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Wednesday, February 18, 2015

LA FRANCE (2007)

While hardly a complete success, much is magically right in Serge Bozon’s highly original WWI drama, a Jean Vigo First-Film Award winner @ Cannes. (A prize he’s had little success following up.) Sylvie Testud stars as a young bride searching for her husband (Guillaume Depardieu) who’s gone missing in the fog of war. With shorn hair, flattened chest and pants, she ‘man’s up’ to join a wandering regiment hoping this will (somehow) get her closer to her spouse. It takes a while for her to be accepted by the little army group, and by the time she’s admitted to the brotherhood, it’s become obvious that this wandering outfit isn’t heading toward the war at all. A series of close calls & adventures has a realistically random feel to it; a tone regularly upset by comradely sing-alongs of Pop-flavored tunes that might have come from ‘60s London. With an odd assortment of instruments and rangy high tenor keys, these ad-hoc musicales sound like classic Brechtian theatrical stunts meant to undercut emotional involvement. Yet, in practice, you’re drawn in rather than distanced by them as the story grows progressively darker with the men revealing their goal and discovering the sexual identity of their fresh faced volunteer. Shot with elegant restraint by Céline Bozon (wife of Serge?), it avoids special pleading or tears, bringing a sober-sided clarity of vision to the horror of war and to the wonder of happenstance. As a movie, it may prove to be a one-off, but it's a memorable one.

DOUBLE-BILL: For a less peculiar, and certainly cornier, more romantic take on similar ideas, try A VERY LONG ENGAGEMENT/’04.

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