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In occupied France, German-run Continental Films calls the shots in the movie business. Assistant director and Resistance activist Jean Devaivre works for Continental, where he can get "in between the wolf's teeth and avoid being chewed up". Fast-living screenwriter Jean Aurenche uses every possible argument to avoid working for the enemy. For both, wartime is a battle for survival. Written by
Albeit a lengthy film, Laissez-passer (aka Safe Conduct) is indeed a beautiful film that significantly shows a crucial time and history of WWII. While most films that we watch dealing with war and battles happen between troops with artillery flying everywhere, there are not many that devote themselves to the unsung battles. Laissez-passer takes a chance and tells two detailed stories of men that were willing to give up their lives for not just their country, but also their own personal beliefs. In this film we follow two members of the French film community as they decide for themselves how they will help their country survive this terrible nightmare.
Outside of the opening sequence, there are little to no explosions in this film causing us to look beyond our normal images of war and see a more personal battle. The Germans were deeply rooted in their propaganda and used the French cinema to aid in their attempts to spread messages to all. Laissez-passer devotes its time to this film community's struggle to stay alive and fight for what they believe in. It is a heroic tale of personal endurance and passion. I am a huge film buff, and whenever possible I love learning more about other countries history of film. This film allowed me to see a war torn community pull together and keep a film dream alive. It is due to these persistent people that we can now enjoy French cinema today. Without them, it would have died during this era.
What made this film stand out above any other were the characters. While I felt that Aurenche could have been developed a bit stronger and given more to contribute to the film (outside of just being a ladies man), it was Devaivre that I couldn't keep my eyes off. His story was so strong and important that I found myself rooting for him at any possible chance. Jacques Gamblin gives his character so much passion and power that at times you believe him to be this almost a superhero of the war. The ability to cycle several hundred miles, the ability to fight a cold as well as be a revolutionist, and on top of that juggle a full time job as an Assistant Director of a studio completely controlled by the enemy. Wow. I was completely blown away with how Gamblin controlled this already complex character. While I think others would have delivered a very jumbled mess of a man, Gamblin instead dove deeper and delivered one of the best performances of 2002. His ability to remain calm in the face of terror as well as be 100% devoted to his country was outstanding. When you think of humans and their ability to muster the courage to continue, he is a prime example. Overall, these two characters did carry this film on their shoulders. They showed two elements of wartime in the film industry. One showed the fighter, while the other was the lover. An interesting take on the two types of heroes, I just wish Aurenche would have been given more screen time. I wanted to know more about his character.
Outside of the characters, you have a very strong story written by Jean Cosmos and Devaivre himself recollecting his story during this time. Adapting from his story allows us to feel more comfortable with the events and see them as truth instead of fiction. It allows us to see the struggles of the characters, instead of thinking that it is just Hollywood drama inserted into overwhelming events. I also enjoyed the fact that this was not a film riddled with explosions and the Rambo-esquire hero. The ability that director Bertrand Tavernier had to keep this film focused on the characters and the humanity of the situation was outstanding. He gave WWII a human feel from outside of the American perspective. He showed us what the world was like during this time while even showing some political satire of the lack of respect that the British had for the citizen soldier of France. Tavernier successfully gives the audience both a strong feeling of the war as well as a very insightful view of cinema in France during this time. I learned so much about what the French had to do for the Germans that it felt like a film history class. It was a refreshing and scary realization on a community that here in America we regard as indestructible. It only continued to show how war could hurt and infect even the most powerful of behemoths.
Overall, I was very impressed with this film. While there were some jagged moments with the characters (more development would have been nice), I felt that the overall message and themes came through crystal clear. Tavernier brought the horror of this era out and showed the world that France fought with just as much passion and dedication as the rest of those involved. It is a dark chapter in France's history that was beautifully told by Tavernier.
Grade: **** out of *****
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