The Army of Crime Review
The FilmIn recent times, there have been a few films on the theme of resistance. Historically set to distance themselves from modern day questions of terrorists and dodgy western powers, these films have considered the appropriate response to tyranny and by extension the question of what counts as collaboration and what is moral protest. By choosing historical settings, films like Black Book, Flame and Citron, and now Army of Crime have considered how latter day terrorists and criminals justified their actions and how they have come to be seen as freedom fighters rather than the labels pinned on them by their latter day antagonists.
There is a large ensemble cast and the film uses all of its running time to follow the individual threads of the narrative as well as explore the different motivation of the variety of characters included. There is the Armenian poet Missak, the Jewish Rayman and the veterans of the Spanish civil war, all following their particular motives to the point of their clandestine acts of disruption and subversion. The everyday people that they meet often buy the Nazi stories of relocation, believe in the value of helping the German war effort by becoming immigrant workers, or they simply choose to get along by closing their eyes to the truth. More seriously, there are also those that choose to play the game and concede the safety of others for their own freedom.
The film carries a couple of sequences where tension and action provide the driving reason for watching, but these are less important than a sense of inevitable dread for what must happen. The intention is to celebrate this brave set of French immigrants as they fight for a France free of the evils of racism and tyranny, and the viewer is asked to sympathise with them and fear for what may become of them. This felt very worthy to me and this earnestness and straight approach left me a little bored at times, yearning for humour, heterodox or a bit more action.
Technical SpecsArmy of Crime is presented at the original aspect ratio of 1.85:1, encoded with the AVC codec and has a frame rate of 24.00 frames per second. The disc itself is region B encoded and dual layer with the main transfer taking 27.8GB of its capacity. The disc opens with the choice of French or English menus so this is clearly aimed at both those markets. Menus are classical and easily worked around and forced trailers play when you first insert the disc into your player.
Special featuresThe director is interviewed about his film which is clearly a cherished project to him. He talks about how the characters in his story were targeted by the Nazis as a propaganda coup and how he is the son of an Armenian, much like his central character. Robert Guédiguian speaks about looking for truth in his representation of events but admits his approach is Brechtian in places and motivated by an attempt to draw parallels with other parts of history. He is direct, pre-possessing and full of a slightly academic air.
This is followed by an interview held at Cannes with Ledoyen and Abkarian. They don't really have a natural rapport with Abkarian more serious and his co-star livelier and warmer. Clips from the film pad out the running time and the expected questions about the stars' performances are followed by more interesting probing around political issues.
A survivor from the original events, Henri Karajan is shown around the set by the director in the next piece and he adds snippets of real-life detail as he meets cast and crew. Karajan is a marvellous individual, filled with passion and anger at everything that happened and how the official story has been doctored since. The cast and crew sit in silence as he holds forth on the bravery and the battles that he feels his dead compatriots won. I have to say that I enjoyed this half hour monologue more than the main feature, it really serves to remind current generations of what people fought for and the unquestionable courage and belief of those fighting.
The remaining extra is footage of the film presented at Cannes with the director's introduction and the whole red carpet beautiful hair and flashy dress business.
SummaryThe director's effort to create modern parallels left the film a little cold for me, and the lack of real passion made this a less enthralling experience than perhaps the basic story deserves. It is though a well made and important story so I would advise that you do take time to watch it. This presentation from Optimum is solid and the extra of the conversation with Henri Karajan is worth purchasing the disc for on its own.
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