Thursday, 22 January 2009

Female Agents

Directed by Jean-Paul Salomé
Written by Jean-Paul Salomé and Laurent Vachaud


In French and German with English subtitles

A top-secret mission at the turning point of World War II places protection of the imminent D-Day landing operation in the hands of a team of women.  Dropped into enemy territory, they are tasked with rescuing a British operative trapped in occupied France – before the Nazis discover why he was there.

The disparate, ill-prepared band face danger at every turn.  Led by French resistance fighter Louise (a brilliant Sophie Marceau) and commanded by her British-based brother, the women soon encounter serious complications, but not even the most terrifying situations deter them from their new objective.

Although Female Agents (LesFemmes de l’Ombre) is fiction, it is based on actual situations faced by genuine female agents.  These women fought for their beliefs alongside the men, and what they faced made re-integration into post-war life just as difficult – yet gender stereotypes prevented public recognition, and only a handful were ever decorated for their actions.

This film fulfils the director’s avowed aim of making people aware of these women’s contribution, but unfortunately the traditional bias has crept in with the credit.  Not since Charlie’s Angels have a bunch of gun toting ladies had such perfect lipstick, and when the chips are down several of them behave like, well, girls.  As realistic as the film otherwise is, it’s a disappointment to find the heroines characterised as either weak/feminine or strong/unfeminine.

Despite this let down, it’s a thrilling film.  The action is tense and unpredictable, and the period perfectly captured, from the uniforms right through to the stretches of wartime Paris with German street signs.  Ignore the rather naff sounding English title: (a straight translation, “the women of shadow” would have had more of a ring to it) this is a thriller with heart.  The viewer cannot be unmoved by the story, because even slightly diluted there’s truth worth remembering in the situations it depicts.

This review was originally written for an online magazine, and is republished with permission. 

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