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Monday, March 30, 2009

LA BATAILLE DU RAIL / THE BATTLE OF THE RAILS (1945)

French helmer René Clément turned from documentaries to features with this docu-drama made just as WWII was grinding to an end. It has a Neo-Realistic feel to it with actual locations & non-professionals playing the railway saboteurs who did so much to disrupt the Nazi war machine, especially during the panicky final days of the Occupation. Much of the action is impressively staged (how the explosions and derailments were managed is beyond me), but like so much of Clément’s work, he promises more than he delivers; this one has little characterization and less structural coherence. This could be a realistic plus, but the elements feel contrived, especially since just about every French person we meet is either a full or alternate member of the Resistance. A happy falsehood that lived on for decades before Marcel Opüls smashed it for good in THE SORROW AND THE PITY/’69. For a startlingly clear-eyed look at the grubby life, horror and true heroism of the resistance, try Jean-Pierre Melville’s stunning ARMY OF SHADOWS also from 1969, yet (disgracefully) only released Stateside in 2006.

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