Les Femmes de L’Ombre (2008)


Introduction

Female Agents (French: Les Femmes de L’Ombre) is a 2008 French historical drama film directed by Jean-Paul Salomé and starring Sophie Marceau, Julie Depardieu, Marie Gillain, Déborah François, and Moritz Bleibtreu.

Written by Salomé and Laurent Vachaud, the film is about female resistance fighters in the Second World War. Jean-Paul Salomé, the director, drew inspiration from an obituary in The Times newspaper of Lise de Baissac (Lise Villameur), from Mauritius (then a British colony), one of the heroines of the SOE, named “Louise Desfontaines” in the film and played by Sophie Marceau. The film was partly funded by BBC Films.

Outline

In May 1944 Louise Desfontaines (Sophie Marceau), a member of the French Resistance, flees to Spain after her husband is killed, where she is captured and later expatriated to London. She is recruited by the Special Operations Executive (SOE), the secret spy and sabotage service initiated by Winston Churchill. Louise is given an urgent first mission: to extricate a British agent (Conrad Cecil) who has fallen into German hands while preparing the invasion of Normandy. The agent has not yet revealed anything but time is pressing.

Louise must first create a commando group of women especially chosen for the needs of the operation. When it comes to recruitment, anything goes: lies, blackmail, bribery (through the offer of remission of a death sentence) and calls to carry out patriotic duty. She first employs Suzy Desprez (Marie Gillain), a cabaret dancer who excels in the art of seducing men. Then she brings in Gaëlle Lemenech (Déborah François), a chemist and explosives expert. Finally she selects Jeanne Faussier (Julie Depardieu), a prostitute capable of killing in cold blood. After their arrival in Normandy, they are joined by Maria Luzzato (Maya Sansa), an Italian Jew and radio operator.

The mission gets under way well, but quickly becomes complicated. They are obliged to return to Paris, where the SOE gives them a new, almost suicidal, objective: to eliminate Colonel Heindrich, one of the key figures of Nazi counter-espionage. He knows too much about the planned landings.

Cast

  • Sophie Marceau as Louise Desfontaines.
  • Julie Depardieu as Jeanne Faussier.
  • Marie Gillain as Suzy Desprez.
  • Déborah François as Gaëlle Lemenech.
  • Moritz Bleibtreu as SS-Standartenführer Karl Heindrich.
  • Maya Sansa as Maria Luzzato.
  • Julien Boisselier as Pierre Desfontaines.
  • Vincent Rottiers as Eddy.
  • Volker Bruch as SS-Obersturmführer Becker.
  • Robin Renucci as Melchior.
  • Xavier Beauvois as Claude Granville.
  • Colin David Reese as Colonel Maurice Buckmaster.
  • Jurgen Mash as Generalfeldmarshal Gerd von Rundstedt.
  • Conrad Cecil as Le géologue anglais.
  • Alexandre Jazede as René Bourienne.
  • David Capelle as Bernard Quesnot.
  • Wolfgang Pissors as Médecin train.
  • Chantal Garrigues as Mme Duchemin.
  • James Gerard as Officier anglais 1.
  • Edward Hamilton-Clark as Officier anglais 2.
  • Marc Bertolini as Moustachu train.
  • Rainer Sievert as Lieutenant hôpital Normandie.
  • Ashley Wanninger as Soldat radio cour hôpital.
  • Natasha Cashman as Secrétaire Buckmaster.
  • Stanislas Kemper as Pilote Jeanne RAF.
  • Simon Boyle as Dispatcher.
  • Olivier De Wispelaere as Feld gendarme St Lazare.
  • Johannes Oliver Hamm as Major SS train.
  • David Van Severen as Caporal Pioche.
  • Sarah Tullamore as Nurse hôpital anglais.
  • Philippe Soutan as Poinçonneur Baratier.
  • Yves Heck as Conducteur métro.
  • Stéphane Foenkinos as Contrôleur train.
  • Christophe Grofer as Sentinelle G2.
  • Stefan Kollmuss as Officier Wehrmacht St Germain.
  • Fabian Arning as Soldat Pierre.
  • Olivier Beraud-Bedouin as Le milicien (as Olivier Beraud).
  • Alex Lutz as a Soldier.
  • Jan Oliver Schroeder as Garde entrée hôpital.
  • Serge Boutleroff as Concierge hôtel Régent (as Serge Onteniente).
  • Antoine Salomé as Groom Régent.
  • Andrew W. Wilson as Prêtre catholique aérodrome.
  • Ida Techer as La surveillante couloir.

Trivia

  • While the film received general positive reviews from French critics, certain resistance veterans from the time have criticised it saying it portrayed them as “coerced into joining the resistance”, not joining through patriotism.
  • The film won the Radio-Canada Audience Award at the 2010 edition of the Cinéfranco film festival.
  • One of the inspirations for the film came when director Jean-Paul Salomé read “The Times” in London one morning whilst on post-production of Adventures of Arsene Lupin (2004).
    • Salomé saw a full page devoted to Lise Villameur, a French Resistance agent who worked for the SOE, the Special Operations Executive created by Winston Churchill during the Second World War.
    • She had just died at the age of 98.
    • She had been a real heroine and Britain paid tribute to her.
    • Intrigued by her story, Salomé started doing some research with the help of historian Olivier Wieviorka.
    • Salomé discovered that other women had been SOE agents.
    • They were among the fifty or so agents of the “French Section” that were trained in England before working for the Allies in occupied WWII France.
  • According to the Cinema Intelligence Agency website, “The French title [“Les femmes de l’ombre”] translates as “Women of the Shadows” which could be mistaken for “Shady Ladies” hence the pragmatic English title of “Female Agents”.”
  • The style and authenticity of the actors’ hairstyles became a full-on obsession for director Jean-Paul Salomé during principal photography.
  • In a negative review for French newspaper Le Monde, Jean-Luc Douin noted strong similarities with the Ken Follett novel Jackdaws.

Production & Filming Details

  • Director(s):
    • Jean-Paul Salome.
  • Producer(s):
    • Eric Neve.
  • Writer(s):
    • Jean-Paul Salome.
    • Laurent Vachaud.
  • Music:
    • Bruno Coulais.
  • Cinematography:
    • Pascal Ridao.
  • Editor(s):
    • Marie-Pierre Renaud.
  • Production:
    • Les Chauves-Souris (presented by).
    • Banque Populaire Images 7 (in association with).
    • Banque Populaire Images 8 (in association with).
    • Canal+ (with the participation of).
    • Centre national du cinéma et de l’image animée (CNC) (in association with).
    • CinéCinéma (with the participation of).
    • Cofimage 18 (in association with).
    • Cofinova 4 (in association with).
    • La Région Île-de-France (with the support of).
    • Poste Image (in association with).
    • Restons Groupés Production (in co-production with).
    • Sofica Valor 7 (in association with).
    • TF1 Films Production (in co-production with).
    • TF1 International (in co-production with).
  • Distributor(s):
    • Cinéart (2008) (Netherlands) (theatrical).
    • Shanghai xilechangsheng Co. (2008) (China) (theatrical).
    • TFM Distribution (2008) (France) (theatrical).
    • Vértice Cine (2009) (Spain) (theatrical).
    • Atlantic Film (2008) (Sweden) (DVD).
    • Becker Film Group (2008) (Australia) (all media).
    • Joyncontents Group (2012) (South Korea) (all media).
    • Koch Media (2009) (Germany) (Blu-ray).
    • Koch Media (2009) (Germany) (DVD).
    • One Movie (2011) (Italy) (all media).
    • Rai Movie (2016) (Italy) (TV).
    • Revolver Entertainment (2008) (UK) (Blu-ray).
    • Revolver Entertainment (2008) (UK) (DVD).
    • TF1 Vidéo (2008) (France) (Blu-ray).
    • TF1 Vidéo (2008) (France) (DVD).
    • Twin Pics (2008) (Netherlands) (DVD).
    • Under The Milky Way (2014) (USA) (video) (digital).
    • Vendetta Films (2008) (New Zealand) (DVD).
    • Zon Lusomundo Audiovisuais (2008) (Portugal) (DVD).
    • atlas Film (2014) (Germany) (Blu-ray).
    • atlas Film (2014) (Germany) (DVD).
  • Release Date: 05 March 2008.
  • Running time: 158 minutes.
  • Rating: 15.
  • Country: France.
  • Language: English, French, and German.

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