CHANNEL 4 4SEVEN E4 MORE4 FILM4 4MUSIC 4oD

Viewing your Watchlist and recommended content requires Javascript

  • 15
  • Drama, History
  • 2008
  • 120 mins

Female Agents

Female Agents

Synopsis

Jean-Paul Salomé's war film is a girls' own adventure set in occupied France

About

Occupation by enemy forces tends to divide loyalties, compromise allegiances, and force people to lead double lives. Something similar has happened to Jean-Paul Salomé's Female Agents - and not just to the titular characters. Salomé works hard from the outset to position his film as a serious, credible account of female Resistance fighters in occupied France - but he struggles to resist the occupation of his film by misplaced cliché and awkward melodrama, undermining any claim to authenticity.

On the one hand, Female Agents strives for realism. The title sequence is a montage of genuine period photos of wartime women. Actions are regularly punctuated by captions that bind them to a particular time and place - it's shot almost entirely in the original locations. The film ends with a sober dedication to the 'victims of Nazi barbarity.' Even the title (or at least the original French title, literally 'Women Of The Shadow'), allies the film to that most unromantic and sombre of Resistance movies, Jean-Pierre Melville's The Army In The Shadows (1969). And of course the main character here, Louise Desfontaine (Marceau), is inspired (if no more than that) by the real-life partisan operative Lise Villameur (née De Baissac).

On the other hand, most of the other characters are pure fabrication, and the incidents of the plot derive less from reality than from the war-time fantasies of The Dirty Dozen (1967) or Where Eagles Dare (1968).

In the build-up to D-Day, Louise and her brother Pierre (Boisselier) must recruit, trick or blackmail a rag-tag team of women - death-row prostitute Jeanne (Depardieu), religiously devout saboteur Gaëlle (François), apolitical showgirl Suzy (Gillain) - into a mission to prevent, at any cost, the details of the Allies' landing plans from falling into the hands of the Nazis.

Their assignment to rescue a compromised geologist from a Nazi-run hospital soon becomes even more perilous when, joined by Italian Jewish radio operator Maria (Sansa), they must race to Paris to eliminate the head of Nazi counter-intelligence Colonel Heindrich (a show-stopping Bleibtreu) before he can pass on vital information, acquired through torture, to Berlin.

In other words, this is essentially boys' own adventure, only with the added twist that it is conducted by women- and while the sexual allure, biological imperatives and romantic notions of these girls certainly have their part to play in the shrill drama that unfolds, these very elements serve equally to sabotage the film's feminist ambitions, reducing the female characters to the crude stereotypes of mother, whore, nun or pretty-headed lover.

In fact, so preoccupied is Salomé with the undoubted accuracy of his period details and the fast-cutting tension of his set-pieces that he seems to have forgotten about issues of characterisation altogether, instead relying on the strength of his cast to fill in the blanks. Unfortuntely, Marceau, Depardieu and François have so little with which to work that they manage to convey no more of these women than their steely determination - while the sexual tension between lovesick Heindrich and his old flame Suzy, though crucial to the plot, gives rise to some of the film's most preposterously implausible moments (and there are quite a few of these).

Cast & Connections

  • Actor: Julie Depardieu, Vincent Rottiers, Julien Boisselier, Déborah François, Maya Sansa, Robin Renucci, Marie Gillain, Moritz Bleibtreu, Sophie Marceau, Volker Bruch
  • Director: Jean-Paul Salomé
  • Screen Writer: Laurent Vachaud, Jean-Paul Salomé
  • Producer: Éric Névé
  • Photographer: Pascal Ridao
  • Composer: Bruno Coulais

In a nutshell

Caught in the no man's land between verisimilitude and melodrama, Jean-Paul Salomé's Female Agents fails to settle on a consistent tone, ending up a 'serious' war film only in the sense that it is never intentionally funny.

by Anton Bitel

Latest from Film4...

  • Film4 Wish I Was Here

    Wish I Was Here

    Zach Braff writes, directs and stars in his belated second feature about a man who begins to re-examine the relationships in his life after his father falls ill

  • Film4 A Walk Among The Tombstones

    A Walk Among the Tombstones

    Ex-New York cop turned unlicensed private detective Matt Scudder (Liam Neeson) hunts down two ruthless kidnappers, who target the wives of mid-level drug dealers with ready cash

  • Film4 Ferris Bueller's Day Off

    Wheels In Motion Season On Film4

    It's a parade of motorcycles, trains and automobiles on Film4 as the Wheels In Motion Season gets rolling

  • Film4 The Moo Man

    The Moo Man On Film4

    Director Andy Heathcote tells the story of a farmer (Stephen Hook) and his cows on an organic dairy farm in the acclaimed Sundance documentary on Film4.

  • Channel 4 Blog

    Film4 Productions at TIFF 2014

    We round up the enthusiastic reception of the six Film4-backed films which played at Toronto 2014, including the world premieres of The Riot Club, The Duke Of Burgundy and Second Coming. The Riot Clu

  • Channel 4 Blog

    TIFF 2014: Electric Boogaloo: The Wild, Untold Story Of Cannon Films

    Film4.com Editor Michael Leader stays up past his bedtime to sample the delights of TIFF¿s Midnight Madness strand¿ Let me set the scene. It¿s 11.15pm, I¿m glugging full-fat Pepsi and my pockets ar

Register with Film4.com

Personalise your Film4 experience

  • Set film reminders
  • Build your watchlist
  • Get film suggestions

or Register

Share