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March 07, 2003 - Image 98

Resource type:
The Detroit Jewish News, 2003-03-07

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At The Movies

Oakland Press

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Observer & Eccentric

Open 7 days a week!



`Safe Conduct'



Dark comedy focuses on the dilemmas faced by the
"ordinary people" who worked in France's booming
movie industry during the German Occupation.

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discreetly photographs military docu-
ments, transports grenades and partici-
pates in secret missions.
A complementary subplot follows
Jean Aurenche (Denis
Podalydes), an idealistic and
philosophical screenwriter
who adamantly refuses
Continental's repeated offers of work.
Living off the largesse of his three mis-
tresses, Aurenche channels his passion
into scriptwriting, where he disguises

hen movies about the
movie industry
succeed, they
often do so by
engaging the audience in a
knowing, self-referential wink. Think
Singing in the Rain or Cinema
Based on actual people and events,
Bertrand Tavernier's Safe Conduct
("Laissez Passer"), running March
7-9 at the Detroit Film Theatre,
is a very different kind of film
about filmmaking.
Set in Paris during the German
Occupation, Safe Conduct
explores the politics and person-
alities of Continental Films, a
Nazi-controlled movie studio that
commandeered the French film-
making community during
World War II.
Although at times darkly
comic, this is no wistful, nostal-
gic glance at the art of making
Tavernier — once described by
Martin Scorcese as "France's lead-
Jacques Gamblin,
ing director" — expertly presents
left, and Denis
the gritty humor that emerges
Podalydes in
from the disjunction between the
"Safe Conduct"
French cinema artists and their
German "bosses. "
his subversive political views in period
Facing the threat of being deported
story lines.
to Germany to learn more "efficient"
In one scene, studio founder Albert
movie making techniques, the French
Greven attempts to persuade Aurenche
filmmakers in Safe Conduct become
to work for Continental. "I want to
masters of economy and resourceful-
make good films," he says. "Hence, I
The film centers on a pair of histori- need good scriptwriters. "
Why has he been unable to find the
cal figures: two men in the movie
talent he seeks? "No more Jews. Not
business who resisted the German
in Germany. Not here," Greven
powers each in his own way.
reports matter-of-facdy. "The best
writers were Jews — all gone."
No More Jews
Throughout, Safe Conduct continu-
reminds viewers of the harsh con-
Jean Devaivre (Jacques Gamblin) —
of war and the realities of
upon whose memoirs Safe Conduct is
anti-Semitism. But it also reminds us
based — is an assistant director who
of the importance of creating art, even
willingly signs up with Continental,
under the most dire of circumstances.
but only as a front for his participa-
Director Tavernier has pointed out
tion with the French resistance.
that "in the 34 films produced by
Unflinchingly courageous, Davaivre

Continental, there is barely an anti-;
Semitic reference or an encouragement
to people to collaborate [with the
Nazis]. It's as if cinema was more
important than ideology."

Works On Many Levels

Unfortunately, while the experiences of
Devaivre and Aurenche are dramatized
with superb, intense performances, Safe
Conduct at times feels a bit diffuse.
With a running time of nearly three
hours, it's a long film — and feels like
it. What's more, most of the specific
references to French actors, directors,
and films will be lost on American audi-
ences. Indeed, the unfamiliarity of the
details contributes to what is already a
somewhat disorienting narrative.
Yet Tavernier reconstructs the era
with such surgical precision and pres-
ents his story with such engaging

detail, that one is liable to forgive the
sometime tedious pace and meander-
ing plot development.
For devotees of French cinema — as
Well as for those of us less versed in
French film history —Safe Conduct
works on many levels.
Not only a historical drama, the film
is a tribute to the art of moviemaking.
Moreover, it's a testament to the
human need to tell a good story, even
in the face of death. ❑

The Detroit Film Theatre screens
Safe Conduct 7 p.m. Friday and
Saturday and 3 and 7 p.m.
Sunday, March 7-9, at the
Detroit Institute of Arts. $6.50.
(313) 833-3237.

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