of the resisters. They may have had the guts their fellow countrymen lacked, but they still seem like flesh and blood.

Their leader, Missak Manouchian (played to brooding perfection by Simon Abkarian from “Casino Royale”), had several strikes against him in the eyes of the Nazis. He was an Armenian immigrant, a Communist and an intellectual who didn’t trust authority. Having lost his family during the Turkish genocide of his fellow Armenians, he had no desire to see his new homeland fall to the same fate.

As depicted in the film, he’s an odd choice to lead the band. He’s an accomplished poet who doesn’t even know how to hold a pistol, much less attack trained German soldiers. He also initially refuses to kill. He’s even troubled by the fact that he had to sign a form telling the world he wasn’t a Communist just to be released from prison.

On the plus side, his French wife Mélinée (Virginie Ledoyen, “The Valet”) is passionately loyal and as brave as he is. His other supporters include two hot-headed teens (Grégoire Leprince-Ringuet, Robinson Stévenin), who often take out German soldiers on their own initiative, Hungarians, Spanish Civil War veterans and Jews who’ve managed to stay out of concentration camps.

Their hundreds of attacks are remarkably successful considering that they have trouble getting weapons, have few resources and, because they’re not professional troops. The younger one often act in ways that assure that they’ll be captured.

Because the partisans don’t have the upper hand in this conflict, they are instantly sympathetic even if they make foolish mistakes or aren’t always noble. Guédiguian’s ancestry is Armenian and German and is an unabashed admirer of Manochian. By presenting his heroes warts and all and by consistently adopting a matter-of-fact tone, the film feels appropriately tense because the stakes are believable. While it takes a while to differentiate the characters, and important information flashes by in seconds, it’s easy to cheer for protagonists who know that 20 of their own will be killed for every Nazi or collaborator they take out.

The Nazis are typically nasty, but the vilest characters are French cops who mistake toadying up to tyrants with patriotism. Particularly skuzzy is Inspecteur Pujol (Jean-Pierre Darroussin) who gains the confidence of Manochian supporters and then proceeds to stab them in the back without a hint of remorse or pity.

Another nice touch is Alexandre Desplat’s score, which incorporates Klezmer and Armenian motifs. In addition to setting the ominous mood, the music also reflects the heritage of the Resistance without going overboard. It’s also a sonic reminder that outsiders can be better patriots than the people who blend in.

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originally posted: 08/21/10 01:33:44
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2009 Festival de Cannes For more in the 2009 Festival de Cannes series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2010 Los Angeles Film Festival For more in the 2010 Los Angeles Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2010 Seattle International Film Festival For more in the 2010 Seattle International Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 14th Annual European Union Film Festival For more in the 14th Annual European Union Film Festival series, click here.

User Comments

2/03/12 Ed Hahn A little too long but captivating nevertheless. 4 stars
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  20-Aug-2010 (NR)
  DVD: 18-Jan-2011



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