The Army of Crime (15)

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The Independent Culture

A sombre and gripping account of guerrilla fighters in Paris during the Nazi occupation, its difference being that this brave band were not French but a coalition of Jewish émigré and communists (Poles, Italians, Romanians) who loved their adopted country.

Robert Guédiguian's film begins with these "resistants" in chains and on their way to the firing squad – beyond the bars of their prison truck Paris looks contentedly beautiful – before flashing back to the early days of occupation and the desperate stirrings of resistance among certain men and women. At its centre is an Armenian poet, Missan Manouchian (Simon Abkarian), a reluctant killer to begin, later the ringleader of a team of young insurgents that cut a swathe of bombings and assassinations through the capital. Guédiguian brilliantly captures the atmosphere on both sides of the struggle, focusing on the machinations of a police inspector (Jean-Pierre Darroussin) who collaborates with his German masters in tracking down what they call an "army of crime".

The writer-director admits to some reworking of events and characters, though he hasn't changed the still-shocking facts of what the French did to their own: the sight of buses full of Parisian Jews on their way to Drancy, a holding camp before Auschwitz, holds and horrifies, principally for the knowledge that these round-ups – Himmler's boast – did not require the help of a single German soldier.

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