Female Agents (Les Femmes de l'ombre)



PARIS -- Jean-Paul Salome's "Female Agents" ("Les Femmes de l'Ombre") doesn't pretend to be much more than an old-fashioned action flick with a feminist slant. Unashamedly targeting popular audiences, the movie boasts high production values and packs sufficient star-power to appeal broadly in both home and foreign markets.

The pitch is an all-woman commando unit parachuted into occupied France in May 1944 to rescue a British agent captured while reconnoitering the terrain ahead of the Normandy landings. Resistance fighter Louise (Sophie Marceau) heads up a team that includes feisty prostitute Jeanne (Julie Depardieu), good-time cabaret artiste Suzy (Marie Gillain) and nervous explosives expert Gaelle (Deborah Francois), patriots one and all.

Linking up with radio operator Maria (Maya Sansa) already in situ, they get the job done in double-quick time. Then they are charged by their London controllers with a follow-up mission to kill Karl Heindrich (Moritz Bleibtreu), head of German military intelligence, who they fear may have correctly deduced the location of the pending Allied landings. Louise's brother Pierre (Julien Boisselier) is captured, as is Gaelle. The female agents launch an assassination attempt in a Metro station. It fails, and one of them is killed as a result.

There are torture scenes and seductions. Salome papers over the numerous gaps and implausibilities in the plot by keeping the action moving along at breakneck speed, leaving little time for reflection. The hardest part of the film, according to Salome, was "making it as realistic as possible while providing plenty of glamour." Glamour clearly won out over realism since the spectator is left to wonder at how the heroines remain so impeccably groomed and maintain such a well-stocked wardrobe, while on the run in penury-ridden Paris.

Louise is portrayed as wanting above all to raise a family, and each of the agents is given a defining human quality -- one her Catholic faith, another her desire to avenge her murdered Jewish parents, and so on. The characterization is perfunctory, however. Most of the stock figures from wartime resistance movies are present, with only Bleibtreu as the troubled but duty-bound German officer hinting at anything original.

Technically the movie is spot on with the reconstructions of occupied Paris a strong point. Salome directs with conviction and despite its simplicities -- or perhaps, in its depiction of an age when wars had a clear beginning and end, because of them -- these female agents is likely to carry audiences with it.

La Chauve-Souris, Restons Groupes Productions
Sales Agent: TF1 International
Director: Jean-Paul Salome
Writers: Jean-Paul Salome, Laurent Vachaud
Director of photography: Pascal Ridao
Producer: Eric Neve
Executive producer: Nora Salhi
Production designer: Francois Dupertuis
Music: Bruno Coulais
Costume designer: Pierre-Jean Larroque
Editor: Marie-Pierre Renaud
Louise Desfontaines: Sophie Marceau
Jeanne Faussier: Julie Depardieu
Suzy Desprez: Marie Gillain
Gaelle Lemenech: Deborah Francois
Karl Heindrich: Moritz Bleibreu
Maria Luzzato: Maya Sansa
Pierre Desfontaines: Julien Boisselier
Eddy: Vincent Rottiers
Lt. Becker: Volker Bruch
Melchior: Robin Renucci
Running time -- 118 minutes
No MPAA rating