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Film / Female Agents

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Female Agents is a 2008 World War II French espionage thriller, entitled Les Femmes de l'Ombre ("Women of the Shadows") originally, starring Sophie Marceau, Julie Depardieu, Marie Gillain, Déborah François, Maya Sansa, Moritz Bleibtreu, Volker Bruch and Julien Boisellier.

The film opens with French Resistance fighter Louise Defontaines (Marceau) fleeing to Spain after an operation where her husband is killed. She is expatriated to London, where she is recruited by the Special Operations Executive (SOE) and sent on a mission to rescue a British geologist trapped in France disguised as a German soldier. He is preparing the invasion of Normandy, so therefore if German intelligence can find this out the entire D-Day attack could fail. Louise is tasked to form a team of female operatives for this operation along with her brother Pierre. By a mix of bribery, threats and appeals to patriotism she assembles them. The first is Suzy Deprez (Gillain) a former cabaret dancer skilled in seduction. The second is Gaëlle Lemenech (François) an explosive expert. Last is Jeanne Faussier, a prostitute capable of cold-blooded murder. After they parachute into Normandy, they are joined by Maria Luzzato (Sansa) a Jewish Italian radio operator. The mission is at first a success, and they skillfully rescue the geologist. They are then given new, even seemingly suicidal orders-to eliminate Colonel Karl Heindrich of the SS, who has learned too much of the planned invasion.

This film provides examples of:

  • Against My Religion: Gaëlle refuses the cyanide capsule that all operatives are given to use if taken captive with this exact line, as she is a devout Catholic to whom suicide is a mortal sin. Later, after she is tortured into giving the others up, her resolve breaks and she uses it out of remorse.
  • Amazon Brigade: The film centers on a French Resistance squad composed solely of women. Louise is the most action-oriented of them, but they all help out in some way.
  • Cold Sniper: Louise. She is introduced methodically killing several German soldiers as one, and later tries to kill Heindrich this way too.
  • Crucified Hero Shot: Gaëlle deliberately places herself in this position on the floor, nude, before taking cyanide.
  • Cyanide Pill: Every SOE operative has been given one so they can kill themselves rather than be tortured to give information. Only Gaëlle uses it after this already happened, out of remorse.
  • Death by Irony: Jeanne was sentenced to death by hanging, but spared so she could join the SOE. She creates a diversion through killing a soldier, goes to Ravensbruck, and is hanged there instead.
  • Downer Ending: Although the mission succeeds, all of the operatives but Louise die.
  • Driven to Suicide: After giving up the other operatives under torture, Gaëlle begs Louise for her cyanide capsule and takes it, after a prayer for forgiveness, posing in the manner of Christ on the cross.
  • Due to the Dead: The last scene is Louise lighting candles in a church for the fallen, as she had promised earlier.
  • Even Evil Has Standards: Heindrich appears to be genuinely reluctant in torturing Gaëlle, but he orders it anyway.
  • Femme Fatale Spy: Jeanne and Suzy serve as these. Suzy is specifically chosen because she formerly had a relationship with the target, and the team hopes she'll rekindle it to gain information. This gets her killed.
  • Heroic Sacrifice: Jeanne shoots a random German soldier to create a diversion so Louise can complete the mission. She was sent to Ravensbruck concentration camp, and hanged.
  • Heroic Suicide: Pierre slits his throat, preventing Heindrich taking him to Rommel for proof that the invasion will be in Normandy.
  • Jack Bauer Interrogation Technique: The standard m.o. of the Nazis in questioning prisoners.
  • My God, What Have I Done?: Gaëlle reacts this way after giving up the other operatives under torture. Later she kills herself over it.
  • An Offer You Can't Refuse: Eddy is given the choice of helping the operatives or being shot on the spot. He immediately agrees to help.
  • Rule of Cool: Rather than Action Girls, Amazon Brigade or Femme Fatale Spies, female SOE agents were more likely to be used for the Boring, but Practical work of wireless operator (because it didn't look suspicious for a woman to stay at home all day, whereas a man would be out working) or courier (because women were less likely to be searched, or rounded up for forced labour in Germany).
  • Someone to Remember Him By: Louise finds out she's pregnant with her late husband's child early in the film, torn between happiness and worry over the danger she's in. She miscarries after being struck in the stomach during her torture by the Nazis. It is stated in the epilogue that the actual Louise married again, but never had other children.
  • Trading Bars for Stripes: Jeanne has been convicted of murdering her pimp and sentenced to death. She agrees to become an SOE operative in return for a stay of execution. She is later hanged by the Nazis in Ravensbruck.
  • Very Loosely Based on a True Story: The film was inspired by actual female operatives with the SOE, especially Lise Villameur (née De Baissac), whom Louise is based on.
  • Would Hit a Girl: The Nazi interrogators, unsurprisingly.