“Army of Crime” is the latest European import to draw from the ever-interesting well of cinema-friendly stories of resistance to Nazi rule, and it is a worthy addition to the catalog.
Immigrant Resistance fighters, led by French Armenian poet Missak Manouchian, risk their lives for France in this absorbing drama and informative salute to these near-forgotten players.
The director is Robert Guediguian (“Marius and Jeannette,” “The Last Mitterand”), who makes films about protest, commitment, moral calling and moral compromise. They aren’t souffles and require viewers’ serious attention, but the rewards are intelligent, richly human and satisfying.
The setting is 1940s Nazi-occupied Paris, where collaborators are crawling and an attempted wipeout of communism is occurring.
Guediguian and his two cowriters present three primary stories involving the unit of the FTP-MOI (a French Resistance group consisting of Jews and communists from Poland, Hungary and elsewhere) that communist leaders have recruited the poet Manouchian to lead. Not averse to melodrama, the filmmakers assign impelling motivations to their characters.
Chief protagonist Manouchian (Simon Abkarian) lost his family in the Armenian genocide and embraces France, where he lives with wife and fellow Resistance fighter Melinee (Virginie Ledoyen), as his adopted home.
While opposing violence, he will do anything necessary to combat the Nazi presence.
Marcel Rayman (Robinson Stevenin), a Polish Jew, kills Nazis in response to the deportation of his parents.
Thomas Elek (Gregoire Leprince-Ringuet), an idealistic young Hungarian, hopes to further the communist cause.
The success of the group’s bombing and assassination missions prompts a hunt from German occupiers and French collaborators. Assisted by key betrayals, authorities capture and execute unit members.
Among Resistance-fighter dramas, this isn’t of the caliber of the obvious comparison, Melville’s “Army of Shadows,” and, with its dearth of standard thrills and its abundance of characters, it lacks the immediate grip of more traditionally suspenseful and personality-centered fare like “Sophie Scholl” and “Lucie Aubrac.”
It also shortchanges important characters, including Melinee, whose Resistance work receives little elaboration.
But it still is an informative, engrossing film that succeeds as a reminder of history, a sampling of Resistance culture, and an affecting human drama.
Merits abound, whether Guediguian is depicting the anti-Semitism lacing French life, or exploring Resistance fighters’ moral dilemmas, or reaping humor from Resistance experiences (when Melinee mentions a “stuffed-chicken recipe,” somebody wonders if that’s a password).
The cast, which also includes Jean-Pierre Darroussin as a collaborating cop, is thoroughly convincing.
The title comes from the name given to the Resistance fighters in a Nazi effort to discredit them.
Army of Crime
Starring Simon Abkarian, Virginie Ledoyen, Robinson Stevenin, Gregoire Leprince-Ringuet
Written by Serge Le Peron, Gilles Taurand
Directed by Robert Guediguian
Running time 2 hours 13 minutes