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[whitespace] Carole Bouquet and Daniel Auteuil Vive la Résistance: Carole Bouquet and Daniel Auteuil portray a couple in the French resistance during WWII.

Will to Resist

Claude Berri's 'Lucie Aubrac' focuses on a woman fighting back in WWII

By Heather Zimmerman

THE FRENCH IMPORT Lucie Aubrac shows that even far beyond the reaches of Hollywood, directors can sometimes feel the need to "improve" on history. Writer/director Claude Berri, for instance, uses a big-budget-style explosion, among other things, to beef up the true story of Lucie Aubrac, a woman in the French resistance in World War II. For the most part, however, the film still makes the suffocating climate of Nazi-occupied France palpable. A disclaimer in the opening credits indicates that dramatic license has been taken with the tale, based on a book by Aubrac, and the film delivers a deliberately discomfiting blend of truth and sensationalism. It's hard not to wish, for example, that even minor but horrific incidents in the film are for dramatic effect--the teeming number of roaches skittering around German prisons or a Nazi secretary munching an apple as she watches the brutal beating of a prisoner by her boss, Klaus Barbie, as if it were a spectator sport.

In fact, Berri seems to have omitted few details--from the grisly minutiae to extensive '40s-era exterior sets--and Lucie Aubrac, for all its admitted plot embellisments, is a painstakingly recreated period piece. Nevertheless, in the midst of such careful realism, Berri always keeps the audience at arm's length, perhaps reflecting the necessity of constant vigilance for members of the Resistance, or the distance Berri himself, a youngster in World War II France, might understandably require to tell the story. As Lucie, Carole Bouquet compensates somewhat for that distance; she quietly demands attention, bringing snap and cool intelligence to the role of a resourceful young Frenchwoman who engineers a clever scheme to free her husband from a Nazi prison. As Lucie's husband, Raymond, Daniel Auteuil complements Bouquet's performance with dignified resignation.

Unfortunately, in spite of the good performances, the viewer's remove ultimately makes Lucie Aubrac similar to a history lesson from a highly knowledgeable teacher who doesn't communicate well with students--the importance of Lucie Aubrac, and of Resistance members like her, is plain, but Berri allows the audience too much comfortable distance from the horrors of Lucie's and Raymond's story for it to have the full impact that it could have.

Lucie Aubrac (R; 115 min. ), directed and written by Claude Berri, based on a book by Lucie Aubrac, photographed by Vincenzo Marano and starring Carole Bouquet and Daniel Auteuil, opens Friday in Los Gatos at the Los Gatos Cinema and in Menlo Park at the Guild.

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From the October 7-13, 1999 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

Copyright © 1999 Metro Publishing Inc. Metroactive is affiliated with the Boulevards Network.

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