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Smugglers' Songs

Early on in this engaging historical drama, a marquis (played by the singularly droll Jacques Nolot) offers a peddler a carriage ride on a remote country road. After sizing up his benefactor, the peddler fights motion sickness to deliver his sales pitch: “I have here a few objects of wonder, pious images, pamphlets against men of the cloth, newspapers from Amsterdam and London, holy cards, quills, writing paper…” Indeed, subversion takes many forms in this unblushingly partisan film, set in eighteenth-century France three decades before the Revolution. Renowned smuggler Louis Mandrin, who campaigned against the unjust tax system of France's ancien régime, has recently been tortured and executed. His defiance, however, lives on. An organized band of “Mandrins” guard an illegal market in the countryside, as the peddler touts “the sad life of Mandrin, songs in four volumes, a framework for the republic…” Smugglers' Songs depicts, realistically yet with humor, the hardening resistance in the face of oppression, and the strong role literacy played in inciting social change. Director Rabah Ameur-Zaïmeche himself plays the cannily compassionate outlaw leader, Belissard, whom Nolot's rather scruffy marquis is intent on contacting; and Christian Milia-Darmezin is both funny and inspiring as the poor but proud purveyor of subversive literature.

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