Army of Crime (“L’armée du crime” 2009) follows the story of a resistance cell made up of French Jews, ethnic Armenians, Communists, and their families in Paris during the Nazi occupation. It’s easy to gain a connection to the protagonists as they seek what they view as justice even if they have misguided and naive political views. The idealism of youth walks hand in hand with the pained experience of the older generation as both seek to play their part in fighting the Nazis. There is, in the youth, a romanticized view of revolutionary thought. In those who have been there and done it all, it is clear that the scars of war and oppression run deep. All of this is set in a very convincing urban and suburban Paris. The film is a fantastic look at a culture foreign to most westerners, and captures very well the risks and costs of resisting tyranny.
This is a war movie, but it is not a combat movie. there are no combat scenes at all. There are no uniformed good guys. There are some believable action scenes, mostly hit and run attacks that happen very quickly. What carries the film is the tension and the suspense and the cost of the fight. This film is a good WWII tale that gives a historical sense of the gray areas between ideologies at war and ethics, and a look at the Paris of the occupation. If you are into old cars, busses and European street culture, and even style and fashion of the forties, this film will have your attention. You do notice the clothing and production value. It’s well done. This film is like a time machine. I enjoy the film for the Paris streets as much as for the story set there.
The film lets us into the lives of a half dozen resistance fighters and their families, follows them through their fighting career, and causes the viewer to grow very close to them and their declining circumstances. With several main characters, one gets a real sense of how frustrating it could be to link with the supported resistance, and how tempting (and painful) it was to be a freelance vigilante driven by revenge and hatred. We also discover how manipulation takes advantage of those who mourn and how that can sting the perpetrator’s conscience. Betrayal is around every turn.
One main character, Missak Manuchian, is of Armenian descent. We learn that his family fled the genocidal Turkish persecution. They shed much blood under the Turkish extermination of the Armenians. As a poet, he is an influential member of his ethnic community. As modern students of history, we are prompted to study this chapter in modern history, especially if we did not know the plight of the Armenians. What we can learn to understand is how internationally connected and culturally mixed most non-American people groups are who live in Europe or Eurasia. Other characters disappear because of their Jewish-ness, leaving their children to fight the invaders. One main character vows to protect his little brother, only to grieve under the realization that he failed.
Some westerners may react to the communist sympathies of the resistance. However, we must understand the historical context to realize that most of Europe had seen great tragedy and persecution, death and personal loss, at the hands of all major ideologies of the day, especially in the Balkans, and more recently under the Fascists in Spain. Communism offered as hope not seen before. And communism was young enough, its state manifestations secretive enough, that most people-on-the-streets had not yet seen the depravity of the ideology. Communism would show its true colors later, though the wary already knew. It is therefore with a naive sort of hope that the ill-informed suffering average people jumped on the Red bandwagon, not knowing yet that they were jumoping out of the pan, into the fire. Communism is among the most evil institutions of mankind, and is responsible for more deaths than all other modern ideologies combined. If only they knew…
This is a very good war film from the French perspective, one of my personal favorites that I have watched many times.
Army of Crime is unrated. For those interested, it has some graphic violence in the form of ambushes and street fights, police torture scenes and implied torture. It had a couple of scenes of full nudity. Foul language, for us English speakers, is subtitled and suitably reserved, though accurately portrayed according to the historical era.