A band of mid-18th-century outsiders roams the verdant Gallic countryside while trying to foment a revolt through chants and unlawful behavior in “Smugglers’ Songs,” the fourth feature and first period pic from thesp-helmer Rabah Ameur-Zaimeche (“Adhen”). Set after the death of the group’s famous, real-life leader, Louis Mandrin, and before the French Revolution (that would come about because of the sentiments shown in an embryonic state here), this small-scale and meandering story is stranded in a temporal no-man’s land that feels more picaresque than overtly political. “Songs” could play locally and at indie fests.
The period just after the future folk hero’s 1755 execution is invoked primarily through costumes — no production designer’s credited; most locations are outdoors — though dialogue sounds contemporary. Overall effect is as motley as Mandrin’s crew, which is mainly composed of Ameur-Zaimeche regulars, including himself as a traveling merchant. Thesp-director Jacques Nolot is best-in-show as a nobleman sympathetic to the group’s anti-establishment cause. Like Serge Bozon’s “La France,” which cast a similarly offbeat and musical eye toward French history, pic won the prestigious Jean Vigo prize for “independence of spirit.”