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Quiet Acts of Resistance

In 'Laissez-Passer,' Tavernier pays tribute to the French heroes of WWII-era film.

April 04, 2002|KEVIN THOMAS | TIMES STAFF WRITER

The annual City of Lights, City of Angels series of French films opens Tuesday at the Directors Guild, with Bertrand Tavernier's superb "Laissez-Passer" ("Safe Passage") screening in Theater 2 at 7:30 p.m. An exciting hommage to those French filmmakers who during the Occupation managed to maintain their integrity and professionalism under the most repressive circumstances, the film is also loaded with suspense, for its central figure, an assistant director named Jean Devaivre (Jacques Gamblin) displays the same unflappability on the set as in his activities in the Resistance. Tavernier drew his consistently engaging picture from the reminiscences of both Devaivre and Jean Aurenche, whose career was revived when Tavernier hired the veteran screenwriter on his earliest films.

Since Tavernier has always been as passionate a film historian as he is a filmmaker, "Laissez-Passer" (2002) has an acutely authentic sense of time and place. Devaivre was a champion cyclist, which comes in handy more than once, and has an athlete's resilience, which is put to the test when he finds he has no recourse but to accept a job at the German-run Continental Films, whose heavy-handed chiefs place the French filmmakers on rigid budgets and shooting schedules and hold the threat over their heads of packing them off to Babelsburg, the site of the famed UFA Studios. His first assignment is to assist the important pioneer director Maurice Tourneur (Philippe Morier-Genoud), who after a long and significant sojourn in America, had returned to France--with his American wife.

There's a pleasing contrast between the sober Devaivre and the rumpled, fun-loving, woman-chasing Aurenche (Denis Podalydes), who is forever moving from place to place, his worldly possessions packed into two battered suitcases. But he is as resolved as Devaivre that he will contribute nothing to German propaganda. As we meet a raft of characters, "Laissez-Passer" builds tension as Devaivre discovers documents that will save lives but place his own at an unexpectedly high risk. This wonderful film brims with the humanity, seriousness, good humor and commitment that mark all Tavernier's work. DGA, 7920 Sunset Blvd. Information: (323) 651-4119.

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The FilmKitchen distribution company is opening one-week runs Friday of Olli Saarelan's "Ambush" and Jack Rubio's "Hard Luck" at the Fairfax Cinemas at Beverly Boulevard and Fairfax Avenue.

The first is a classic war picture from Finland with a love story in the foreground that had a tremendous effect on home ground. Eero (Peter Franzen) and Kaarina (Irina Bjorklund) are beginning to fall in love just as World War II overtakes them and sends both into battle, he as a brave lieutenant and she as an army nurse. The love scenes are tender and erotic, the battle scenes flawlessly staged, and "Ambush" emerges as affecting and wholly accessible, but it is as conventional as it is well-crafted. It hasn't the scope and power of Pekka Parikka's "Winter War" ("Talvisota") more than a decade ago.

"Hard Luck" is the third of actor-writer Kirk Harris' impressively implacable odysseys of driven, defeated men. Under Jack Rubio's direction, Harris plays Trevor, a young man who impulsively escapes from a mental institution three months before his scheduled release after nearly seven years. He is determined to effect a reunion with his dying best friend (Matthew Faber) and former wife (Renee Humphrey) on an Oregon island retreat where, as children, they enjoyed their happiest times. It's worth overlooking mind-boggling plot developments and occasional narrative murkiness for experiencing Trevor's single-minded determination to fulfill a loving gesture. (323) 655-4010.

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The Los Angeles County Museum of Art's comprehensive series Out of India: The Films of Satyajit Ray continues Friday at 7:30 p.m. in the Bing Theater with the second and final films in the director's famous Apu Trilogy, "Aparajito" (1956) and "The World of Apu" (1959). Screening Saturday at 7:30 p.m. is the little-seen "The Golden Fortress" (1974), one of Ray's few comedies.

As a clock strikes 3 a.m., a Calcutta couple are astonished to discover their 6-year-old son (Kushai Chakravarty) intently drawing a picture of a golden fortress. He insists that he has lived within this fortress, apparently in a previous life, and that in his home there is a hidden treasure of jewels. As the fortress becomes an obsession with the child, his story eventually is reported in a newspaper, thus setting in motion the film's complicated adventures.

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