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Koch Lorber presents
Safe Conduct (Laissez-passer) (2002)

"Still, I think of the story about the roofer who falls. Everyone hears his scream. But those on the wrong side cross rather than dirty their shoes."
- Jean Aurenche (Denis Podalydes)

Review By: Matt Peterson  
Published: May 09, 2004

Stars: Jacques Gamblin, Denis Podalydes, Marie Gillain, Marie Desgranges
Director: Bertrand Tavernier

MPAA Rating: Not Rated for (violence and brief sensuality)
Run Time: 02h:43m:05s
Release Date: May 11, 2004
UPC: 741952300892
Genre: foreign

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer
B+ A-BB D-

DVD Review

In a time of war, the lines between collaboration and resistance can become strangely blurred. When one is occupied by an enemy force, the first instinct is to find a way to survive. Some merely stop at satisfying this concern, while other, more noble individuals feel an obligation to uphold their beliefs and convictions, and to clandestinely fight the enemy. Bertrand Tavernier's epic and ambitious Safe Conduct not only explores this concept, but captures a unique, important moment in the history of French cinema.

Set in occupied France during the early forties, the film opens in a chaotic hotel. A flirtatious womanizing screenwriter, Jean Aurenche (Denis Podalydes) is frantically preparing for his next rezendevous with a famous actress. His life is in disarray, both personally and professionally. While trying to get out of working for the Germans, who control nearly every aspect of French life, he is "burdened" by an endless chain of worshipping women, who strangely find him irresistible. He falters between unshakable confidence, jealousy, and fits of drunken rage, trying to maintain sanity and avoid incarceration.

This figure is not the film's sole focus. The primary character is a young up-and-coming film director, Jean Devaivre (Jacques Gamblin). A family man, he bides his time between his engrossing work and his young wife and child. To continue his resistance work unseen, Devaivre decides to hide in plain sight: he goes to work for the German-controlled Continental Films, facing the possibility of being branded as a collaborator. Continental's Nazi management recognizes the power of film, not only as a tool for propaganda, but, through a steady stream of French films, as an indicator to the French citizens that "all is well," regardless of Jews being hauled away becoming commonplace sights.

These two men rarely cross paths, but their mission is similar: through cinema, they will continue the fight in their own way. Aurenche knows perfectly well how to enshroud political statements in his work without fearing the rampant censors—create a period film. Devaivre's nerves of steel make him an amazingly effective and daring spy for the resistance, leading to strenuous biking trips and even an impromptu flight to England to meet with British intelligence. He is not overly concerned with these things, being satisfied with merely delivering stolen papers. Like Aurenche, he wants stability and a sense of normalcy.

This subject is clearly close to Tavernier's heart—he worked with some of the filmmakers and writers depicted here. Famous figures show up, such as Charles Spaak, who wrote the classic Grand Illusion. Even the controversy surrounding Clouzot's Le Corbeau is examined in context. All of this detail and substance pulled me in, immersing me in this frantic, edgy world, captured through a vérité, handheld camera that never seems to stop moving, pushing the narrative forward. Performances are very naturalistic, although nothing stands out as groundbreaking.

Tavernier tries his best to keep the large number of characters and events manageable, but the piece does feel quite bloated and lopsided at times. Even though I did not feel the film's nearly three-hour running time, it could have afforded a trim here and there, along with a more balanced focus between Devaivre and Aurenche. Editing is a bit sloppy at times, but the amazingly free-flowing bicycling sequences (can we get any more French here?) were captivating. Like the characters in the film, Tavernier does what he can to accomplish his goals. As he states in the closing narration, I'm sure he would not have wanted to do it differently.

Rating for Style: B+
Rating for Substance: A-


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio2.35:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: The anamorphic 2.35:1 transfer shows decent detail and contrast, capturing the muted color scheme quite well. The image does appear quite soft overall, muting some fine details. Grain is minimal, as is any digital overenhancement. This also looks like a possible PAL to NTSC transfer, showing some minor "jaggies" around the edges of moving objects. Not a bad transfer, but not great either.

Image Transfer Grade: B


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
DS 2.0Frenchno

Audio Transfer Review: The back of the package claimed the DVD would contain a Dolby 5.1 surround mix. Hopefully, this is true for the final copy, but the provided screener only contained a 2.0 stereo mix, with no surround information. The track was very clear, with good bass extension, but this film screams for a 5.1 track.

Audio Transfer Grade: B


Disc Extras

Static menu
Scene Access with 16 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English with remote access
1 Other Trailer(s) featuring On Guard
Packaging: Amaray
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: RSDL

Extras Review: The screener contained no extras, but the back cover claims the final DVD will have a photo gallery, trailer, and production notes.

Extras Grade: D-


Final Comments

Bertrand Tavernier's epic look at wartime French cinema is captivating and energetic, though somewhat flawed in its presentation. Still, this is a stunning film, fully capturing the complexity of the time. Koch Lorber's DVD is sure to be adequate. This is a safe recommendation.


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