1942. A Canadian
spy, Max Vatan (Brad Pitt) parachutes into the Moroccan desert,
catches a ride at the appointed rendez-vous, and meets up with his
fellow collaborator, Marianne Beausejour (Marion Cotillard), a French
Resistance fighter. They're
in Casablanca to take out the German ambassador, but first they must
secure an invitation to the ball being thrown in his honor, which
requires personal approval of the Commandant.
And that requires enough socializing to test their mettle as
Marianne tells Max that his French is pretty good, but his
accent is bad. He sounds
like he's from Quebec (actually, Max is Canadian, but also a wing
commander in the Royal Air Force).
She also tells him that it's important to keep up appearances
of not only being husband and wife, but also not having seen each
other for a while. She's
been telling her friends there that her husband has been away in
Paris, which is a logcial scenario, except somebody who's really from
Paris would be able to tell that the French accent is not authentic.
So Max doesn't say much in their social circles, which is OK,
because Marianne is the whirlwind socialite, constant repartee and
apparently loyal to the Vichy, and, by implication, to the occupying
It's a dangerous situation, and they both know it.
When Max offers to sleep on the couch, Marianne informs him
that in Casablanca, the husbands sleep on the roof, after visiting his
wife in the boudoir. She
then visits him a couple of times on the roof, just to chat and smoke,
inferrring the post-coital languishing, for the sake of appearances,
you know, because neighbors are peeking out of their own windows.
And kiss me like you mean it.
It's not hard to figure where this is headed.
The day before their clandestine operation, they're in the car
near the desert, and when he turns the ignition, she puts his hand on
his and says, “Tomorrow we could both be dead.”
He turns off the ignition.
And they make love right there in the car, with the wind
blowing the sand outside, and now it's a different operation, because
they're emotionally involved with each other.
Thankfully for them, the operation succeeds, but now comes the
tricky part: extraction.
He manages to exit immediately, but she stays behind while he
attempts to get her back to England.
Not so they can plan their next operation, but so they can
marry. Yes, he's smitten.
And so is she. And
she has their baby in the middle of an air raid as they're moving her
gurney through a courtyard to try to get her to safety.
But now they get to settle in a quiet suburb for a quite
peaceful year, until the British authorities haul him in for
questioning because they suspect that his wife is a German spy.
They tell him they're doing the “blue dye” procedure:
they're going to entrust him with an encrypted message with
false information, and they're going to see if it gets passed on to
the Germans. (We already know that the German communications have been
hacked.) Now Max's
cool is severly tested. And
the tensions mount even as their friends party like there's no
tomorrow (because for some of them, there won't be).
This is the kind of espionage/thriller film that plays well on
the big screen, and the two principals both project a commanding
presence. Their chemistry
together seems quite natural. This
particular story may be fiction, but it was probably close to the
truth of many other clandestine operations during World War II, and so
it has the feel of authenticity, as well.
Just know that in the world of spies and counter-spies, nothing
is as it appears. And you
trust others at your own peril.