Once a month, for the past 10 years, a few of the die-hard Citroën Autoclub Canada members get together and watch films that have at least a few scenes with classic french Citroëns. It’s been a veritable Cinema Citroën, with some wonderful films, but the one we saw this past month has been the best so far.
The film is Le Bon et les Méchants released in 1975 and directed by Claude Lelouch. It’s about thieves that work for the Resistance in Nazi-occupied France, during WWII while a police inspector on their trail is accused of collaborating with the Gestapo. A decent plot in its own right, and as you would expect there are Traction Avants, but this goes beyond just showing Tractions. The Traction plays a significant role, with scenes going as far back as the car’s introduction in 1934. In fact, the dialogue in the introduction scene and others where the car is featured seems to have been influenced by Citroën’s marketing department or a purist Traction historian familiar with the marque, because the all the car’s virtues are discussed by the main characters. There is even a scene featuring the introduction of the 15-6 convertible.
The Traction driving sequences are absolutely thrilling.
And yes, in one action scene they crash a Traction (probably to illustrate how robust they are).
At the beginning, there is about a 10 minute dance scene that makes you wonder if the rest of the film is worth watching, but persevere through it and you will be in for a treat. The film starts in the mid-1930s. Car repairman and lousy boxer Jacques (Jacques Dutronc) and his friend Simone (Jacques Villeret) have decided to become robbers. When Jacques encounters prostitute Lola (Marlène Jobert), their business starts to take off.
The gang is chased by an ardent policeman Bruno Deschamps (Bruno Cremer). Until the Second World War, things go on as usual. After the Occupation, they all end up in Vichy: Bruno is appointed to the French Gestapo; Jacques and the gang as escapees from the Occupied territory… And Tractions Avants come into play all along the way.
Le Bon et les Méchants shows the work of the French Gestapo and also pokes the French society. This ridicule is especially visible in two scenes: the children are learning the German numbers and there is Marshal Petain’s portrait on the wall. After the Liberation, the children are learning the English numbers and there is Charles de Gaulle’s portrait in the same place.
The film also depicts another interesting historic moment – the division of the French underworld where after the Occupation The French Gestapo hired a lot of criminals. Somehow, the policemen and the criminals became aligned with the occupying forces, which made them effectively traitors. On the other hand, some criminals joined the Resistance and became heroes.
Claude Lelouch draws a parallel between Jacques the criminal and Bruno the policeman. In the pre-war part of the film, they are depicted according to the stereotypes. Jacques is shown as a reckless adventurer; Bruno as an archetypical fearless guardian. Their weddings are depicted in accordance with their characters: Bruno’s wedding is extremely formal; Jacques and Lola’s is underground and mocking. After the Occupation, the characters continue for a while to follow their stereotypes: Bruno join the French Gestapo, Jacques starts to work with collaborationist criminals. Nevertheless, the war shows their true face. When Jacques finds out that the Germans took 50 hostages as a reprisal for the robbery; he immediately returns the stolen goods to the Gestapo. On the other hand, in order to prove his loyalty to the Gestapo, Bruno is willing to murder his wife.
There is thoughtful cinematography and a use of sepia colour in some scenes that is unusual for its inconsistency. Between reading the English subtitles and wondering why the switch in colour, a little extra concentration is needed.
The film can also be found by its English title name The Good and the Bad, and also The Good Guys and the Bad Guys. (Not to be confused with the 1969 Western/action drama The Good Guys and the Bad Guys starring Robert Mitchum.)