Wednesday, June 10, 2015

La France

2007, France, directed by Serge Bozon

Serge Bozon appeared poised to break out, at least on the critical front, with this film but he hasn't been all that active in the interim despite the strengths on display in this  tale of a young woman who goes in search of her husband after she receives a cryptic letter from the front in 1917, disguising herself as a man in order to begin her odyssey and quickly linking up with a small group of soldiers who have been separated from their regiment. The war, obviously, is a constant presence whether it's through the men's accounts of their experiences, their fear of running across spies or enemy soldiers and, from time to time, the rumble of heavy artillery in the distance, but we never see the front lines -- this is a different kind of war story, and one where Bozon quite consciously wants to evoke our imagination of the trenches without depicting them. 

To my mind, the strongest French-language analogy is with Maurice Pialat's La Maison des bois, particularly the episode in which a battalion of troops passes through town -- a visible sign of the war but without any direct depiction of the fight. Bozon, like Pialat, is also strong on the bone-weariness of these men, but unlike Pialat he doesn't hew to a strictly realist template, interspersing the film with unusual and anachronistic musical interludes that nonetheless do an effective job of channeling and enhancing the humanity of the men we gradually get to know. I was very impressed by the film, and by the performances -- Testud is excellent as the coltish "boy" while many of the actors playing the soldiers have striking moments in the sun, gifted some fine lines by Bozon.

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Boston, Massachusetts, United States