La France (DVD Review)30 Mar, 2010 By: Angelique Flores
In French with English subtitles.
Stars Sylvie Testud, Guillaume Depardieu, Pascal Greggory.
Set during World War I, La France is unlike any war film you’ve ever seen. It’s part war drama, part musical and part romance.
The story centers on Camille, whose husband Francois is fighting in the war. After sending her a letter asking her to not write back to him, she disguises herself as a boy and sets out to find him. She finds a group of French soldiers who are on their way to Holland. Grudgingly, the soldiers allow her to tag along, and she eagerly pulls her weight with the group.
While the film has a decidedly somber tone throughout, the soldiers four times pull out instruments and break into song, like in a musical but without the dancing. The numbers are a little jarring at first because they are so unexpected. And while it sounds absurd and out-of-place, the music is quite charming and also unexpectedly catchy and agreeable to the film. The actors have good voices but don’t sound like trained singers. Still, their unrefined voices match with the war backdrop and form a pleasant harmony.
The songs aren’t from the period but instead sound like 1960s pop songs, in the vein of The Beatles or Belle & Sebastian. The original songs were co-written by French recording artist Mehdi Zannad, also known as Fugu, who has toured with the likes of Stereolab and makes a brief appearance as soldier in the film.
La France is Serge Bozon’s third outing as a director. His previous film, Mods (2002), used dance the way La France uses song. This film won awards in France and Mexico, the latter of which isn’t surprising, given the culture’s embrace of magical realism.
Among the extras are the song selections with all four songs, which were nice to watch and listen to all over again.