Army of Crime
Dir. Robert Guediguian
Kino Lorber Films
Guédiguian and cinematographer Pierre Milon shoot with a plain eye and a soft, boilerplate color palette; it looks like a television movie, and hurts the integration into a diegetic world. The costumes and props and even the actors appear noticeably modern, which ruins any chance of immersion. Guédiguian shoots the few action sequences rather distantly as well, and employs awkward frame stuttering and superimposition in the aftermath. This tactic is much too heavy-handed and a painfully obvious attempt at evocation, but comes across as insulting and manipulative.
The screenplay by Guédiguian, Serge Le Peron, and Gilles Taurand is also rather tepid, which doesn’t help with the torpid pacing. The movie spends the majority of its first hour following the many members of the Army of Crime, including its founder, Missak Manouchian (a competent Simon Akbarian.) Manouchian, an Armenian whose parents were killed by Turks, is imprisoned by German soldiers with some friends, and feeling enraged and fed up, he recruits a multi-ethnic squad of young and old to violently resist the occupation of the city. The characters and their motivations are flimsy and mostly left unexplored, and there’s never really any connection among themselves. There are no believable moments of tension or suspense, which render the last hour particularly taxing. As we cross-cut between the group plotting and scheming and the Nazi effort to catch them, both sides seem to achieve seemingly effortlessly. The Nazis automatically know who to talk to, and where, and the torture sequences are too brief and scarce. A scene where the group is rounded up and tortured for information is crowded and ineffectual, though it is meant to be stirring.
A subplot about a Paris police officer who is investigating the Army of Crime is tacked on, and offers absolutely no resolution to its introduction. It could be excised, and there would not be any guessing as to how the characters were caught, which says a lot about the lackadaisical development. Even as the film ends with a superimposition of the infamous poster of the Army of Crime that hung in Paris, and a quote from a letter Manouchian wrote to his wife, it is cheap and exploitative, with the dreadful, lumbering slow pans over the actual faces of the men and women. A turgid quote from the director, explaining his motivations for changing elements of the story feels self-serving and weakens his attempt at artistic statement. Much like the motivations of the characters, it’s disjointed and not particularly memorable. Filmmaking this ineffectual and cloudy-minded should be a crime.
by Rafael Gaitan