Tuesday, September 6, 2016

World War II France again -- done spendidly -- in Christian Carion's COME WHAT MAY

Anyone who has seen and enjoyed the French television series A French Village (all about a relatively typical village and what its inhabitants endured during World War II) will probably want to view COME WHAT MAY (En mai, fais ce qu'il te plaît), the new film from Christian Carion (of The Girl from Paris, Farewell, and the Oscar-nominated Joyeux Noel), a movie that seems appropriately dedicated to those displaced folk from the French countryside who had to leave their homes and take to the road once the Germans invaded their country.

Consequently, this film becomes rather like an extended road trip, during which two groups of protagonists make their way along the roads, across the countryside, in and out of villages, trying to reach their destination and, in fact, reunite. M. Carion (shown at right), a filmmaker whose work I've much enjoyed over the years since his 2001 feature debut, is what I'd call arthouse/mainstream. His films appeal to a larger audience than those of some foreign filmmakers because his subjects, as well as his handling of them, are somewhat standard and certainly easy enough to follow. And yet, within this, the man often surprises us.

Consider what he did with that "Girl From Paris," at one point lifting us off into a gravity-defying moment of sheer cinematic beauty and allowing his two stars -- Mathilde Seigner (who also appears in his new film, above) and the late Michel Serrault to play off each other with great specificity and little sentimentality. In Come What May, he brings us wartime in all its perversity, ugliness and horror, and yet -- since this movie is filmed in the glorious French countryside -- so much beauty that this helps stifle to some extent our shock and terror.

Carion proves especially good at avoiding melodrama by instilling his film with a good deal of surprise and arbitrary happenings so that we experience the shock of wartime -- not knowing what will occur and who will survive or perish. The rules these people have lived by for so long no longer apply. This means that characters we grown to love and care for may not make it to the next scene -- a circumstance that keeps them and us unsteady but on our toes. Cation also captures very well the inevitable distrust that must grow out of a time and situation so fraught with life-threatening possibilities.

Even the filmmaker's occasional "action" scenes are done extremely well. The larger ones are handled with speed and flair, the small ones so personally that we come quickly to care for characters we barely know. Yes, the German troops did horrible things to their conquered, but when we are in the midst of a threesome of German soldiers, boys barely out of school, Carion ensures that we suddenly feel for them, too, as vulnerable human beings. Interestingly and ironically, the director reserves his greatest hatred and disdain for a German filmmaker whom we watch along the way, as he makes a propaganda movie for the Nazis.

The tale here tells of the populace of one particular village, under the leadership of their decent mayor (Olivier Gourmet, two photos above), who decide to abandon that village and try to make it to a larger city. They take with them a young German boy named Max (Joshio Marlon, above), who -- along with his father (August Diehl, below), both Communist refugees forced to flee from Nazi Germany -- has been living in the village masquerading as Belgian, until the father is arrested by the French authorities and the two are separated.

The father's attempted reunion with his son -- with the help of a British soldier (Matthew Rhys, below) whom he encounters early on -- becomes the movie's second plot strand. Given the film's desire and general ability to avoid melodrama, the result of dad's search is the one event in the film that I think could have been handled better.

On a technical level, the movie sparkles -- from cinematography (Pierre Cottereau) to costumes (Sandrine Langen) to the subtle, quiet and lovely musical score by Ennio Morricone.  Despite that single misstep that seems a tad too-easy and coincidental, this movie should quickly engulf you and hold you thoroughly in thrall. It is a fine tribute to a generation (including Carion's own mother's) who took to the wartime road to save their lives and those of their family and friends. (That's Alice Isaaz, below, left, who plays -- and very well -- the school teacher who protects our young Max.)

From Cohen Media Group, in French and English with mostly English subtitles and running a lengthy but easy-to-watch 114 minutes, Come What May opens this Friday, September 9, in New York City at the Angelika Film Center and the Paris Theatre. The following Friday, September 16, it hits another dozen cities across the country, including Los Angeles at Laemmle's Playhouse 7 and Town Center 5), and here in South Florida at the Living Room Theaters in Boca Raton and the Bill Cosford Cinema in Coral Gables. Click here to view all currently scheduled playdates, cities and theaters.

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