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DVD Review

DVD cover

The Army of Crime


Starring: Virginie Ledoyen and Simon Abkarian
Optimum Home Entertainment
RRP: £19.99
Certificate: 15
Available 01 February 2010

Both during the Second World War and in its immediate aftermath, films which dealt with the resistance provided a homogeneous picture of populations united in their fight against the invaders. With time, hindsight and honesty this view has been revised in a number of European films. Marcel Ophuls's The Sorrow and the Pity (1971) and Louis Malle’s Lacombe Lucien (1974) told very different stories of the divisions within subjugated populations, some whom cooperated with the Nazis, some who helped with the transportation of the Jewish peoples and some who even informed on their neighbor to settle domestic feuds.

The Army of Crime (2009 - 2 hr, 12 min, 53 sec) follows in this tradition. It is a movie from left wing director, Robert Guediguian, whose films usually deal with the lives of the common man in France. The film was written by Serge Le Péron and Gilles Taurand

The film deals with real life events, covering the period between 1941 and 1944. Although there is a large cast, the film's narrative revolves around Missak Manouchian (Simon Abkarian) who is an Armenian immigrant. Although he works in a factory, he is at heart a poet. His communist leaning brings him to the attention of the Germans following the invasion of Russia, but by denying his political affiliations he initially escapes the death camps.

When he is recruited into the resistance their initial acts of defiance are uncoordinated and only partially successful. There is a sequence in the film where the group are unable to blow up a brothel full of Germans because of the girls working inside. First one member enters but returns refusing to let off the grenade, only to be chastised by his friend who grabs the grenade, but is also unable to carry out the mission. At this point they discover that they are holding a live grenade having lost the arming pin in the dark.

Even though he is married to a French woman, Mélinée Manouchian (Virginie Ledoyen) his rag tag collection of immigrants, Jews and communists find that the risks to their lives also comes from sections of the nationalistic French, their ethnic background seemingly overrides a willingness to fight and die to liberate France.

Simon Abkarian is very somber in the central role. Given his moralistic stand against killing, his move from willing to die for his country to a point where he is willing to kill, is both poignant and powerful. Eventually, having become a real threat, the Parisian police use every method, both legal and illegal, to capture the twenty-two men and one woman, finally condemning them to die.

If the film has a fault it is that tonally the somber mood of imminent capture and death pervades the whole two hours. Guediguian’s reverence for his subject matter can, at times, makes the narrative drag a little. Still it’s an important story, which is beautifully filmed; the acting is convincing and at time very moving.

The film is presented in an aspect ratio of 2.35:1 with options for either a 2.0 of 5.1 audio track, both with an optional English subtitle track. The extras on the DVD start with an interview with Robert Guediguian (14 min, 54 sec), in French with English subtitles, in which he discusses how he came to the subject and the influence of his own mixed ethnical background and left wing politics influenced the film. Army of Crime at Cannes 2009 (4 min, 08 sec) is a short piece about the film's showing and the disc wraps up with The Original Theatrical Trailer (1 min, 54 sec).


Charles Packer

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