A five-woman commando unit parachutes into occupied France in May 1944 on a daring and dangerous mission to protect the secret of the D-Day Landings and eliminate Colonel Heindrich (Moritz Bleibtreu), the head of the German counter-intelligence. Louise (Sophie Marceau) is a trained sniper and the widow of a Resistance leader. Jeanne (Julie Depardieu) is a tough hooker who won't hesitate to kill. Gaelle (Deborah Francis) is a young and brilliant explosives expert desperate to see some action. Suzy (Marie Gillain) is a stunning former showgirl and Heindrich's one-time lover. Maria (Maya Sansa) is an Italian contessa undercover with the French Resistance.
Review by Andrew L. Urban:
Director Jean-Paul Salomé says that with this true story, he wanted to honour the many women who fought in the resistance alongside the men. His devotion is evident, but it luckily doesn't mar the film's dramatic spine or its tone. The women are portrayed as real characters, complete with their weaknesses, and the story is told with an unerring sense of authenticity, aided by superb design, music and of course, performances.
Sophie Marceau is superb in a challenging role in which her good looks play no part, and her three compatriots are equally impressive. Julie Depardieu, Marie Gillain, Deborah Francois and Maya Sansa create vivid characters whose fate becomes important to us. The two key male roles are exceptionally well developed and performed, too: successful young German actor Moritz Bleibtreu builds a nicely complex character out of Colonel Heindrich (Moritz Bleibtreu), the head of the German counter-intelligence; Julien Boisselierand as Pierre, a key member of the England-based Special Operations Executive, is especially effective in the harrowing interrogation scenes, and all the supports are excellent.
The story is powerful and engaging, given resonance by the fact that it's true. Salomé leads us through the secret plot hatched in Britain to rescue a captured geologist, who might reveal the Allied plans for the invasion of France against the Germans. Each step is beautifully orchestrated by Salomé, to involve us from the very beginning of the scheme in its details. As the plan is launched, we are already heavy investors in its success, and as the risks increase and progress is halted, we are acutely aware of the dangers and the levels of courage required to continue.
Being based on facts, the story doesn't conform to a standard dramatic structure - making it even more of a nail biting experience.
Review by Louise Keller:
They promised to light a candle for each other when the war was over, the five French women brought together for a complex and perilous mission at the end of World War II. Loosely based on a true story, director Jean-Paul Salomé injects plenty of realism in this gritty story in which Sophie Marceau's Louise selects a group of dubiously qualified women to fulfil vital tasks to ensure the success of the D-Day landings. Hairstyles and attractive women notwithstanding, Salomé manages to give a sobering account of the resistance movement, as he clearly shows the cost that is paid. We warm to each of the characters as we follow the twists and turns of the complex plot that leads us through betrayals and triumphs. If you enjoyed Paul Verhoeven's Black Book, you’ll be engrossed by this involving and thrilling film.
In the opening scenes, we learn that Louise is well trained and equipped to kill. She seems able to dismiss the personal cost, even when she learns she is pregnant. Marceau manages to look both stunning and convincing throughout as we learn that war has a cost to everyone. When Louise recruits the other women, we are aware they are unwilling participants, so blackmail is part of the negotiations. Salomé allows us to participate in their development: Julie Depardieu is the tough former hooker, Deborah Francis wears her heart on her sleeve as Gaelle, who believes in God and Marie Gillain whose former relationship with Moritz Bleibtreu's Col. Hendrich is a secret weapon. Maya Sansa is intriguing as the undercover aristocrat,
The operation is planned in bite size pieces with minimum information divulged to its participants, limiting what can be revealed if captured and tortured. (The cyanide pill given to each is intended to be a comfort if a last resort is required.) The torture scenes are distressing and show no semblance of humanity; we watch as Louise's captured brother (Julien Boisselier) endures beatings without divulging his secrets. Shot on location in Paris, where the buildings are draped with Swastikas, the film looks authentically splendid as it gives a taste of war, the resistance and heroism and what it does to men and women. The original French title Les Femmes de l’ombre (the mysterious women of the shadows) seems to suit the film better than its English translation.
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INTERVIEW WITH JEAN-PAUL SALOME
FEMALE AGENTS (MA)
FEMMES DE L'OMBRE, LES
CAST: Sophie Marceau, Julie Depardieu, Marie Gillain, Deborah Francois, Moritz Bleibtreu, Maya Sansa, Julien Boisselier, Vincent Rottiers, Volker Bruch
PRODUCER: Éric Névé
DIRECTOR: Jean-Paul Salomé
SCRIPT: Jean-Paul Salomé, Laurent Vachaud
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Pascal Ridao
MUSIC: Bruno Coulais
PRODUCTION DESIGN: Francois Dupertuis
RUNNING TIME: 120 minutes
AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: Becker
AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: August 7, 2008