"Lucie Aubrac" "What You Should See, But Probably Haven't" - by Andrew Llewellyn (New Zealand)

From the Web 1.0 days I bring you The Forum. To preserve them for posterity as Geocities can no longer be found but also it's fun to re-read some of them.

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France, 1997

Directed by Claude Berri

With: Carole Bouquet, Daniel Auteuil,

Running length: 1hr 55 mins.

This is from the same guy (Claude Berri) who brought us Jean de Florette & Manon des Source - the sumptuous 1986 family saga set in early 20th century Provence. You know, the one with Gerard Depardieu as a hunchback breeding rabbits, and the neighbours who try to stop him so they can have his land to grow carnations on. The sequel, Manon, brought Emmanuelle Beart - the blonde in the first Mission Impossible film - to our attention.

I had no intention of covering Lucie Aubrac, except yesterday I took a punt on it at the local video shop, and when I fired it up on the old mitsubishi at home, I discovered to my delight that it was letterboxed!

Letterboxing of videos & movies on TV is the subject of many rants on my part to local video distributors & pay TV channels. There's a pay TV service here in New Zild which advertises its mediocre movie channel with a tag-line along the lines of "See the Whole Picture - with Satan" (provider name changed to protect the mediocre). What they really mean is "See just over half of the picture but none of the rude bits are cut and there are no advertisements". Since, as at my most recent enquiry they do not letterbox their movies & anything filmed in a format other than what they call Academy ratio (generally older pre-TV-age movies - and yep, that's the Academy of the Academy Awards fame), is going to have the ends severely cropped to make it fit on TV. Unless you've got one of these new fandangled widescreen TVs, and then only if your local TV is broadcast in widescreen, which mine isn't.

Still wondering what I'm blathering about? Ever notice that the beginning of a lot of movies, when they're showing the credits, has a margin at the top & bottom of the screen? This is letterboxing, so that you can bask in the true cinemascope (or whatever it was filmed in) aspect ratio, and it usually disappears as soon as the credits finish & the movie proper starts. And that really gets my goat. DVD is the way to go really, but dammit, I haven't got one. Satan's main competitor here has started screening letterboxed movies on Friday nights. but they tend to star Mel Gibson, so they haven't tempted me yet.

So anyway, there I am, cynically watching the marvelous letterboxed credit sequence of Lucie Aubrac, which features a bunch of French resistance types in WWII blowing up a train. Halfway through this glorious, extended sequence, my loved one exclaimed "It's letterboxed!" and following a quizzical look explained "You always say that, so I thought I'd get in first." And then the credits ended. And lo, a wondrous thing happened, the letterboxing continued. And we rejoiced! And then we stopped the movie to move the sofa closer to the TV so we could read the miniscule subtitles.

Lucie Aubrac has another unusual feature, it's based on a true story, but the film-makers took some liberties with historical facts to make them more filmable. The unusual feature is that there's a disclaimer at the beginning admitting to this historical licence. Did the Patriot do that? (for that matter, did Braveheart? Do you really think some unkempt scots ruffian shagged & impregnated the future Queen of England? Can't you just see how the pitch went? - "Hey, how about we have Mel meet & get it on with the French princess, and then like, we have the evil old king & he's on his deathbed and like, get this, he CAN'T SPEAK!" Gimme a break.). Did that U-boat bollocks with Jon Bon Jovi do that? I don't think so - but since I'm going to see neither I'll just presume.

So, Lucie Aubrac.... it's based on Lucie's autobiographical "Outwitting the Gestapo". The Aubrac's are a typical French nuclear family, Lucie (Carole Bouquet) teaches history in the local school, Raymond (Daniel Auteuil - the simpleton from Jean de Florette/Manon des Source & numerous other quality French fare) blows up Nazi supply trains, they have a son called Booboo (chalk one up for unplanned pregnancies).

Before anyone can say "Viva La Rainbow Warrior". Ray is arrested on a black-marketeering rap & only a brazen death threat to a local authority from the resouceful & courageous Lucie can get him released.

Freedom is shortlived, however, and Raymond is again arrested. But the steely Lucie (with Booboo Two on the way) isn't giving up yet. Since her book isn't titled "Outwitted by the Gestapo" you can see where this is taking us...

Raymond & the other captured Resistance fighters receive the personalised attention of the notorious Klaus Barbie. Think Herr Flick without the laughs. In fact, there's an almost unintentially funny torture scene, complete with sexy Aryan secretary, except it's not really at all funny, that makes you wonder if the makers of Lucie Aubrac were familiar with Allo Allo. Or where the Allo Allo writers got their inspiration. Barbie fondles his secretary, mid torture. it's weird, and chilling.

In true, wartime, Girls' Own, tradition, it's left to the plucky Lucie, to assay the situation, and rally the remaining resistance fighters to contrive an exciting rescue for Raymond, that doesn't go totally according to plan (of course).

Lucie Aubrac isn't a great movie. It's a pretty standard WWII shoot 'em up, albeit with a female protagonist. It's gloriously filmed, well acted, and taut enough to hold attention. The somewhat run of the mill plot doesn't have the "Wow!" element say, of Agnieszka Holland's Europa Europa (the true story of a teenage Jew, who persuades the authorities he's German & actually becomes top student a a school for Hitler Youth)., but it's gorgeous, well worth a couple of hours in front of a screen, and it's LETTERBOXED!


Next up... possibly The Celluloid Closet, or Hard Boiled......

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