France or a search for utopia
by Anne Feuillère
The 39th Directors’ Fortnight today hosted the screening of France (2007 Jean Vigo Prize) by young French director Serge Bozon (discovered in 1998 with L'Amitié and later directed Mods, 2003).
The film’s first screening failed to charm and instead incited giggles and hisses from the audience, who seemed disconcerted by its musical interludes.
Unlike the director’s previous film – which was mainly presented as a musical comedy – France [+see also:
film profile] has only four musical “moments” in the form of a ballad. The film is, however, surprisingly unusual and tender and mixes the most heterogeneous of genres. Despite its abundant references to war epics, westerns and Samuel Fuller films, France is neither a historical film nor a musical comedy, and it is not really an action film either.
French actress Sylvie Testud – whose masculine appearance is put to good use in the film – plays Camille, a young woman awaiting news from her husband who has left to fight on the front during WWI. When she finally receives a letter breaking off their relationship, Camille disguises herself as a man in order to go and search for the man she loves.
She goes into the forest, where she meets a troop of men led by lieutenant Paulhan (Pascal Greggory) and succeeds in integrating into the group. What she doesn’t know is that the troop is not heading towards the front but has, in fact, just deserted it.
While Mods centred on a character ill with despair, this film focuses on a soldier, who dreamed of Atlantis, spoke Greek and needed much sleep. At the front, he gradually loses sleep and the desire to live and dream, to the great despair of his companions. When he dies, the whole troop decides to leave.
His story, the stories of Atlantis told by another member of the troop and a song, which perfectly matches the images, about the romantic rovings of a young blind girl that accompanies the escape of the soldiers, burdened with their lost honours and "looking for a more merciful land", to use the director’s words, France tells of a search for a better world, one which the soldiers, however, know deep down is a utopia.
France basks in the same serene disenchantment that dominated Mods, both calm and tender. Explaining the reasons behind the choice of music he composed for the film, Bozon said that it was his love for rock music that guided his work as a director. Rock is very much present in the songs sung by the troop of deserters and it also embodies this sense of utopia and despair in the scene where the men make their escape.
Produced by David Thion for Les Films Pelléas, who are also present in the Fortnight with Mia Hänsen-Love’s debut feature, All is Forgiven [+see also:
interview: David Thion
interview: Mia Hansen-Löve
film profile], the €1.82m France was filmed in 43 days, almost entirely outdoors. The production was backed by advances on receipts (€450,000) from the Centre National de la Cinématographie (CNC), as well as support from the Centre and Ile-de-France regions and pre-sales from Ciné Cinéma.
(Translated from French)
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