4 April 2010

L'ARMEE DU CRIME / THE ARMY OF CRIME (Dir. Robert Guediguian, 2009, France) - Revising The Past

The official UK poster to the film.

Most of the critical response to this World War II resistance film has unfairly centred on the director's decision to apparently surrender narrative coherence and dramatic tension to the ideological demands of characterisation. Such a criticism seems to want to side step the revisionist approach adopted by French director Robert Guediguian in his representation of the underground resistance. The decision to not only politicise the resistance but more importantly to excavate a truth that focuses on the contribution of those groups who have typically been marginalised in the representation of the French resistance in cinema is what gives the film its main strength, 'Most earlier Resistance films downplayed the contribution of foreigners, Jews and communists, preferring an image of unalloyed Gaullist patriotism.' (Peter Matthews, Sight & Sound, Nov 09: 50) An ensemble film, Army of Crime, was released in 2009 after premiering at the Cannes Film Festival. It has been deemed a commercial failure in France and I don't know how it fared in the UK but it was given adequate distribution, appearing in many of the arthouse cinemas.

The infamous Affiche Rouge propaganda poster used to demonise the resistance as terrorists.

Taking its cue from the meditative narrative pacing and sombre stylisation of Melville's Army of Shadows (1969), Guediguian's film focuses on the Affiche rouge (red poster), a propaganda poster distributed by the Vichy French and Nazis featuring the faces and names of the apprehended 'Manouchian group' along with the damning slogan: 'Des libérateurs? La libération par l'armée du crime! "Liberators? Liberation by the army of crime!" Led by exiled Armenian poet Missak Manouchian, the group's official title was Francs-tireurs et partisans – main-d'œuvre immigrée (FTP-MOI) and they were branded as terrorists in an attempt to put an end to the resistance movement which continued to gather momentum and support from all sections of French society including immigrants, Jews and communists. The film opens with the names of the 23 members who were put on trial and executed read out aloud as they are literally escorted to their deaths. Vividly shot and impressively acted, Guediguian's film can safely be positioned alongside Rachid Bouchareb's Indigenes (Days of Glory, 2006), another equally significant revisionist French war-time film. It comes as a disappointment then that Army of Crime hasn't found the critical or commercial success that it deserved as an important step in the re-representation of French historical reality. However, it is definetely worth seeking out on DVD.

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