class=”alignleft size-thumbnail wp-image-67436″ title=”The Undercover War” src=”https://www.heyuguys.com/images/2011/01/The-Undercover-War-220×150.jpg” alt=”” width=”220″ height=”150″ />World War II has to be one of the most cinematically well-chronicled periods of history there is, dwelt on by big-name directors such as Steven Spielberg and Clint Eastwood as well as smaller scale film-makers alike. We have had action movies, romances and opinion-pieces set during the Second World War, from the perspectives of nigh on everyone involved. It is therefore to be commended that director Nicolas Steil has found a fresh angle from which to broach this endlessly fascinating and shocking moment in history. Setting the film in his native Luxembourg, Steil dramatises the country’s Nazi occupation and its effect on Luxembourg’s denizens.
Opting for a less bombastic approach than, say, Saving Private Ryan, Steil instead directs a relatively slow paced narrative in which we watch our pacifist protagonist’s struggle for survival. The son of a disgraced and deceased collaborator, François (Grégoire Leprince-Ringuet) leaves university for fear that he might soon be drafted into the German army. A deserter, he is escorted by an old family friend to the relative safety of a nearby iron mine. Forced to co-habitate underground with a forever squabbling group of réfractaires, François is soon victim to pidgin politics and ostracised on account of his bourgeois background and burgeoning affair with a collaborator’s wife.
Shot in a muted fashion, the scenes washed out and fittingly bleak, The Undercover War does not pander to Hollywood cliché, which might dictate a set-piece skirmish or unrealistically happy ending. While it may be slow paced, its meandering nature does little to disengage audience involvement. The environment is hauntingly real, as we see the consequences of war not only in a novel setting, but also with a refreshing honesty. That said, the film is incredibly episodic in nature, each new scene distractingly separate from the last. This disjointed structure is inevitable as Stiel attempts to do in 97 minutes what Spielberg’s Band of Brothers only managed in ten instalments; the narrative apparently skipping entire scenes to fit its insufficient theatrical running time.
Nevertheless, this is as unique a World War II movie as you are ever likely to encounter, well worth your time and patience as its haunting story unfolds without haste or contrivance. The central performance from Leprince-Ringuet carries the film competently while a series of beautifully acted supporting characters set about stealing The Undercover War’s many individual scenes, their respective arcs enhanced perfectly by a ghostly piano-centric score.