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Bertrand Tavernier's tribute to France's wartime film industry is a sprawling, semi-biographical account of two real-life filmmakers who both found work during darkest days the German occupation. One, Jean Aurenche (Denis Podalydes), wrote screenplays for French films while firmly resisting any sort of collaboration, while the other, Jean Devaivre (Jacques...read more

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Reviewed by Ken Fox
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Bertrand Tavernier's tribute to France's wartime film industry is a sprawling, semi-biographical account of two real-life filmmakers who both found work during darkest days the German occupation. One, Jean Aurenche (Denis Podalydes), wrote screenplays for French films while firmly resisting any sort of collaboration, while the other, Jean Devaivre (Jacques Gamblin) went to work for the enemy as an assistant director at the German-run Continental production company. Screenwriter Aurenche jumps from studio to studio in much the same way that he moves from woman to woman, and manages to avoid committing himself on either front. A man of integrity, Aurenche does all he can do to keep from being pressed into service under the Germans over at Continental, but remains well aware that whatever he writes is nonetheless subject to censorship by the Vichy government. Devaivre, meanwhile, is lured to Continental by his friend, screenwriter Jean-Paul Le Chanois (Ged Marlon); unbeknownst to the Germans in the front office, Le Chanois is both a communist and Resistance fighter. Devaivre is hired as an assistant director to Maurice Tourneur (Philippe Morier-Genoud), but uses what cover the job affords him to aid the underground. After his brother-in-law (Olivier Brun) is arrested, Devaivre is drawn dangerously deep into counterintelligence work. The film, which runs close to three hours, is dense with characters and contains some thrilling moments — at one point, Devaivre finds himself parachuting over the French countryside. The fact that the stories of the two Jeans are really only thematically related will probably go unnoticed. Tavernier shows the kind of duress under which these artists worked — stripped of funds, major directors like Tourneur were forced to complete productions using the short ends of film stock — and takes the opportunity to set straight the records of filmmakers like Henri-Georges Clouzot. Mentioned often in the film (though he never appears as a character), Clouzot worked for Continental and his chilling THE RAVEN (1943), about the poisonous effects of gossip on a small town, was rumored to have been used in Germany as anti-French propaganda. Branded a collaborationist, Clouzot didn't make another film until 1947, but Tavernier makes it clear that THE RAVEN was actually intended as a warning against informing on one's neighbors. He also makes the persuasive argument that, against the odds, filmmakers like Tourneur and Devaivre did what they could to keep the industry alive at a time when much of France was slowly dying. (In French and German, with English subtitles.)

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  • Released: 2002
  • Rating: NR
  • Review: Bertrand Tavernier's tribute to France's wartime film industry is a sprawling, semi-biographical account of two real-life filmmakers who both found work during darkest days the German occupation. One, Jean Aurenche (Denis Podalydes), wrote screenplays for… (more)

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