16 July 2008

Back in the Summer of '44

I went to see Female Agents (Femmes de l'Ombre, or "Women of the Shadows" in French) partly to keep on track with my cinema going, partly because it was French and I do like to at least feign language abilities and partly because the trailer made it looked as though it was about sex as much as about war and death and stuff. To be fair, it was quite gripping, even if part of the film irritated me.

Sophie BondGirl plays Louise, a young, French widow whose brother Pierre convinces her to take part in an SOE mission to rescue a convenient plot device geologist from a hospital in the south of France. He has BIG NOLEDGES about the planned Normandy landings and so the Germans are pretty keen to get hold of him, so it falls to Pierre, Louise and a motley crew of three women they bribe, seduce and blackmail (respectively) into helping to rescue Monsieur Le Geologue. The W Team contains a convicted murderess, a timid, religious girl with a penchant for blowing stuff up, and a nightclub dancer who fled to Angleterre after she left her now-Nazi lover at the altar. Only brawn, brains, bravery and boobs can bring about the success of this mission, clearly.

Off they fly to the south of France in search of the geologist. He isn't looking too good but hasn't cracked under the torturous hand of Colonel Heindrich just yet and certainly isn't telling Heindrich (who suspects that the Allies are planning a landing but can't quite convince his boss of this fact and is hoping to take the geologist with him to Berlin as proof) exactly what those strange looking concrete blocks on various Normandy beaches are or why he was collecting sand so late at night (emergency exfoliating facial?).

Not to worry, geologist dude - here come the Spice Girls, disguised variously as nurses and strippers dancers. Baby Spice sets to work on filling the Nazis' cars with explosives, Ginger (daughter of Le Depardieu) and Posh (the beautiful Marie Gillain) are going to be the entertainment for the night (some war hospital that provides dacing girls who get their kit off for the patients). Scary (Louise - well, she is pretty scary in her coolness and drive) heads off to find the English patient (sadly, no Ralph Fiennes) and preferably to kill Heindrich at the same time. Their contact at the hospital - Maria (Sporty - well, she was the most likely of the lot to be a lesbian) - turns the hospital's radio system into a useless mess of snipped wires. Also, Pierre does some good things because obviously, women couldn't be left completely to themselves on such an important mission.

There are some explosions and shit and in all the smoke and confusion, the ladies manage to get themselves and the geologist out of the hospital and into their gettaway vehicle without getting caught. Heindrich is left behind. "You're despicable!" he hisses in the gals' fleeting direction when he realises that one of those women has killed his transport and another has buggered the radio. Women should know their limits, OK?

Geologist isn't in too good a state but he does manage to pass some cryptic messages onto Pierre before they reach their plane pick up point, where Pierre announces that actually, the girls can't go back to Blighty just yet - there is just one little, tiny thing they need to do in Paris. They're not very happy about this but they aren't really left with much choice so on the train to Paris it is, and there they learn all about friendship, betrayal, trust, courage, self-belief, loyalty and various other abstract nouns.

I felt the movie rather shot itself in the foot during the dénouement, though. Having spent ninety minutes on a period of a few days, the director skims liberally over the next year in about ten minutes with some Dramatic Montages and real, genuine video footage of how the Yanks won WWII with a chirpy American voiceover (I wasn't sure if the French director put this in to be ironic, given how the whole of the rest of the film was all about the great efforts of the French resistance - more specifically the women - and the Brits; the only explanation for this could be that Jean-Paul Salomé was mocking the American habit of ignoring the role played by everyone else in WWII). The "sweet" coda and crappy "here's what happened next, summarised in a couple of random captions" really irritated me and could probably have been left out because they seemed to miss the point, for me, and seemed to clash too much with the ideas and mood of the rest of the film.

Nonetheless, the cast is attractive and charismatic enough to make Female Agents an interesting tale of Girl Power à la 1944. The male actors were all rather weak but then, they didn't really have much to do, so this is probably intentional. Certainly worth a peek but not at the expense of some of the other films out at the moment.

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