“What’s history for?” a schoolgirl asks in Lucie Aubrac, Claude Berri’s film about the eponymous French Resistance fighter, transforming her memoirs into a period piece, tidy and dour as a history lesson. Glamorous Carole Bouquet is woefully miscast as Lucie-wife, mother, teacher, and, with her husband Raymond (Daniel Auteuil), a key figure in Resistance circles. Berri’s film focuses on an incident in 1943, when Raymond, at an undercover meeting in Lyon with their leader, Jean Moulin (Patrice Chéreau), is caught by the Gestapo. Aubrac’s liberation from prison was orchestrated by his wife, with the help of their companions-in-arms.
This extraordinary story still sparks controversy in France, but in Berri’s hands, it never comes alive. Auteuil provides some warmth, but Bouquet’s performance is one-dimensional, and Chéreau, stiff in his hat and scarf, resembles an animated photograph. The physiognomies of certain Jewish characters come perilously close to caricature. And when Lucie tries to comfort Raymond, who learns that his Jewish parents have been deported, she strikes a note as jarring as Roberto Benigni’s little boy, who screams “We won!” after leaving Auschwitz.
The passion that unites them remains a mystery, illuminated only briefly when Raymond’s former cellmate meets with Lucie, and, to gain her trust, recounts intimate details her husband has told him of their life together. The scene is uncommonly moving, but it also signals what’s missing from the rest of this movie, which remains a shadow play of historical icons, rather than a portrait of people in love.