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Laramie Movie Scope:

World War II spy romance: Is she a double agent?

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by Patrick Ivers, Film Critic
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(2016; English, French, German, Arabic) A Royal Canadian Air Force paratrooper lands in French Morocco in 1942. Picked up in the desert by car with a suitcase full of documents, money, weapons, Max Vatan (Brad Pitt) accepts a gold wedding ring for his "wife" from the driver who instructs him to look for the hummingbird in a purple dress.

As Maurice Berne, recently arrived from Paris, he's warmly greeted by his spouse Christine in a room full of Nazis. Excusing themselves, the couple get better acquainted inside a car. Marianne Beauséjour (Marion Cotillard) says to Max: "Your French is good, but your Parisian accent is terrible." They have ten days to pretend to be Mr and Mrs Berne before performing their lethal mission in director Robert Zemeckis's rodramance (editor's note: Rodramance is show business slang for romance combined with drama) from Steven Knight's contrived screenplay in which Max will make a request of Marianne at the piano: "I want you to play for me."

Spotting a Nazi officer who may have recognized him from an interrogation in France, Max eliminates the threat of being exposed. Aware of her French Resistance circuit's being wiped out, he asks Marianne: "What went wrong in Paris?" She explains that Herr Hobar, the German ambassador's liaison and high Party member, is fond of golf and gambling: "He's our final hurdle."

Other than acting out their affections for public consumption, Max maintains a detached, dispassionate posture with Marianne, telling her to fasten her blouse because too many critical missions suffered fatally when the participants became intimately involved. During their visit with Hobar (August Diehl) in his spacious office, requesting permission to attend the ambassador's ball, the German official tests Maurice, posing as a mining engineer, with playing cards and then his knowledge of the chemical formula for phosphate.

"So, it's in the cards," says Marianne afterward: "We get our chance to make history." Prior to carrying out an attempt at assassinating the ambassador, a suicide mission, Marianne questions: "What are our odds?" Unable to sleep the night before, they watch the sunrise together from a sand dune and get into the car before carrying out the lethal act, Marianne, touching Max's hand says: "If we're dead tomorrow, no one would know." With a sandstorm raging outside, they copulate inside the crammed confines.

Counting on Germans being punctual, Max and Marianne, standing at the champagne table underneath which their Sten guns have been attached, await the diversion explosion. Fleeing from the massacre, Marianne observes with relief: "No one's following us. We're both alive, Max! We're both alive!" He replies: "Come to London and be my wife."

Three weeks later in London, Max's superior, Frank Heslop (Jared Harris), summons the wing commander into his office to inform Max that Marianne has been approved in Gibraltar for passage to England along with a warning: "You're a bloody fool…. Marriages made in the field never work."

At a party during the Blitz, someone quips that champagne and sex are the only things unrationed. The following year during an air raid, Marianne - assuring Max, "This is really me" - gives birth to their daughter Anna. A year later, living in Hampstead, Marianne announces that they will be throwing a party for refugees, bohemians, and intellectuals.

V Section summons Max (no longer interested in doing further covert missions) to a conference - Frank forewarns: "Max, I'm afraid this really isn't what you think it is" - with a Special Operations Executive (SOE) official (Simon McBurney), who refers to himself as a rat catcher: "We believe your wife is a German spy…. Over the past seven days, V Section has intercepted coded messages being sent from London to Berlin on a WT transceiver. We haven't traced the signal to an address yet, but it's coming from the Highgate region of North London, and the information concerns the activities of SOE circuits in France. In one transcript, the agent refers to his source as 'Fräulein.' So it's a woman."

Max fiercely defends Marianne. The rat catcher then hands Max a text: "This is a translated transcript of an interrogation of a German Abwehr officer captured in Tobruk. Amongst many other things, he claims that Marianne Beauséjour was arrested and executed in May 1941 when the rest of her circuit was captured in Paris. Marianne Beauséjour's identity was then given to a German agent of similar build and coloring. She was flown to Casablanca, where no one knew the real Marianne. And it was subsequently discovered that the German ambassador who you assassinated in Casablanca was a dissident. Hitler wanted him killed."

Max retorts: "This is insane." Speaking of the possibility that Marianne is a spy, Frank states: "If she is, we need to keep her in place for 72 hours so that we can identify her handler and clean out the rest of her circuit."

Explaining the operational procedure of the "blue dye" set-up in which Marianne would be given an opportunity to pass along secret information, the SOE official says: "So if the false information is among the batches sent from London, we shall know for sure…. You will execute her with your own hand, and if we discover that you are an accomplice in any way, you will be hanged for high treason."

Reminding Max not to investigate on his own or take matters into his own hands, Frank dismisses him: "Carry on as if nothing's happened." Back home, Max recalls Marianne's words when he initially met her in Casablanca: "I keep the emotions real. That's why it works."

With a photo of Marianne, Max - conflicted, distrustful of V Section, deeply in love with Marianne - goes to see Guy Sangster (Matthew Goode), whom Marianne smuggled out of Dieppe in '41. Fellow RAF officer, George Kavanagh (Daniel Betts), tips Max with the possibility that he's being tested for a sensitive D-Day mission. Max confronts Frank, demanding to know if the whole thing is just a game, a test of his character and capabilities.

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Copyright © 2017 Patrick Ivers. All rights reserved.
Reproduced with the permission of the copyright holder.
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Patrick Ivers can be reached via e-mail at nora's email address at juno. [Mailer button: image of letter and envelope]

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