The Undercover War

This is an interesting film, not for its acting or directing, but for illuminating a chapter of World War II history that is little known. When Luxembourg was invaded by the Germans, all eligible young (and not so young) males were rounded-up and offered the choice of either being conscripted into the Nazi army (and despatched to the eastern front to fight the Russians), or to be used as slave labour in the local iron mines. Not much of a choice.

Not surprisingly, some – the Réfractaires: in local parlance, those unwilling to accept Nazi ruling – tried to flee and others to hide away. The movie follows a group of a dozen or so of these self-styled communist individuals who managed to set-up home in a disused section of a local mine. Supported clandestinely by a few older residents still living in the town, they had the necessities for a basic life underground.

Had the film just been about this group playing out their daily boring routine, with the petty squabbling – led by fractious Jacques (Carlo Brandt) – associated with such a claustrophobic environment, it would have been very boring indeed. So, enter middle-class François (Grégoire Leprince-Ringuet), who, to make matters worse, was educated at a German university. The obvious clashes arise but once played a few times, the director (Nicolas Steil) making his first feature, has to invent some plot development to prevent more boredom for us viewers.

This comes – incomprehensibly – in the way of excursions to the outside world by some of the Réfractaires, including François. In the course of such an ‘outing’ François meets the female interest, Malou (Marianne Basler), the wife of a hardcore collaborator with the Nazis. This triggers off a series of events which determines François’ future, hinted at in the opening scene of the movie. All-in-all, The Undercover War (aka: Réfractaire) is a competent effort but not one to stir the senses too much.

The DVD extras contain interesting but overlong interviews in Luxembourgian (a strange tongue) with two real-life Réfractaires , now in their nineties. There is also an interview with director Nicolas Steil explaining his feeling on the subject matter.