Saturday, January 23, 2010

Things I Love: "Female Agents"


I love Les Femmes de L'Ombre (Female Agents). I saw it at the Seattle International Film Festival several years ago and cried my way through the opening sequence; war films tend to get the better of me as I think about the real life death and destruction that they are based upon. However, this particular sequence made me tear up for completely different reasons - it was a series of still images from World War II showing women in uniform serving their countries. Yep, I cry when I see images of women in power. It is so unusual on celluloid that it brings out a lot of emotion in me. Strange, I know. But we all have the things that make us descend into waterworks without control.

In Female Agents Sophie Marceau plays Louise Defontaines. The character of Louise is based on the real life of Lisé Marie Jeanette de Baissac Villaneur, a French female agent in the French resistance during World War II. While the screenplay has been sauced up for dramatic effect, Lisé had a dramatic effect on the success of the resistance and Allies before the D-Day invasion. In the film she is the reason for Allied success at Normandy beach as she races with other female spies to keep information about the D-Day invasion a secret from the Germans. In the film she and her crew get to shoot machine guns (cool), blow up buildings (cooler), work in a team of women without getting catty (seriously, it is possible), and generally make the German commander on their tail miserable. At the same time, the women show compassion for one another and fear in the face of danger ultimately making the film a fabulous mix of action and true emotion. The film also stars Julie Depardieu, the daughter of Gérard Depardieu, so it passes the requirement that all French films are held to - that they contain at least one Depardieu.

Now, unlike Avatar, where women ultimately bow to the power that the white male main character has over them, the women in Female Agents do no such thing. When things get rough they band together. When things get even rougher they think of a new plan. There are men in the story, including Louise's brother Claude, but the women and men stand on equal ground and, ultimately, it is up to the women and just the women to save the day.

While I worry that even with my vagueness has given too many spoilers away, I know that not many of you in the U.S. will ever even see this movie. I am not trying to say there is some sort of conspiracy, but there is - Female Agents is only available on PAL (European format) DVDs. However, those of you with the ability to play PAL in the Seattle area (aka you have a computer with a DVD-ROM) can pick it up at Scarecrow video and watch it in all its glory. Its unavailability everywhere else does make me wonder why? why?! WHY! Why is it not available in the U.S.? Do distributors think we do not want war films based on real life events and people? There are so many of those - Saving Private Ryan, Schindler's List, Band of Brothers, The Great Escape, Pearl Harbor, The English Patient, Patton, etc. etc. Do distributors think that we do not want films that re-invision World War II? Can't be that - the masses turned out for Inglorious Basterds this past summer. Hey, but I see a trend in these films! They are all about men and their forays into the field during war. The women, at best, get to be strangled by psychopathic German officers who are based on real people, but most of the time they are just nurses. While nurses do play a vital part in wartime situations isn't it about time that we show images of women in combat gettin' it done. And not like Courage Under Fire where Meg Ryan fights and, just like so many films with women with any sort of agency in them, dies. I mean really gettin' it done. Like being in the mix and living to tell the tale, exerting their full emotional and physical power, and doin' it like we know we can. Seriously. Someone make this film.

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