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Friday, September 17, 2010

LAISSEZ-PASSER / SAFE PASSAGE (2002)


This behind-the-scenes tale of French film production during the Nazi occupation was an obvious labor of love for vet French helmer Bertrand Tavernier. He was friends with the real-life protagonists (a writer & an assistant director) and the film gets tremendous dramatic mileage charting the suspense, romance, & heroism of the interlocking spheres of studio politics, wartime intrigue & affairs of the heart. It sounds like a treat, but the film adds up to less than the sum of its parts, only coming together in the last hour of a long film. Tavernier has trouble organizing the many pronged story and his over-reliance on a roving steady-cam keeps us from getting our bearings on people or places, while subconsciously distancing us from the period. No doubt, Fran├žois Truffaut’s THE LAST METRO/’80, about a Paris theater during the occupation, was on Tavernier’s mind, but the Lubitsch-like precision/concision Truffaut achieved is beyond his reach. Happily, the film improves as it goes along, coming together on long heroic bike ride, then climaxing with a secret mission that’s both exciting & hilarious. Plus, the many film references will please French movie mavens.

SCREWY THOUGHT OF THE DAY: In their desire to make the best films they could under Nazi occupation, the story bares some resemblance to THE BRIDGE ON THE RIVER KWAI/’57, taken from a French novel that parses WWII collaboration with the Japanese. And be sure to check out the most famous of all French films made during the occupation, CHILDREN OF PARADISE/LES ENFANTS DU PARADIS/’45. (Except for Clouzot's LE CORBEAU, most of the films referenced here are currently unavailable Stateside.)

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