Today: April 17, 2024

The Undercover War

War on
film can be a mixed bag. The explosive nightmare of Saving Private Ryan’s opening contrasts nicely with the more
character-driven latter stages, much like Band
of Brother’s
ensemble cast delivered in bounds. Opting for the latter
rather than all-out action, Nicolas
Steil chooses to explore personal conflict
in Luxembourg’s Academy Award
contender rather than the struggles on the battlefield.

After the
murder of his Nazi-collaborator father, young François (Grégoire
Leprince-Ringuet) returns from University and chooses to hide down in the mines as a dissident rather than be
coerced into joining Hitler’s army. Gradually earning the other’s trust he
becomes part of the Resistance movement
and begins a dangerous affair with the wife of another collaborator in the town
under cover of night.

Whereas
Spielberg chose to pull on the heartstrings to enormous effect in both Ryan and
Schindler’s List, here Steil opts for a grittier, less emotive
tone
where friendships are secondary to bonds and lust rather than love
rules the heart. Interweaving a back story which sees François and rival René
compete for the attention of a local sweetheart, Steil manages to inject the film with a sense of motive for each
character, also utilizing the technique to show the effect of enemy-collaboration
on sets of parents with equally effective results.

However
the film is better anchored underground
and the claustrophobic setting in the mine allows Steil the chance to showcase
sweeping shots of the interior as characters whittle away the days until war is
over. Though the focus shifts above the surface more for the second half of the
film, these real world Matrix-esque
scenes provide much of the film’s tension.

Of the
ensemble though, only Carlo Brandt’s tetchy Jacques really stands out, hiding
deeper secrets as the days underground begin to take their toil. Ringuet is
fine as the timid François, eventually gaining in confidence and prowess as the
film moves towards its rather
unsatisfactory but perfectly plausible dénouement
.

Not one
for action fans then, but for a side of
war rarely shown on screen
, this is well worth getting beneath the surface
of.

Alex Moss Editor

Alex Moss’ obsession with film began the moment he witnessed the Alien burst forth from John Hurt’s stomach. It was perhaps ill-advised to witness this aged 6 but much like the beast within Hurt, he became infected by a parasite called ‘Movies’. Rarely away from his computer or a big screen, as he muses on Cinematic Deities, Alex is “more machine now than man. His mind is twisted and evil”. Email: alex.moss@filmjuice.com

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