Freedom Fighters for France in WWII Epic Army of Crime


“We kill people, but we’re on the side of life,” Joseph Epstein (Lucas Belvaux) tells Missak Manouchian (Simon Abkarian) in Army of Crime, an account of a Paris faction of World War II resistance fighters directed by Rob Guédiguian. Partisans engaged in the desperate ethical parsings of war, the dozen or so freedom fighters are salon communists of pan-European background. The group organizes an armed resistance within a city that seems to have accepted German occupation—and then mass deportations of its Jewish residents—with frightened deference, at best. At worst, the French are actively collaborating with the enemy, a painful detail often missing from dramatic accounts; Paul Verhoeven articulated this about the Dutch in the more dazzling Black Book. Army of Crime‘s fudged timeline is disorienting (set in 1943, it contemporizes events, such as the Paris deportations, that had been happening for over a year) and the film downplays the pinko ideology, but each individual’s determination to take action—or aktion—is drawn with a clear and steady hand. Virginie Ledoyen stars as Missak’s impossibly lovely, stalwart wife, and a troupe of supporting players give life to the men and women who died not for the miserable France of that moment, but for the vision of what it could be.