Saturday, August 30, 2003


A dramatization of the liberation of Paris during WWII with an all-star international cast (mostly French). The non-fiction book that the film is based on is presented somewhat like an oral history as we follow dozens of people, Allies and Germans, through the days of liberation in August of 1944. The movie doesn't do a very good job of setting up the context of the events. I'm pretty sure I would frequently have been at sea if I hadn't just read the book (which is the reason I rented the movie). The closest thing the movie has to a cental character is the Nazi officer (General von Choltitz, played by Gert Frobe, better known as Goldfinger) who is put in charge of defending Paris after the Normandy invasion; if he cannot hold the city against the inevitable attack by the Allies, Hitler orders him to destroy it. Frobe does a nice job as the confused man who wants to follow orders but can't bring himself to be responsible for the destruction of such a beautiful city--it's made clear in the book but not in the film that Choltitz believed that Hitler had become an ineffective leader and a raving madman. Another problem for the Germans (and to some degree, the Allies) is the Resistance, or more precisely the various Resistance groups that are squabbling about the timing for an uprising in Paris. Pierre Vaneck is the Resistance representative who goes through enemy lines to make contact with the Allies (Kirk Douglas is General Patton). Alain Delon and Jean-Paul Belmondo play other Resistance fighters; Charles Boyer is a doctor who helps Vaneck on his mission; Orson Welles is a Swiss diplomat.

Others in the large cast (mostly with only a few minutes of screen time) are Simone Signoret, Anthony Perkins, Glenn Ford, Yves Montand, and Leslie Caron. There are some nicely surreal moments, one with a fancy hotel lobby in flames, and another with Resistance fighters carrying on a fierce battle from an old lady's apartment while she causally sips tea. The movie is in black & white, which allows smooth integration of actual footage of the street fighting and celebrating that accompanied the city's liberation, though the last shot (an aerial view of present-day Paris) suddenly turns to color. At three hours, the lack of a central hero works against the cohesion of the various plot elements. Vaneck, Delon and Belmondo (all quite handsome) get a fair amount of attention, but we never get to know them as characters and they mostly vanish in the last hour. This is infamous for being a badly dubbed film--it's in English and it seems like almost all the dialogue, even that of the American actors, is post-dubbed. It does hurt the film a bit, but I got used to it. Recommended, especially if you're already a war buff, though be warned that this is not a traditional war film with a lot of bloody battle scenes.

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