The Army of Crime Review

The Film

In 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.
Army of Crime presents interesting parallels to the present. Not only is it about the formation of the French resistance under the occupation by the Nazis, but it has an explicit bias towards the foreign contingent of that resistance. It considers how the Nazis used French nationalism against these people and how the xenophobic zeal of those French that collaborated was one of the chief difficulties that these people faced. In this respect, there is a message for the modern pluralist France where Sarkozy's rhetoric on immigrants has disturbed many.

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.
This is a very worthy story and it is certainly well worth recounting in the times that we live in. The production values are very strong, the sense of era is immaculate and the cast all acquit themselves well. Yet, despite this competence I did find it all a trifle dull. The scenes where the French police and members of the public prove themselves more Nazi than the Nazis are indeed well presented, but I do feel there is a sense of sugaring the pill in this representation. These sequences are rare and the majority of the characters do not act or behave in this way which left me wondering just how shallow the collaboration of many French during this period must have been for this to be true. I suppose though this film's primary audience doesn't necessarily want to have the legacy of their forebears pointed out so strongly, but still I felt uneasy about this treatment in that respect.

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.
That though is probably the result of enjoying Verhoeven's take on resistance which is definitely less well intentioned than the movie offered here. It's hard to criticise a film that is so competent and so obviously has its heart in the right place, but its attempts to mass communicate and reach out broadly felt a little uninvolving or less than entertaining to me. Army of Crime is perfectly enjoyable but not terribly so.

Technical Specs

Army 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.
The look of the transfer is very film-like but detail is not as nice as you might hope for with faces lacking extra in the way of skin blemishes or character. Contrast is competent, but I did feel that certain interior scenes were too dark. The overall appearance is not over sharp or edge enhanced and I would judge this presentation as good to very good. The audio is offered through a single master audio option with removable and sensible English subtitles. Being largely a dramatic affair there is little in the way of dimension to be judged through the surround elements and I felt that on the basis of simple ambience and atmosphere this mix acquitted itself well. All the dialogue is front on with effects well mixed around the channels and music used in the rears and side speakers. The reproduction is very clear and the use of lower frequencies strives for realism rather than impact.

Special features

The 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.

Summary

The 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.

Film
6 out of 10
Video
7 out of 10
Audio
8 out of 10
Extras
7 out of 10
Overall

7

out of 10

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