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Aventure Malgache (1944)


Warning: screenonline full synopses contain 'spoilers' which give away key plot points. Don't read on if you don't want to know the ending!

London, 1944. Backstage, three actors prepare for a play aimed at French exiles. One of them is uncertain about the gangster he's playing, but his companion Clarousse, a former lawyer, tells him that he's a dead ringer for Jean Michel, former Madagascar chief of police.

Clarousse first met Michel in the Tananarive courthouse in April 1940, when defending a man accused of theft. He pointed out that his client had no motive, but that the police stood to benefit from a hefty commission paid to Customs informants, and that Michel unsuccessfully tried to seduce the defendant's wife. Michel swore revenge on Clarousse.

The local bar customers were shocked to hear about Marshal Pétain's surrender to Germany on the radio. Clarousse, their chosen spokesman, urged calm, saying they must place themselves at the disposition of the military authorities.

Representatives of servicemen's associations went to the local commanding officer to say that they wanted to fight on, like England, to save Madagascar for France and to expel the Germans. If Japan entered the war, the Diégo-Suarez military base will be a huge temptation. Michel urged caution, saying that English imperialists will profit from this. Clarousse replied that siding with the English is preferable to invasion by Germany or Japan. The general sided with Michel, feeling that he must be certain that he's on the right side before making a decision.

Michel banned exit permits from Madagascar, but Clarousse, by then working for the Resistance, helped people to leave. Posing as an ardent Vichyite, he obtained the governor's confidence. Suspicious, Michel asked his deputy Guyot to spy on him, not knowing that Guyot was a Resistance activist himself.

At a Resistance meeting, Clarousse announced a sudden change of plan, with the departures rescheduled for that very night. Pierre asked if he could say goodbye to his fiancée Yvonne, and a reluctant Clarousse agreed. Pierre told Yvonne too much, and she rang Michel, who promptly arrested Clarousse.

Clarousse was visited by his former colleague Panisse, who told him that he was being court-martialled for his Resistance activities.

Michel analysed Clarousse's telegrams, but can't understand them. A decryption expert worked out that the code is based on La Fontaine's 'Fables', a copy of which was obtained with difficulty owing to unexpected demand.

Michel produced 132 deciphered telegrams at Clarousse's trial and demanded the death penalty. Panisse challenged Michel to prove that Clarousse was directly involved. Despite this, Clarousse was sentenced to death, commuted to five years' hard labour by Pétain himself, as Clarousse was a Verdun veteran. Clarousse listened to his 'alarm clock' in his cell - a disguised radio.

Nine months later, Michel told Clarousse that he was about to be sent to the penal colony. Clarousse could avoid this by telling him where the secret transmitter is and identifying the operator. Clarousse refused. Back in prison, he saw an escort ship emitting smoke, the signal that the Resistance received his message. He escaped, and the Allies arranged for him to broadcast on Radio Free Madagascar from a secret location in the Indian Ocean, urging his listeners to join the Allies and insulting Michel. Michel announced that Clarousse had been sentenced to death in absentia for seditious anti-French propaganda.

On 4 May 1942, the British landed at Diégo-Suarez. A fortnight later, they declared that the only flag that will fly over the naval base will be the French one. Michel quickly hid signs of his past (Pétain portrait, Vichy water) and replaced them with pro-English equivalents - to no avail: he is quickly arrested.

The actor is annoyed that he's been compared with Michel and insults Clarousse. They are summoned onstage.