In times of war, heroism is not just for men: stirring stuff that sums up Female Agents. A rip-roaring French action thriller that whizzes you through the tale of how five dedicated (and beautiful) Resistance agents ensured the success of the D-Day landings in Normandy.
Louise Desfontaine (Sophie Marceau) is a freedom-fighter who escapes to Britain following the summary execution of her husband. She is a member of the French Section of the Special Operations Executive (SOE) a sabotage and intelligence unit. Louise is assigned an urgent mission to rescue a British geologist, working on the D-Day landings. He must be saved before the Nazis learn too much. Leading the mission is none other than Pierre Desfontaine (Julien Boissilier), Louises brother.
Together they coax a group of misfits to form an all-woman commando unit. Jeanne (Julie Depardieu) is a prostitute and one-time pimp killer; she joins to escape execution. Gaelle (Deborah Francois) is the nave and devoutly religious explosives expert. Suze (Marie Gillain) is a former exotic dancer harbouring a dark secret: she was the fianc of a Nazi counter-intelligence officer Colonel Heindrich (Moritz Bleibtreu) the SOEs arch-enemy. Unaware of the SOEs intention to use her as bait and terrified of being exposed as a collaborator, she becomes the fourth member of the team.
Pierre and the girls are joined in France by Maria (Maya Sansa) a Jewish-Italian communications expert who is already working undercover. Together the must succeed. D-Day depends on them.
Salome was inspired to create this film by the real-life story of Lise Villameur, a French SOE agent who died aged 98 in March 2004. But Female Agents is not a gritty biography of courage and sacrifice: the women are well-groomed and well-dressed despite being on the run in a deprived Occupied France. But beware, Salome is unashamedly brutal in his depiction of torture. While not excessively graphic or violent its certainly not for the squeamish.
The main characters are well-conceived celluloid creations: the cynical prostitute (Jeanne) who learns to think of others before herself, the idealistic Catholic (Gaelle) who learns the true horror of suffering and cowardice (and just happens to be a explosives mastermind as well). The only character not worked-on was Maria. Maya Sansas quiet integrity gave the character a truthful sincerity. Salome himself admits Marie was the least developed of the group and perhaps thats why shes so successful.
Overall, all the lead performances are engaging and spirited. Sophie Marceau cool demeanour is used to great effect as the determined leader and Julie Depardieus unsettlingly honest cynicism offers bites of comic relief throughout. Moritz Bleibtreus dark good looks are an interesting response to the usual blond/blue-eyed Nazi identikit. But these sterling lead performances are somewhat letdown by the hammy portrayals of the British SOE high command. Is that really what the French think of us?
A contemplation of the role of women in front-line action this is not and the more sensitive aspects of the story are frustratingly brushed over. But as a pacey and glamorous action thriller, Female Agents doesnt disappoint and being a French film, theres also a good dollop of nudity too. Highly enjoyable stuff.