It’s exciting to see Shyamalan on such confident footing once more, all these years later.
More than 200 films were made in France during the Nazi occupation, most of them routine, a few of them good, but none of them, Bertrand Tavernier observes, anti-Semitic. This despite the fact that anti-Semitism was not unknown in the French films of the 1930s. Tavernier's "Safe Conduct" tells the story of that curious period in French film history through two central characters, a director and a writer, who made their own accommodations while working under the enemy.
The leading German-controlled production company, Continental, often censored scenes it objected to, but its mission was to foster the illusion of life as usual during the occupation; it would help French morale, according to this theory, if French audiences could see new French films, and such stars as Michel Simon and Danielle Darrieux continued to work.
Tavernier considers the period through the lives of two participants, the assistant director Jean Devaivre (Jacques Gamblin) and the writer Jean Aurenche (Denis Podalydes). The film opens with a flurry of activity at the hotel where Aurenche is expecting a visit from an actress; the proprietor sends champagne to the room, although it is cold and the actress would rather have tea. Aurenche is a compulsive womanizer who does what he can in a passive-aggressive way to avoid working for the Germans while not actually landing in jail. Devaivre works enthusiastically for Continental, as a cover for his activities in the French Resistance.
Other figures, some well-known to lovers of French cinema, wander through: We see Simon so angry at the visit of a Nazi "snoop" that he cannot remember his lines, and Charles Spaak (who wrote "The Grand Illusion" in 1937) thrown into a jail cell but then, when his screenwriting skills are needed, negotiating for better food, wine, cigarettes, in order to keep working while behind bars.