×

La France

Bresson meets the Beatles in director Serge Bozon's remarkable "La France."

With:
With: Sylvie Testud, Pascal Greggory, Guillaume Verdier, Francois Negret, Laurent Talon, Pierre Leon, Benjamin Esdraffo, Didier Brice, Laurent Lacotte, Bob Boisadan, Lionel Turchi, Laurent Valerio, Michel Fossiez, Jean-Christophe Bouvet, Emmanuel Levaufre, Cecile Reigher, Philippe Chemin, Mehdi Zannad, Guillaume Depardieu.

Bresson meets the Beatles in director Serge Bozon’s remarkable “La France,” a WWI drama that unexpectedly breaks into spirited song at four key moments during its otherwise spare, austere portrayal of combat and camaraderie on the Western front. Audacious in concept but superbly controlled in execution, what might easily have seemed a genre-bending stunt instead registers as a highly sensitive, inspired approach to the subject of men — and one woman — confronting the dehumanizing effects of war. Slated for a November release in Gaul, pic should enjoy robust exposure at fall fests and prove an attractive acquisition for adventurous arthouse distribs.

Set in the fall of 1917, pic begins far from the front lines, as a woman named Camille (Sylvie Testud) receives a disconcerting letter from her soldier husband Francois stating, in effect, that she will never see or hear from him again. With quiet resolve, she disguises herself as a man — or, more accurately, a slightly androgynous teenage boy — and sets off to rejoin her spouse at the front.

Making her way through a forest, Camille crosses paths with a small group of soldiers led by a gruff but kindly lieutenant (Pascal Greggory), whom she implores to let her join their ranks. He refuses and, when she persists in following them anyway, fires a warning shot that hits Camille in the hand.

After her wounds are tended to, Camille is effectively welcomed into the company, which, the lieutenant claims, has become separated from its regiment following an engagement with enemy combatants. Only well into pic’s running time does the viewer (and Camille) discover the real reason why the men have drifted off course. In the meantime, in scenes that occasionally recall the jungle retreat of the ambushed paratroopers in Raoul Walsh’s “Objective, Burma!,” the soldiers proceed toward the French-Dutch border, pausing occasionally to rest … and to sing!

The sight of conscripts singing in a war movie is not uncommon, of course, but the soldiers of “La France” belt out their original tunes in pitch-perfect four-part harmonies, while playing an array of ramshackle period acoustic instruments. First of these numbers, coming about 30 minutes in, is hugely surprising and even somewhat jarring, but the combination of plaintive lyrics (told, like all of pic’s tunes, from the perspective of a lovelorn blind woman) and up-tempo, sing-along melodies (which bear comparison not just to the Fab Four, but to the Beach Boys and Britpop group Belle and Sebastian) quickly wins one over.

Though they do not directly address or further the plot in any way, the songs create the sense that the film is taking place in a suspended reality, as if the eerily depopulated woods through which the characters march were not just a literal thicket but a figurative one. That feeling is reinforced by the many straight dialogue scenes in which Bozon and screenwriter Axelle Ropert (Bozon’s wife) reveal the soldiers to be literate, contemplative men who have begun to question the supposed nobility of the battlefield.

The war itself remains mostly an abstraction, represented by the sounds of distant gunfire and offscreen explosions, though Bozon shows a strong aptitude for efficient action direction during a few key set pieces. A tense standoff late in the pic, between the soldiers and an unwelcome intruder in the barn where they have taken shelter, makes for a truly startling sequence.

In a film where nothing is overemphasized, the chameleonic Testud disappears completely into her role with the aid of very little makeup or elaborate costuming, while Greggory conveys a powerful sense of a profoundly decent man torn between his sense of duty and his larger sense of humanity.

Period production design is spare but excellent. Lensing, courtesy of helmer’s sister Celine Bozon, turns the natural landscape into an exquisite palette of earth tones and natural light.

La France

France

Production: A Shellac release of a Les Films Pelleas presentation, with the participation of Centre National de la Cinematographie and Cinecinema, with the support of La Region Ile-de-France and of Centre Images, in association with soficas, Cinemage, Coficup and Soficinema 3. (International sales: Pyramide Intl., Paris.) Produced by David Thion. Directed by Serge Bozon. Screenplay, Axelle Ropert.

Crew: Camera (color), Celine Bozon; editor, Francois Quiquere; music, Medhi Zannad, Benjamin Esdraffo; lyrics, Serge Bozon; production designer, Brigitte Brassart; costume designer, Renaud Legrand; sound (DTS Stereo), Laurent Gabiot. Reviewed at Cannes Film Festival (Directors' Fortnight), May 23, 2007. Running time: 102 MIN.

With: With: Sylvie Testud, Pascal Greggory, Guillaume Verdier, Francois Negret, Laurent Talon, Pierre Leon, Benjamin Esdraffo, Didier Brice, Laurent Lacotte, Bob Boisadan, Lionel Turchi, Laurent Valerio, Michel Fossiez, Jean-Christophe Bouvet, Emmanuel Levaufre, Cecile Reigher, Philippe Chemin, Mehdi Zannad, Guillaume Depardieu.

More Film

  • TSOM-MASK

    Director Sara Gouveia on ‘Looking At Resilience Through Art’

    DURBAN–The Mapiko dance of Mozambique’s indigenous Makonde people was long used as a tool for social commentary. But during the colonial era it became an act of political resistance, prompting the Portuguese to stamp it out during Mozambique’s 10-year war for independence. Decades later, the art has been revived as a celebration of freedom. For [...]

  • Don Edkins

    Documentary Filmmaker Don Edkins on ‘Creating an African Voice’ 

    DURBAN–For the 10th Durban FilmMart (DFM), the industry program of the Durban Intl. Film Festival, a new strand was created to look at the unique challenges and opportunities facing documentary filmmakers in Africa. The two-day program, Durban Does Docs, offers a series of conversations, seminars and workshops with an intensive focus on the aesthetics, funding, distribution [...]

  • A Faithful Man

    Film Review: 'A Faithful Man'

    French actor Louis Garrel has been married twice, first to Iranian talent Golshifteh Farahani, and now to model-cum-actress Laetitia Casta. He has also directed two features, the first a free-wheeling love-triangle comedy called “Two Friends” in which Garrel plays the cad who comes between his best friend and the object of his obsession (played by [...]

  • LGBTQ Film Festival Outfest Opens With

    LGBTQ Film Festival Outfest Opens With Documentary About Gay Porn Shops Circus of Books

    Granted, the red carpet at the opening night of Outfest in DTLA may not have been the most star-studded but it was without a doubt the most diverse, inclusive and, yes, fabulous. “I’ve never been here before,” admitted “RuPaul’s Drag Race” vet Trixie Mattel, who stars in the documentary “Moving Parts.” “It’s supposed to be [...]

  • Editorial use only. No book cover

    Russ Tamblyn's Career Had Legs After Childhood

    With an acting career that spans work for Cecil B. DeMille and Joseph Losey to Quentin Tarantino and David Lynch, Russ Tamblyn’s creativity and longevity is proof that there’s life after child stardom. In Tamblyn’s case, there’s also been a bounty of juicy film and TV roles long after his legendary legs no longer kicked [...]

  • Olivia Wilde Booksmart Director

    Film News Roundup: Olivia Wilde to Direct Holiday Comedy for Universal

    In today’s film news roundup, Olivia Wilde has landed another directing gig following “Booksmart” and revenge thriller “Seaside” and “Woodstock: The Directors Cut” get August release dates. PROJECT LAUNCH Olivia Wilde will direct and produce an untitled holiday comedy project for Universal Pictures with her “Booksmart” partner Katie Silberman. Universal outbid five other studios for [...]

  • Choas Charles Mansion and the CIA

    Amazon Studios Takes Film Rights to Manson-Centered Drama 'Chaos' (EXCLUSIVE)

    Just in time for the 50th anniversary of the grisly murders executed by the followers of Charles Manson, Amazon Studios has optioned film rights to a nonfiction title about a journalist who spent decades obsessively following the case. The studio will adapt “Chaos: Charles Manson, the CIA, and the Secret History of the Sixties,” from [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content