La France Reviews

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Harlequin68
Super Reviewer
½ July 14, 2008
[font=Century Gothic]"La France" takes place in 1917 as Camille(Sylvie Testud) is one of several war brides who climb a local hill daily to see if they can spot their husbands fighting in the nearby war. One day, a letter arrives from her husband, read by her jealous sister(Cecile Reigher), not to write him anymore. Undeterred and quite persistent, she rushes to the front but is stopped before she can leave town. So, she cuts her hair short and dresses in men's clothes. Before long, she meets up with a platoon on its way to the front, their lieutenant(Pascal Greggory) allowing her to tag along...[/font]
[font=Century Gothic][/font]
[font=Century Gothic]On the surface, that is what "La France" is more or less about but deceptively there is more going on than that(the story even takes a turn in a completely different direction at one point). In fact it reminded me quite a bit of Jim Jarmusch's "Dead Man" where the viewer was left unsure how much of the movie to take literally, especially concerning whether the characters were even alive or dead. For example, Camille who is not sure of what exactly she is looking for comes back from the dead at one point and pulls one heck of a disappearing act. There are other fantastical elements done on such a subtle level that they are easy to miss. By comparison, the musical numbers(the soldiers carry their own makeshift instruments but where did they get the piano from?) and Camille in male drag(dressed like this, Sylvie Testud reminds me of a young Woody Allen) are relatively normal.[/font]
October 11, 2008
I don't even know how to think about La France, let alone what. In a lot of ways, I felt that this was an anti-Cold Mountain. The two plots, in many ways, parallel each other, but they are both handled in such different manners. Where CM spares us no Hollywood flourishes, La France is content with flat, bare statements, willfully unadorned. La France goes out of its way in a few places to avoid narrative engagement with the audience. And the ending, instead of filled with passionate reconciliation, ends with a slow, almost sad sexual release.
½ July 15, 2008
a movie that 20 minutes in basically ditches its solid premise--when a soldier's wife gets a letter from her husband ending their relationship, she disguises herself as a man and goes to the front to find him. The movie in my head when I heard that premise is better than this, but its not fair to compare the two, especially since one doesn't exist. There's some really interesting formal stuff here he's trying out--some expressionistic, when her journey feels like its picking up where Night of the Hunter left off, and some new-wave (the abrupt, but totally straight-faced musical numbers are like Godard with a soul). The main chick is hot too. And not just because she's dressed up as a boy.
½ November 30, 2013
Did Roger Ebert miss the symbolism? Brilliant movie!! Realize the movie takes place post war as Camille is fighting a war against the war her husband was in; then all the symbolism & songs make sense...
April 15, 2011
Film Comment calls the work of Serge Bozon and his contemporaries "The Wave With No Name" (March/April 2011). The only film I could find from Bozon and his cohorts to Watch Instantly is this strange and pleasing genre-bender. Part war movie (WWI), part road movie, part musical, part melodrama, it concerns Camille Robin (Sylvie Testud) a not very bright young woman whose husband is away at war. A jealous friend reads to Camille her husband's most recent letter that says he will not be writing again. It's not clear, or perhaps it's intentionally ambiguous, but I got the feeling that Camille may not be able to read and that the friend was lying as to what it says. At any rate, Camille cuts her hair, dresses as a man, and goes off to find him. Almost immediately she joins a group of French soldiers who tell her (him, they believe) that they are looking to rejoin their regiment, but are, in fact, deserting. Along the way, through the course of the film, this little band of soldiers break out in song, with a variety of hand-made instruments, and sing a series of songs that all begin "I, blind girl" and have the sound of sunny '60s California pop.
Favorite quote from the film: "He's waiting for us in Atlantis, in Holland, wherever there are orphans full of infamy."
Harlequin68
Super Reviewer
½ July 14, 2008
[font=Century Gothic]"La France" takes place in 1917 as Camille(Sylvie Testud) is one of several war brides who climb a local hill daily to see if they can spot their husbands fighting in the nearby war. One day, a letter arrives from her husband, read by her jealous sister(Cecile Reigher), not to write him anymore. Undeterred and quite persistent, she rushes to the front but is stopped before she can leave town. So, she cuts her hair short and dresses in men's clothes. Before long, she meets up with a platoon on its way to the front, their lieutenant(Pascal Greggory) allowing her to tag along...[/font]
[font=Century Gothic][/font]
[font=Century Gothic]On the surface, that is what "La France" is more or less about but deceptively there is more going on than that(the story even takes a turn in a completely different direction at one point). In fact it reminded me quite a bit of Jim Jarmusch's "Dead Man" where the viewer was left unsure how much of the movie to take literally, especially concerning whether the characters were even alive or dead. For example, Camille who is not sure of what exactly she is looking for comes back from the dead at one point and pulls one heck of a disappearing act. There are other fantastical elements done on such a subtle level that they are easy to miss. By comparison, the musical numbers(the soldiers carry their own makeshift instruments but where did they get the piano from?) and Camille in male drag(dressed like this, Sylvie Testud reminds me of a young Woody Allen) are relatively normal.[/font]
½ May 5, 2008
SCREENED AT THE 2008 SAN FRANCISCO INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL: Directed and co-written by actor-turned-filmmaker, Serge Bozon, [i]La France[/i] is an oddball World War I/musical-fantasy that's as unique as it is (at times) frustrating. Beautifully shot by Céline Bozon (Serge?s sister), [i]La France[/i] is a World War I film where a female character can easily masquerade as a teenage boy, where a ?lost? regiment can tramp up and down the verdant French countryside without being noticed, and where, when night comes around, the same company of French soldiers, playing home-made instruments, will break into plaintive songs lamenting lost loves and an idyllic French past. In short, [i]La France[/i] is the kind of film that could be only made in France. Unsurprisingly, Bozon won the Jean Vigo Award honoring the singularity of his vision for [i]La France[/i].

Early autumn, 1917. Camille (Sylvie Testud) receives an ambiguous letter from her soldier-husband, Francois, from the front. Francois informs Camille that their marriage is over and that she should forget about him. Despairing, Camille attempts to leave her village and find Francois. Turned back by the local gendarme, Camille decides to masquerade as a teenage boy. Making good her escape, Camille encounters a company of soldiers led by the grey-bearded Lieutenant Paulhan (Pascal Greggory). Paulhan jealously guards his safety of his men and initially refuses to allow Camille to join their slow, meandering march back to the front lines. Camille persists, of course, even going as jumping off a bridge to convince Paulhan of her intentions. Paulhan relents and in no time, Camille becomes a member of the company, wearing the clothes of a soldier, all the while listening to the men as they recount their experiences on the front lines, share some poetry or verse, and sing 60s-era pop tunes. But like Camille, Paulhan hides a secret of his own.

For his first film as a director, Bozon chose a large, potentially daunting subject, World War I, but rather than focus on men fighting and dying, on the camaraderie of men in battle (all of which we?ve seen countless times before), he focused instead on the men traveling to the front. Inspired by the films of Raoul Walsh and Sam Fuller, Bozon was more interested in, to quote a cliché, the journey, not the destination. In Camille, an observer unfamiliar with war, Bozon found the perfect device with which to explore the moments in between battles or fighting, when relationships develop or unravel, when desires and secrets and more likely to emerge through conversation and dialogue.

[i]La France[/i] eschews drama for minute character observations, vivid visuals of the French countryside unspoiled by war, and nighttime scenes where the soldiers seemingly float in the darkness, which in turn creates a sense of unreality or fantasy (a sense confirmed in the denouement). There?s no more arresting a moment than a shot involving the men floating down a river on a raft, illuminated by a still smoldering fire onshore and their under-powered helmets. The sense that we?re in a parallel world is intensified by the pop tunes that periodically punctuate [i]La France[/i], adding a plaintive melancholy to the soldiers and their seemingly endless journey away from their families and communities.

Bozon misses out, however, by not differentiating sufficiently between Paulhan?s men who, with their grey overcoats and helmets are often indistinguishable. To be fair, that might have been an attempt by Bozon to make a larger point about the universality of the soldiers? experience. Where Bozon really falters, however, is in giving Sylvia Testud so little to do once she joins the company. She often fades into the background and we ultimately learn little about her besides her great love for her missing husband (passionate romantic love is a given in French films) and her desire to join him, expressed in her stubbornness. Worse still, Bozon slips in an ambiguous ending that will leave few moviegoers happy. Are the last scenes wish-fulfillment fantasy? Or is the entire film a fevered dream? Only Bozon seems to know the answer to that question. Pity he chose not to share the answer with his audience.
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