review for Safe Conduct on AllMovie

Safe Conduct (2001)
by Josh Ralske review

Safe Conduct is an intense but sprawling look at French filmmaking during the Nazi occupation. Director and co-writer Bertrand Tavernier has infused the work with passion and unexpected humor, but he fills the frame with so much chaos and so many characters that it's hard to keep all the people and events straight, and watching the film can be an exhausting experience. There are literally hundreds of minor characters running around, some of them major figures in the French film industry at the time. For example, most viewers will probably not realize that the Swiss actor (shown only from the back), who refuses to act while the Nazi "watchdogs" are on the set is supposed to be Michel Simon. The film has also been criticized for soft-pedaling French collaboration during the war. "When the Germans go," says Jean-Paul Le Chanois (Ged Marlon), a Jewish screenwriter hiding his identity to work for a Nazi-controlled company, "we wont have aided German cinema, but saved French cinema." Tavernier clearly shares this sentiment, and while he explores the moral complexity of the situation, he does accentuate the positive. The film is well acted and expertly filmed. The climax of the film, wherein Jean Devaivre (Jacques Gamblin), suffering from a terrible cold, travels all the way to England to deliver some purloined Nazi documents, exemplifies the film's strengths, as it's both harrowing and bitterly funny. Safe Conduct is sometimes troubling, and imperfect, but its immediacy and the passion it displays for its subject make it worthwhile.