A five-woman commando unit parachutes into occupied France in May 1944 on a daring and dangerous mission to protect the secret of the D-Day Landings and eliminate Colonel Heindrich (Moritz Bleibtreu), the head of the German counter-intelligence. Louise (Sophie Marceau) is a trained sniper and the widow of a Resistance leader. Jeanne (Julie Depardieu) is a tough hooker who won't hesitate to kill. Gaelle (Deborah Francis) is a young and brilliant explosives expert desperate to see some action. Suzy (Marie Gillain) is a stunning former showgirl and Heindrich's one-time lover. Maria (Maya Sansa) is an Italian contessa undercover with the French Resistance.
Female Agents is a good old-fashioned adventure that celebrates the little-known heroics of French women in the Resistance movement. As with most films that bear the 'Based on true events’ tagline, an element of truth has been treated to liberal doses of artistic licence.
The film takes place in wartime France, in the dying days of the German occupation. The Nazis can see the writing on the wall and know that an allied invasion is imminent; it’s simply a case of determining which of the beaches they’ll storm.
In Britain, plans for the Normandy operation are well underway but they they risk coming unstuck when an agent is wounded whilst collecting soil samples. To keep a lid on things, the Allies recruit a team of French agents to sneak the geologist out from under the Nazis’ noses in a daring hospital raid.
The chief operative is crack French sniper Louise (Sophie Marceau, in a welcome return to the screen), who has smarts, daring and, after witnessing her husband’s execution, nothing left to lose. Louise and her like-minded brother set about recruiting a team of women (with various skills and moral boundaries) to see the mission through to completion. Suffice it to say, the mission becomes more complicated than first thought, and culminates in a plot to assassinate a Nazi colonel (Moritz Bleibtreu) who knows too much.
The character of Louise is loosely based on real-life Resistance fighter Lise Villameur, whose 2004 obituary inspired director Jean-Paul Salome to write the film. The three accomplices are fictional, though Salome says their histories are drawn from factual accounts of the range of women who fought to emancipate their country from the Nazis.
Each of the women are forced to determine the extent of personal sacrifice they're willing to endure for the cause. Capitulation is unthinkable for the strong and determined Louise, but the younger and idealistic Gaelle (in a standout performance by Deborah Francois) is less possessed of moral fortitude. And it's impossible to condemn either of them.
Too often the female spy gets short shrift on screen. She's painted with broad brush strokes as a man-trapping femme fatale with a double entendre for a name, and little-to-no back story to make her anything more than a saucy distraction. Whilst it's true that some of the women of Salome’s Female Agents aren’t above trading on their sexuality when it helps advance the cause, they're treated as women of substance with complicated, conflicted and real reactions to unreal circumstances.