Entries tagged with “Second World War”.

The life and death of Irène Némirovsky and the fate of the cycle of novels that inspired ‘Suite francaise‘ could be the subject of a thrilling movie, a different one. Born in 1903 in an Ukrainian Jewish family, she took refuge to France after the First World War with her family flying the Russian revolution, but was never granted French citizenship. Converting to Catholicism and writing French nationalistic (some consider these anti-Semitic) fiction did not spare her the fate of the majority of the French Jews – deportation to the concentration camps and death (at Auschwitz). ‘Suite francaise’ was planned to be a five volumes saga about the years of war, written as the events happened. Irene Nemirovsky wrote only two of them before being deported, the manuscript was unread for more than half of a century until discovered by her daughter and published as what has become a historical novel about the years of the war.


source http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0900387/

source http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0900387/


I did not read (yet) the books, but from the synopsis on Wikipedia I understand that the script departs quite afar from the original. The (spectacular) introduction scenes may not be in the book but they are useful to understand the context and the historical moment. Similarly, the final seems to be a Hollywood patch, not necessarily adding anything. The core of the film resides in the building love story between the young French woman whose husband is a prisoner of war and the German officer who is allocated to live in their house. It’s a complex relationship, and the merit of the script is that it avoids the black-white, bad-good nuances and moral judgments leaving room for the feelings and emotions. There is also a strong social content, both in the main story (are love or even co-existence allowed between occupier and occupied? here is a question valid also in other times and places) and in the secondary story of the mayor-viscount who pays with his life the price of collaboration. Ambiguity is however the tone that works here best.


(video source Entertainment One UK)


One of the hard obstacles for viewers of ‘Suite francaise’ is the fact that the film is American and spoken in English. I do not know whom I should ask, but I would certainly loved to see a French version. Maybe it’s still easier for the non-French to deal with the theme of ‘la collaboration’?Beautiful and fragile and tormented and introspective do both good acting jobs in the main roles, but best of all is  as the mother-in-law who may make you change your mind about the moral fabric of the French high classes.  is only at his third long feature film and directs with kind of an academic touch not exactly to my taste, but there are many good reasons to go and see this film.

Defiance tells about one of the lesser known episodes of World War II in which a group of Polish Jews saved themselves from the ghettos and the executions by the German occupiers and their local collaborators and formed a partisans unit in the forests of Belarus. They were led by the Bielski brothers and succeeded to hide more than one thousand of people in the forests, to fight against the German occupiers, and also to form a community that survived the harsh weather and natural conditions in the woods, the fights with the enemies, and also the sometimes tense relations with other non-Jewish partisan groups and with the local population. The story was told in the last decade in several books and historic studies, some revealing not only the heroic story but also some more controversial aspects.


source www.imdb.com/title/tt1034303/

source www.imdb.com/title/tt1034303/


The film directed by Edward Zwick focuses on the first year in the three that the group spent in the forests, the year that the group was formed, and the first winter that they had to survive in the woods. It’s a story of heroism and survival, of revenge and resilience. Two of the three brothers (originally they were four) are in the center of the story – Tuvia, the leader (Daniel Craig) and Zus the fighter (Liev Schreiber) who at some point joins the Soviet partisans. Both give very credible performances, their dilemma  between personal revenge and saving lives, and their conflicts in the ways the group is to be led are well described. Heroism, faith, will to survive and to keep the human dimensions of life are the main motivations of the characters and they come strong on screen. Besides good acting, authenticity and attention to the details in film making are other visible qualities of this movie, together with fluent story telling. The only questionable aspect is the one related to the language – the Jewish characters speak English, they turn sometimes to Russian when speaking with the Soviet partisans and to the local population (was not this supposed to be rather Polish?) in a mix and with switches that are not clear at all and lack authenticity. I am not sure what the better solution would have been, this may be the best an American production can do without losing the American audiences for whom big screen movies must be mostly or fully spoken in English, I guess.


(video source WatchMovieTrailersHD)


Defiance belongs to a genre which does not have too many films in its records, the one that deals with the Jewish Resistance during World War II, representing Jews not only as victims but also fighting back, defending themselves and sometimes taking revenge on their murderers and oppressors. The other illustrious example is Tarantino’s Inglorious Basterds which was produced and released around the same time, which was a declared work of fiction. Defiance openly advertises being inspired by true events, and it succeeds to present a credible and in some moments moving picture of the few and the brave who had the courage to resist. There is no hint in the film itself or warning in the text introduction or epilogue about the controversies related to the darker aspects of the story, and this is maybe the principal minus of this production.

I was writing a while ago that when Quentin Tarantino was making Inglorious Basterds he was not so much making a film about the Second World War and the Holocaust, but more a Tarantino film that happens during the Second World War and happens to have the Holocaust as a subject. Would this be a fair characterization of Jean-Pierre Melville‘s L’Armee des Ombres (Army of Shadows)? Is this merely a Melville film which says more about the director than about the war and the French Resistance?

source www.cinemapassion.com

Well, not really. It is true that L’Armee des Ombres has a very strong Melville touch. Made at the pick of the maturity of the director, it has an amazing familiar look with Le Cercle Rouge made one year later, the gangster story that was shown two weeks ago at the Herzlya Cinematheque, and about which I wrote about on the blog at that time. We are in familiar territory, with the director focusing on the characters and letting his splendid actors all the freedom they need to create great roles. His heroes have their own code of honor, and although we do not know much about who they are and where they come from we are led to recognize and respect their motivation and deeds, even when they may seem questionable on the sale of the accepted morality. There is also shared scenery between the two films – deserted roads and empty streets which seem a visual style mark of Melville.

(video source mongfu37)

And yet, there are more differences than similarities in my opinion. For Melville the Second World War and the Resistance were not just another theme, but a period that he lived through and a cause he participated actively in – to the point that a scene that seems completely benign today with De Gaulle decorating the fighting heroes of the Resistance let to a great outrage from some political circles and critics in a year 1969 when De Gaulle was close to the end of his political career and perceived as a conservative or even ‘reactionary’ president. Making a story about a group of fighters making the hard choices and putting in danger their own lives to do what is maybe today the obvious, but what so few people did in the real history is not just another heroic story about the war. It shows that war means not only risking own life, but also crossing the limits of accepted morality. The code of honor of the characters in this film exceeds the common judgment. While the behavior of the characters in permanent hiding and playing cat-and-mouse games with the Gestapo may remind the behavior of the heroes in the gangster movies of Melville, their motivation is totally different.


(video source luvgod)

The story building in this film is not the best. The underground work of a group of fighters of the Resistance led by Luc Jardie (the actor Paul Meurisse), Philipe Gerbier (Lino Ventura), and Mathilde (Simone Signoret) is followed in the interval of an year, between 1942 and 1943. The plot has many points of discontinuity filled in by off-screen comments, and building the story is not really what seems to have interested Melville. His focus was on the situations, on the permanent tension and danger the characters live in, on the choices that they must make which are never easy – killing a traitor, risking their lives to save an imprisoned comrade, commit suicide or kill their fellows if their lives cannot be saved and endanger the continuation of the fight. There is only one choice which is not questioned – the choice to fight which seems out of doubt the right thing that needs to be done. The magnificent opening scene with the German soldiers parading on Champs Elysees is the moral background for everything that happens afterward. The defeated and humiliated France had to fight back. The question about why so few did the obvious was postponed by Melville for a film that he never got to make.


(video source yaknbo)

Beside the opening there are many other memorable scenes in the film – mostly built on the relations between the characters and on the acting of all the actors in the team. Shining over the whole distribution are Lino Ventura and Simone Signoret, two splendid actors belonging to a golden generation of the French cinema who helas is gone now.  Their presence enriches a film which stays in memory for many reasons.

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.