It’s the dead of night in the forest, with just enough light to illuminate the expanse of the surrounding darkness. A group of soldiers solemnly passes through a field, their weariness easily recognizable on their fading blue uniforms and collective downward gaze, and as the last two stragglers, who are obviously in no hurry, mosey past the camera, out come the most unlikely words for a bushy-mustached WWI soldier: “I, the blind girl…it may be the influence of the seasons, but I can tell I’m back in France.” Sung in the anachronistic style of 1960s pop-psychedelia (and by a singer of the opposite gender), the song chronicles the travels of a sightless French girl and her love of a young English lord—yet it also captures the spirit of Serge Bozon’s La France, a cross-genre hybrid of a musical and war film, and a folkloric narrative of cross-country journeys and separated lovers, featuring playful gender-bending performances. Even though the director (who also co-wrote the film’s four songs) resists calling the film a musical, its infectious melodies give La France its most irresistible charm, and provide a mystery even bigger than that of whom the soldiers are and where they are going.
At the center of the film is not the band of soldiers, but Camille Robin (Sylvie Testud), a young wife whose husband, François (Guillaume Depardieu), is off fighting in the war. After receiving a letter from the front indicating that, “I don’t want you to write back to me, you’ll never see me again,” Camille chops off her hair and disguises herself as a young boy before wandering the forests, never quite sure of her location or even even her intended destination, in search of the war. The early days (or are they weeks? hours? The film’s lack of temporal guidelines is but one of its many semi-hallucinatory qualities) of Camille’s journey are captured in a few swift shots, characteristic of Bozon’s economical-but-evocative style: Camille on a path at night; Camille cracking walnuts barehanded by day; Camille at dusk on a path that leads her to the wayward soldiers, whom she hopes will guide her to her husband. Unknown to her, however, is the fact that the soldiers are deserters, and they are leading her away from the front instead of towards it. Click here to read the rest of Cullen Gallagher’s review of La France.