29 July 2007 | dbdumonteil
Bravery and cowardice
Henri Calef's movie is thoroughly remarkable,one of the best films dealing with WW2 ever.Based on a true story.
1944:A train full of petrol (gasoline) has stopped in the station of Amiens.The German army , still occupying France ,fears sabotage.So they decide to take 50 hostages:if the resistant fighters attack the train,they will be shot.
Brilliant scenes: The sleepy town where people hide,afraid of the boots marching in the streets.
The city council,who has got to choose the hostages ."We've got to put our names at the top of the list " says the mayor.But two members are frightened and they resign their mandate.
The scenes in the jail ,where a man (Pierre Brasseur) is so afraid of dying he'd do anything to save his life,even boots-licking ."I know where the commies and the Jews are " he shouts at the soldiers.
The scenes involving the resistance fighters :some of them do not want to carry out their mission "My parents are there in town.Your family is away,they will be safe /Of course they will :my father died in WW1 and my wife was taken to Germany and beheaded".
But it's the long sequence in the church were the hostages are imprisoned which climaxes the film.Calef avoids the usual cliché "All French people were brave resistance fighters" :among these 50 people ,some of them rebel,they are afraid to die,they cannot stand that dawn which is inexorably approaching.In the priest' s pulpit ,Morin (Brasseur) has turned completely mad ,his terror knows no bounds.His attitude is in direct contrast to that of Simone who bravely enters the jail between two soldiers .She too is to be shot with the fifty men.
Calef's strength is to involve the audience in his story.What would we have done?Would we have been the bravest of the brave?Or would we have been incapable of facing the last night,the last letters to the families (3 pencils for 50 men!)and the guns? Calef's characters are men (and a woman) it's easy to identify with :they are human beings of flesh and blood,not heroes a la Rambo,but hostages with their weaknesses ,their doubts and their fears which never go away.In the church ,some of them suggest games,songs ,nothing works."Jericho" is a movie without real stars ,but it achieves the feat of introducing lots of endearing characters :the one-legged man(Pierre Larquey) coming down the stairs,under the soldiers ' watchful eye, epitomizes the victim of the conquerors' Barbary .
The film begins with a famous German military march during the cast and credits but ends with "it's a long way to Tipperary " ,a tribute to the courageous fighter pilots of the British Royal Airforce .
Like this?Try these....
"Les otages" Raymond Bernard 1938
"Hitler's madman" Douglas Sirk 1943
"Hangmen also die" Fritz Lang 1943
"Le repas des fauves" Christian-Jaque 1964
"Uncertain glory" Raoul Walsh 1944