A handsome intelligence officer and vivaciously lovely but deadly female, what is there not to like about the two main characters brought together for Allied, a beautifully costumed and crafted film.
Wing Commander Max Vatan (Brad Pitt) and Marianne Beauséjour (Marion Cottillard) are both caught up in the maelstrom of the defining events taking place in their generation.
Working together in 1942 in North Africa, they want to help bring about the end of World War II in Europe, when the nature of the fight between the Nazis and the Allies was for all intents and purposes, fairly clear-cut.
He is on secondment in Britain, where as a fluent French speaker from Quebec he’s much in demand. Although he’s caught out in his accent, which is meant to be posh Parisian, and not have a distinctive north-American continental ‘twang’ – something to keep working on.
It emphasizes how interestingly the languages we speak are inevitably affected by their speaking locale – shades of My Fair Lady.
Directed by Robert Zemeckis and written by Steven Knight, Allied is a film about two people uniting for a common purpose in wartime and in life. They want to win and to be on the winning side, enjoying the fruits of their labour.
Allied for me was like a great blast from the past of my childhood, a slow-burn thriller romance with a touch of glamour amidst the horrors of war; one that is completely admirable for extolling extreme patience to tell its story in a relaxed and easy way.
Allied is elegant escapism. A story about love and what it means to trust another person with your life. It’s also an informative piece whose writer is perhaps helping to inspire the current generation to find out more about their world history and to gain an appreciation for what has gone before. Nothing happens in isolation, we are all connected through events and circumstance and thinking must become a new ‘black’ for those involved in generational change.
Otherwise we may just very well find the new generation will repeat the same mistakes others have made long before them, the mistakes their parents and grandparents were also challenged to learn from.
Allied brings into play ideas of loyalty and reflects on what truth is. It talks about how when we are threatened with the loss of our loved ones, choices can easily be taken out of our hands, the consequences threatening those around us and more.
It touches on costume, allowing us to see how the power of our perceptions can be manipulated at a time when certain styles of clothing made it possible for ‘governments to obtain obedience, religions reverence and judiciaries a respect for the law and discipline’.*
When people are wearing a uniform you may think you know who the enemy is, or do you? Must say here that I often think back on all those brave boys and girls who donned enemy uniform and marched right into their dens to try and beat the Nazi’s at their own game. It took such extreme courage and an inordinate belief in their convictions.
Allied explores what happens when, in the end when the villain of the piece looks just like the wife you love and trust, how doubt and distress can take over your whole being, as you race against time to prove the powers that be may have got it wrong.
If you don’t then your whole world may just very well become lost and you right along with it, unless you have more to live for, like a child.
The film starts with Max Vatan being parachuted into the desert of French Morocco. It’s spectacularly shot, a gem of a moment beautifully realised. Wandering along its isolated road, looking sensational in sunglasses that are sure to become bestsellers, suddenly a chauffeured car turns up to collect Max; such a great name!
Brad Pitt is such a handsome man he completely commands attention when he is on screen, especially here wearing a slicked back and carefully crafted hairstyle, which suits him to a tee.
Changing enroute into a relaxed linen suit emerging from his neat leather bag that also contains a machine gun, Max also dons a plain gold wedding ring before he arrives in Casablanca.
He has been instructed to enter the very stylish Art Deco designed nightclub he’s dropped outside, where the current German occupiers of the city are enjoying a night out with the women in their lives, most of whom are well known to his target, Marianne.
He has been told to look for a girl in a ‘purple dress’ who for all intents and purposes, is his wife. This means he must be immediately convincing as prompted by her, he enters into the story of the game of life they are to play together; Allied.
Marion Cotillard as Marianne Beauséjour is keeping it all very real, ensuring her female companions will be completely envious when they clap their eyes on her ‘husband from Paris’, the one she has bored them to death about for months and who is literally ‘dressed to kill’.
Taking him back to her apartment, where his extensive wardrobe has been all arranged, Max is to sleep on the roof as all husbands in Casablanca are known to do, following having sex with their wives. Many people are watching for anything other than the norm, so keeping the status quo is important.
Marianne and Max glamorously set about integrating him into the haute society of the town, where one slip from grace could bring your life undone.
They have been brought together too carry out an assassination, on command and their odds of success are slim.
On the day it’s all meant to happen they drive into the desert to poignantly watch the sunrise over what may be their last day on earth.
By now they have been developing a relationship, despite them both understanding it is a mistake to feel; not surprisingly they have steamy sex in the car while a sandstorm whirls around them.
There are a great many moments in this film when Cotillard allows us to empathize well with Marianne, through her engaging personality and passion for what she is doing.
Her attitude is entirely in keeping with the times when intelligent women of her generation were very much caught up in the forward movement of women learning how to roar.
She doesn’t have it easy though, giving birth to her baby girl in a street during an air raid would have been a fairly horrifying experience.
Pitt doesn’t allow his character to present with any vulnerability until near the dramatic end, where it perhaps has more impact. For the rest of the time he presents Max Vatan with great restraint, which in the current times may seem somehow lacking for many.
However as someone from a big family who extensively experienced the male generation of the late 40’s and 50’s, this attitude would have been very acceptable. At that time men were certainly not encouraged to reveal or to be in touch with their emotions then, as they are now. In fact it would have been quite alarming for some.
I liked the moment when Max asks a young air force pilot who is flying behind enemy lines for the first time, whom he will be thinking about. When he says his mother, Max cautions him saying “Don’t – think of your father. He’s proud of you” – it was thoughtful, touching and insightful scripting.
The scenes where they have set up their home in Hampstead, especially the extraordinary party, is both a touch Bohemian and engaging allowing you to also appreciate a superb supporting cast.
Allied could be likened to a love letter for our times.
While it may be just a little short on emotional connection, and despite the fact that these days I am more attuned to action over restraint, for me it was more than admirable, teasing my expectations.
It dealt well with very complex issues and its writer didn’t aim for a trite happy ever after ending… because life during those times and indeed even now, wasn’t, and isn’t like that at all.
Carolyn McDowall, The Culture Concept Circle, 2016
Paramount Pictures Present
In Cinemas in Australia on Boxing Day, December 26, 2016