May 4, 2006 -- “Charlotte Gray” is a movie about a woman who undertakes a daring spy mission in occupied France during World War II. It is a sobering experience for the woman, whose romantic notions about heroism and warfare are quickly dispelled. It is a movie which is strangely ambivalent about war, heroism and even love. It explores the complexities of patriotism, loyalty, love, cowardice, evil and power.
Cate Blanchett of “The Aviator” plays the title character, a woman who wants to do something heroic like her aviator boyfriend, Peter Gregory (played by Rupert Penry-Jones). When he is shot down over France, Gray decides to become a spy in hopes of finding him. Upon landing in France, she quickly finds out just how dangerous the spy business is. Gray lands in unoccupied southern France which is controlled by the Vichy government. This government is collaborating with the Nazi occupiers, including rounding up Jews for the Nazi death camps. Later, Gray sees the German Army come rolling into this part of France. The pretense is over, now this part of France is also occupied.
As an outsider in a small village, Gray is easily spotted by local collaborators. It is only her great beauty that keeps her alive. One particularly nasty collaborator lets her know that he will keep her out of harm's way in return for sexual favors. She has been unable to find Gregory through her underground contacts. Several of the people she has contacted have been killed or hauled off to concentration camps. She is feeling very unheroic. Then she finds out her own government has betrayed some members of the underground, causing their deaths. In one last effort she tries to salvage one small pitiful positive thing from her dangerous trip.
One of the underground fighters Gray works with is a Communist called Julien Levade (Billy Crudup of “Almost Famous”). She eventually falls in love with Levade and because of this she must make a difficult choices because of her divided loyalties. This romance is so low-key it is almost not noticeable. The jeopardy in which Gray finds herself also doesn't seem all that urgent most of the time. All of this spy business seems rather low-key until near the end of the movie when things kick into gear.
The film does have a somewhat satisfying ending, and it looks gorgeous. The cinematography, by Dion Beebe (“Memoirs of a Geisha”) captures the lush, colorful scenery very well and the production design by Joseph Bennett (“Deep Blue Sea”) delivers convincing interiors as well as outdoor scenery and period architecture. This is a great-looking film, despite the fact that it is so downbeat most of the time. It does a pretty good job of capturing some of the least romantic aspects of World War II. This film rates a C+.
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