'Female Agents' is a fast-paced, highly-charged espionage thriller, that pays tribute to the WWII heroines whose sacrifices and bravery have been largely overlooked. Inspired partly by the true story of Lise Villameur, a French resistance agent who worked for the Special Operations Executive, the film follows five women sent on a perilous mission in occupied France.
They are helmed by hardnosed sniper Louise Desfontaines (Marceau), who witnesses the death of her husband in the film's opening scenes. More dedicated to the cause than ever, she is given the task of rounding up a team of female agents to help rescue an injured British geologist (Cecil) from a hospital in Paris, before the Nazis discover he has information crucial to the imminent Normandy landings.
With the help of her fearless brother Pierre (Boisselier), with whom she has a turbulent relationship, and spymaster Maurice Buckmaster (Reese), Louise sets about putting her team together.
Recruitment proves tricky, but with a mix of blackmail and deception they enlist Jeanne (Depardieu), a tough prostitute on death row for murder, Gaelle (François), a baby faced explosives expert and devout Catholic, and showgirl Suzy (Gillain), whose past relationship with a Nazi officer makes her unsuspecting bait.
Parachuted into France, they meet up with Italian-Jewish radio operator Maria (Sansa) and initiate their mission to rescue the geologist. The unsubtle rescue mission is the film's least realistic moment, as two of the team distract the hospital patients with a striptease show while the others take out Nazi officers and carry the geologist away on a stretcher.
But their mission becomes even more dangerous when they realise that German colonel Heindrich (Bleibtreu) has got wind of the D-Day plans, and they must assassinate him before he passes the information further up the chain of command.
What ensues is a gripping adventure that doesn't shy away from the grim realities of war, including torture scenes that are expertly realised. The film's most successful moment comes from a suspenseful and wonderfully shot scene in the Paris underground, as the team use Suzy to try and force Heindrich into the open.
Performances are excellent across the board, with Sophie Marceau providing nuances to Louise's unpitying character. Moritz Bleibtreu doesn't resort to stereotypes for his depiction of the Nazi officer and is both chilling and, at times, tender.
Director Jean-Paul Salomé has managed to create a distinct sense of authenticity with most scenes filmed on location, including a Paris boulevard awash with Nazi flags. The excellent costumes also help create the sense of realism that pervades the film.
Although it can be faulted for a sometimes bland script and overly glamorous commandos, 'Female Agents' more than makes up for its weaknesses with a story that never loses its breathless pace and the interest of the audience. It is sure to resonate with more than just a French audience as a reminder that women played a larger role in the history of their countries than they are given credit for.