Life under German occupation was a subject that was treated in the French cinema in a gradual manner, differing according to the time of the production, reflecting the process of coping with the darkest hour of the history of France that the French society when through in the last 65 years since the end of WWII. From the heroic and idealized epics of the years that followed the war, to the variety of genres triggered by the New Wave of the 60s (including comedy) up to the more lucid and more historically and artistically true versions of the last decade. To a certain extent Bertrand Tavernier’s ‘Lassez-passer’ closes a cycle, as it deals not only with day-to-day life but also to film making under the occupation.

(video source CinemoiFrenchFilm)

Based on real experiences and memoirs the stories of the two heroes work make them work both in the film industry, but they never meet in the film, or if they do this is not shown on the screen. I find the idea genial, as the ways the two work and survive the war, the ways they oppose the occupation and resist not only physically but also morally are radically different. Director Jean Devaivre (Jacques Gamblin) is marginally involved with the Resistance but works for the hated German-led film house, where artists were obliged to make films glorifying the ‘friendship’ with the Germans, under the control and permanent scrutiny of the occupiers. Script-writer Jean Aurenche (Denis Podalydes) seems to be more interested in women, but his scripts insert subversive lines, and his actions alleviate the sufferings of a fellow writer imprisoned by the Germans. Both decide to continue to work under censorship and brutal control, and the moral rationale of this option is the key question of the film. Should the great artists of the time (names like Jean Gabin, Darielle Darieux, Michel Simon, director Clouzot) have refused to work under occupation/ Where does the positive will and need to continue life and to help the moral of the compatriots stop and collaboration with the enemy start?

(video source ao456)

It is a long film, and especially the first 30 minutes are quite confusing, letting the impression of a difficult take-off, especially for viewers who are not necessarily familiar with all the heroes members of the milieu described in the movie. It can be felt that Tavernier was in love with the subject and wanted to present the complex picture of the period as completely as possible, but avoiding simplifications needs not necessarily result in a much longer film. The viewers are however rewarded in the second part of the film with two film moments of anthology, both having Devaivre (Gamblain) as a hero – the haunting bicycle trip from Paris to the campagne in order to visit his family and the even more surrealistic episode where after getting hold of some secret documents he is flew into England to be briefed by the British espionage experts. If the episodes are also true as claimed they show that life in time of war can make sometimes stories greater than the stories imagined for the big screen.