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Female Agents
cast: Sophie Marceau, Julie Depardieu, Marie Gillain, Déborah François, and Moritz Bleibtreu

director: Jean-Paul Salomé

112 minutes (15) 2008
widescreen ratio 2.35:1
Revolver DVD Region 2 retail

RATING: 7/10
reviewed by Donald Morefield
Recently, there has been a trend for wartime dramas focusing on heroic individuals within partisan resistance of occupied territories in European states: Max Manus (Norway), Defiance (Poland), Flame & Citron (Denmark) - which details the wartime fates of a hitman and his driver, and most notably Paul Verhoeven's Black Book (Holland). All these films are based on true stories, yet historical facts are usually embellished for powerfully dramatic effect with vaguely artistic licence, depending on directorial style towards narrative and budgetary constraints.

Not your usual French cinema, Female Agents (aka: Les femmes de l'ombre), has the main attraction of onetime Bond girl, Sophie Marceau, playing the nurse turned assassin Louise Desfontaines. She takes a sniper rifle to German soldiers, aims her tommy-gun at Nazis, and finally becomes the ruthless executioner of a Gestapo officer. As it's all for the allies' forthcoming D-day operations, part of the women's mission is to rescue a captured scientist from a hospital in Normandy, and there's a lot of pacy entertainment value to be found in girls-with-guns action, none of this is a bad thing for the movie and so it hardly matters how preposterous ("D-day depends on them" boasts a tag-line) it all might seem at first as a wartime drama. Aided by new recruits Jeanne (Julie Depardieu, Gérard's daughter), doomed Gaëlle (Déborah François), and insecure Suzy (Marie Gillain), experienced spy Louise prepares for a parachute drop behind enemy lines - the lone Catholic is scolded: "Stop praying, you'll bring us bad luck!" - with team leader Pierre (Julien Boisselier), Louise's rather unsympathetic brother, lording it over 'agents' he deems basically incompetent or treats as untrustworthy, although reluctant but feisty Jeanne proves her fighting mettle later on.

When the rescued-from-torture geologist is found to be a stretcher-case, and also a strategic liability, contrary to orders from the British SOE (special operations executive), Pierre must switch to 'plan B' avoiding the compromised extraction site and a waiting RAF plane. Pursued by the dogged Colonel Heindrich (Moritz Bleibtreu), Louise takes over leadership, when her brother Pierre is taken prisoner, for a Paris trip where hopeless Suzy is used as tactical bait for her Nazi ex-lover. Fainting on a train, Louise finds out she's pregnant. Like all tragic heroines, the untypical women are betrayed by their compassionate principles, unfortunate twists resulting in dire circumstances, or even by each other. Gaëlle falls prey to a sadistic fingernail-pulling and cracks up immediately...

Jean-Paul Salomé, who previously directed Sophie Marceau as possessed thief Lisa in Belphégor - Phantom Of The Louvre (2001), keeps everything ticking over with a decidedly brisk pace matching standard Hollywood action thrillers. There's a saucy burlesque distraction as entertainment for lusty, but mostly incapacitated, German troops at the hospital. The shoot-outs are suitably noisy and hectic, while the brutal interrogations are fairly unsettling without resorting to overly graphic bloodletting scenes. Never as intensely lurid or wholly sensationalist as comparable subgenre-mate Black Book, the nonetheless gripping adventures of Female Agents deserve a certain measure of acclaim if not gushing praise.

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