This is an unexpected film, both entertaining and challenging.
We are taken back to France, 1939-1940, and the outbreak of the war. This is a French film being highly critical of France and its citizens as they face (or refuse to face) the reality of the German invasion, the occupation of Paris and the establishing of the Vichy government as General De Gaulle goes into exile in Britain.
On the serious side, the film shows the dilemmas facing the authorities, the people of privilege escaping from Paris, desperate to get the best suites in the top hotels in Bordeaux, the activities of Nazi agents and their ruthlessness, the need for scientists involved in the preparing of heavy water to cross the channel to safety. Politically, this is very interesting with a French director inviting the French to think again about this era (and the subsequent complacency and collaboration as well as the Resistance). Gerard Depardieu plays an influential minister who is both patriotic as well as pragmatic and continually distracted by his affair with a prima donna film star. There is also a sub-plot with Virginie Ledoyen as a young scientist trying to spirit her professor out of France.
On the comic side, the film is always in a rush, characters continually moving, running, the camera tracking them, chasing them - often in the mode of French farce. Several of the characters act as if they are in a farce or a movie because this is the focus of their life rather than face the reality of war and its consequences. Isabelle Adjani pouts and poses convincingly as the self-centred film star. Gregori Derangere is a would-be novelist, infatuated with a puppy love for the star and even going to gaol for her, looking ingenuous most of the time. Yvan Attal is a petty criminal who sees how he might profit by the war (stealing stocks of expensive wine). Obviously, he is going to be the patriot rather than the effete upper class. Peter Coyote is the journalist who is a Nazi agent.
There are a number of supporting characters who fill out the complexity of what happened in those days. The film looks very good - we feel that we have been in the middle of all the crises, farcical episodes and heroism.
Fr Peter Malone MSC is the International President of SIGNIS: the World Association for Catholic Communications and an Associate of the Australian Catholic Film Office.