While Robin Williams will probably score big at the box office this week with yet another cry for respectability in his mediocre Holocaust tragicomedy "Jakob the Liar," a more stirring (and much less manipulative) film about the French underground during World War II also arrived in theaters Friday, and it's a shame this one won't be the big hit.
"Lucie Aubrac" is a fascinating historical and emotional drama, based on "Outwitting the Gestapo," the autobiographical novel of a resistance fighter's wife who became directly involved in undermining the Nazis after her husband's arrest in 1943.
Written and directed by Claude Berri ("Manon of the Spring"), the picture opens with a spectacular maquis bombing of a German train -- which probably cost half Berri's budget -- before settling into Lucie's passionate personal story of adoration and determination during Germany's occupation of France.
The radiant French 40-something Carole Bouquet plays the title role, a Lyon school teacher and mother whose spouse (Daniel Auteuil) and several compatriots in scattershot patriotic terrorism are captured by the Nazi's puppet police and sentenced to death.
The story personifies the constant apprehension freedom fighters and their families lived under, meeting in secret, reshuffling their ranks in the wake of arrests and allowing traitor paranoia to grip them after Auteuil and other leaders are imprisoned. It delves the audience into the inventive levels of machination the underground was forced to demonstrate in fighting a clandestine war, and it doesn't pull any punches portraying the brutality the Gestapo inflicted on their political prisoners.
But mostly "Lucie Aubrac" is a portrait of matrimonial love, as Lucie perseveres through all of this, helping to organize and participating in a dangerous assault to help her beaten, bruised and gaunt husband escape.
Although imperfect (I could have used a little more backstory about our heroine), this film's honest simplicity and rousing spirit speak to the individual consequences of the Second World War with more truth and far less gloss than any star vehicle Hollywood war pictures could, no matter how noble the topic.
Besides, this one tells of a part of the war rarely seen by American audiences and it does so without any famous cinematic clowns (Italian or American) cutely toying with the boundaries of good taste.