The Statement (2003)
Director: Norman Jewison.
Starring: Michael Caine (Pierre Brossard), Tilda Swinton (Annemarie Livi), Jeremy Northam (Colonel Roux), Alan Bates (Armand Bertier), Charlotte Rampling (Nicole), John Neville (Old Man), Ciarán Hinds (Pochon), Frank Finlay (Commissaire Vionnet), William Hutt (Le Moyne), Matt Craven (David Manenbaum), Noam Jenkins (Michael Levy), Peter Wight (Inspector Cholet), Malcolm Sinclair (Cardinal of Lyon), Colin Salmon (Father Patrice), David de Keyser (Dom André).
war criminal Pierre Broussard escapes justice for many years because of an intricate web of protection, including the French clergy
Spoiler Warning: below is a summary of the entire movie.
1940, France falls to Germany in World War II. The Nazi-collaborating Vichy government is set up under Marshal Petain. In 1943 the Vichy government creates a military force called the Milice to carry out the orders of the Nazi occupiers. When the war was over, many of those involved were prosecuted for war crimes. Some got away. A few rose to power.
1944, June. Dombey, France. The Vichy French help German soldiers catch Jews. Seven Jews are captured. They are told to take down their pants to see who is circumcised. The seven are placed up against a wall and shot. Frenchman Pierre Brossard finishes the job with a pistol shot to the head of each man. At the end of the war Pierre Brossard was sentenced to death, but he escaped. He was given a pardon by the president of the republic, but a new law called Crimes Against Humanity was passed and now the French are looking again for Pierre Brossard.
April 1992, Provence, France. Brossard has a beer at an outdoor cafe. A man watches his every movement. The fellow makes a telephone call to say: "It's him." When Brossard leaves the cafe, the man follows him. Brossard gets in his car and heads for the abbey where he is staying, followed by the stranger. The stranger goes ahead of Brossard a certain distance and then stops his car and pretends it has broken down. When Brossard has to stop the man approaches him and starts to pull out his pistol to kill him. But, surprise, Brossard already has his gun out and he shoots and kills the hitman. He then checks through the man's belongings. He finds a "statement" that says that Pierre Brossard has been assassinated by a Jewish group for his killing seven Jews in 1944. Brossard takes the statement and the man's wallet, puts the body into the hit man's car and sends the car over the cliff. He returns to his room in the abbey.
Palais de Justice, Paris. Judge Annemarie Livi has been put in charge of finding and capturing Pierre Brossard. Colonel Roux of the French army comes in to speak with her. He will be helping her in her work. The judge called the army in because she is afraid that the collaboration of the police with the Vichy regime in World War II makes them untrustworthy. The Vichy government cooperated with Hitler's Final Solution of the Jewish problem: the Holocaust. The Vichy government rounded up Jewish people even before the Nazis asked them to. The judge tells Colonel Roux that her father was Jewish and her mother was Catholic. She also tells him that Pierre Brossard escaped because "they" let him escape. (The "they" would be the police and the Catholic Church.) Brossard got a presidential pardon largely through the help of the Church. The judge not only wants Brossard. She wants the men who helped him to escape and to get a presidential pardon.
Another assassin is hired to kill Brossard.
Avignon, Provence. Brossard visits the former comissaire Henri Vionnet. He tells him that he had to kill a man that was sent to kill him.
Judge Livi tells Colonel Roux that the group, the Chevaliers of Sainte Marie, keeps popping up in her investigation. She wants to know more about this group. The Colonel tells her that the Church is implicated on every page of the relevant documents. They want to go to Caunes to see Father Le Moyne to see if he cannot add some light on the subject of the Chevaliers. Roux receives an intercept that a second assassin has been hired to kill Brossard.
Brossard shows up at the Chapel St.-Jacques, Caunes, France. He confesses to Father Le Moyne his sin of having killed a man but assures the priest that it was only done in self-defense. The priest tells Brossard that Colonel Roux wants to see him (the priest).
Judge Livi visits an old friend who is now a Jesuit priest. The man is very reluctant to talk to Annemarie and she tells him that she is disappointed in him. To get back into her good graces, he finds a picture of Brossard and gives it to her.
Colonel Roux talks with Father Le Moyne. The Father makes a lot of excuses to defend the man who helped kill seven Jews. It is pretty hard to listen to. Roux asks the Father about the Chevaliers, but the Father refuses to talk about the subject.
Father Le Moyne calls a cardinal in Rome, Italy. He asks the cardinal for help in getting Brossard out of France. But the cardinal says that his orders are not to help Brossard and he hangs up on Le Moyne.
The police find the car and the dead body of the first hit man.
A government minister and old friend of the Livi family, asks Annemarie to come to his office for a talk. He tells her that she has to be careful. Her assignment is like receiving a poisoned chalice and she should give it back. Otherwise, she will be destroyed mercilessly. He adds: "I've warned you." Judge Livi asks who it is that wants her to fail in her task, but the family friend will not tell her. (The minister has been having a private investigator takes pictures of Livi and who she talks to.)
Judge Livi is in a defiant mood. She tells Roux that she is going to put Brossard's photo in all the newspapers. Roux does not like the idea thinking that it will just drive Brossard deeper underground. But Judge Livi goes ahead with the idea anyway.
A directive from the Cardinal of Lyon is sent around to the abbeys and churches telling them not to help Brossard. He is no longer to receive the monthly payments he has been receiving and he is certainly not to be provided with a bed. Brossard stops to have a beer. He thinks he is being followed by another hitman. He exits out the back way.
Marseille, south of France. Brossard's wife comes home to find her detested husband in her apartment. She wants Brossard out of her apartment and out of her life completely. Brossard rat-finked on her young brother who was in the resistance and he was murdered. The war criminal wants to stay with her for a few days and he threatens to kill her dog if she does not cooperate. She cooperates.
Brossard calls Henri Vionnet. Vionnet in turn calls his bosses in the government to tell them of the call.
Livi and Roux now learn that the first hit man was no Jewish commando. He wasn't even Jewish. And now they begin to doubt that any Jewish group is involved in the hunt for Brossard. It is someone or a group of men in the government who must be behind the assassination attempts. Roux figures out that Brossard visits one abbey or another every month, probably to pick up his support money. He figures out that his next stop should be at St. Michel near Frejus. The abbot there is a Chevalier.
At St. Michel a priest gives Brossard a room in the gardener's cottage. The next morning he hears the sirens and then sees police vehicle descending on the abbey. He is able to get into an old car and drive out of the abbey without being discovered. He heads to town. He sees the possible hitman pass by him. Brossard goes into a cafe for a beer. The suspicious man comes into the bar and then walks into the restroom. Brossard decides to strike first again. He heads to the bathroom and shoots the man in the back killing him. Brossard then goes out the front door.
Brossard heads to the Priory St.-Donat, Nice. He tells the father there that he wants to die in a state of grace. The father tells him "You're not alone. You're one of us." Roux is getting discouraged about catching Brossard. He says "All we get is lies."
A new assassin is picked to kill Brossard. This time it is an insider, the one-time police inspector, Pochon, who Brossard knows from his past in the Vichy government. The head man of this assassination conspiracy is the one-time prefect of police who is a high government official. Pochon calls Brossard to set up a meeting with him. The hitman tells Brossard that they have his passport that he asked for and that they will get him out of France to safety.
The next payment that Brossard is to receive is at St. Donat, Nice. Roux, Livi and the police head for Nice. But once again, a priest helps Brossard get away, this time by going over the roof tops. The police pick up Henri Vionnet and question him. He tells them where Brossard will be.
Pochon meets with Brossard. They go out the back door and Pochon shoots Brossard dead. Roux, Livi and crew arrive too late. Livi says that the case is closed.
The case maye closed but Livi has one last trick in her bag. At a formal dinner party, she tells the number one man in the conspiracy that he should be a bit worried because Pochon is talking to the police.
June 29, 1944, in Rillieux-la-Pape, France, seven Jews were executed at 5 a.m. Some 77,000 French Jews perished under the German occupation and the Vichy regime.
A pretty good movie. It is a political thriller, but also a chase movie. They keep chasing this war criminal Brossard and he seems to have a sixth sense that helps him immediately sense the presence of a hitman. And at each stage of the chase(s) he gets help from the various Catholic priests at the abbeys. The chase becomes a little unbelievable. No man is that lucky. The movie also, if true, paints a terrible picture of the French Catholic church and its priests and the French government. There seems to be once pro-Vichy, Nazi-collaborating government officials and priests all over France. Apparently, these people have something very dark to hide, but that is not investigated to any real degree in the movie. I sure hope the movie is a terrible exaggeration, which it probably is, because I don't like the idea of a bunch of Nazi sympathizers still running around in France. On the positive side, I'm happy that the Vichy collaboration with the Nazi Holocaust machine has been at least touched upon by a movie.
Patrick Louis Cooney, Ph. D.
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