Movie: Female Agents * * *
A film that reminds me greatly of Paul Verhoeven's 2006 movie Black Book, Female Agents is a down-the-line war thriller about the heroic efforts of the French Resistance and British secret services to undermine German rule in occupied France.
Originally called Les Femmes de l'Ombre (the dumbness of the English title is inexplicable), it stars the frankly magnificent Sophie Marceau and is based on a true story. Ms Marceau plays Louise Desfontaines, a French Resistance agent seconded along with her brother Pierre to a British Special Operations commando group.
When a British army geologist is captured by the Germans while reconnoitering the Normandy beaches in advance of D-Day, the Allies start to panic. The man knows all about the planned invasion and will surely reveal all sooner or later under torture.
So Louise and her brother are ordered to pick a team including three other women to distract the Germans, rescue the geologist and assassinate an SS colonel called Heindrich, who is getting dangerously close to figuring out the invasion plans.
She and Pierre coax, cajole and threaten three expatriate French women called Jeanne (Julie Depardieu), Suzy (Marie Gillain) and Gaelle (Deborah Francois) into cooperating, and the group parachutes into Normandy by night. But though their mission is initially a success, Heindrich is a clever adversary and the women soon flee to Paris to avoid capture. There they hatch a desperate plan as Heindrich and the SS close in on them.
Director Jean-Paul Salomé was inspired to make the film by reading about the exploits of French resistance heroine Lise Villameur, and Female Agents is clearly a labour of love. Among its strengths is a terrific storyline which is competently told.
But the film is let down at times by a certain humourlessness (not to suggest that war is especially funny), and a staginess that afflicts in particular the torture scenes.
The cast, though, are mainly excellent, especially Marceau (about whom I will bear no criticism) and Julie Depardieu, who (as ever) brings convincing depth to her character. n