Movie Reviews : La France & Le Doulos (or “Deux de France”)

Although Camille (Testud) never sees the warfront, she does experience war’s harsh conditions. (Les Films Pelleas)

LA FRANCE ‘07

La France is the first film I’ve watched starring Sylvie Testud – and it won’t be the last.  In Serge Bozon’s “war musical”, she confirms her reputation as the go-to actress for offbeat films in France.

As the lovesick Camille, she passes time waiting for her husband tending to the house and running to the town’s highest hill to spot any combat action. Her husband has left her to serve in the country’s army during World War I (“The Great War”) in 1917. But a letter written by him sends her much closer to the warfront than just a hilltop view.  The letter sparks the old fighter within Camille: She aims to find her husband and drag him back home, since as she says, “The war has come between us.”

After transforming herself into an androgynous lad, Camille quickly comes across a group of tired soldiers who at first attempt to stop her from joining their motley crew. Of course, she succeeds after a comedic suicide attempt reminiscent of Giuletta Masina in Federico Fellini’s Nights of Cabiria seals the deal.

After begrudgingly welcoming her into the fold, the group of soldiers serenades her in the first of four bawdy “war songs” named after countries involved in the war (“L’Angleterre (England)”, “L’Allemagne (Germany)”, etc.). Every song builds off of “Gospel Lane” by Robbie Curtic and Tom Payne and consists of lyrics such as “I would like France to be invaded by Poland/I feel pleasant vibrations.” Noticeably, Camille never sings any songs, which always began with “I, the blind girl…” and conclude, merrily, recounting some horizontal tango with a gentleman from the country spotlighted in the song.

The four war songs are themselves the score, since viewers are spared an overused bump-in-the-night score that usually fails to conjure up any goose bumps. Instead, Bogon uses crooked angles to foreshadow trouble;  first, when Camille runs into a dubious French liaison officer and later when the group eludes enemy horse-back riders (mind you, these are pre-drone days).

When the company leaves the cave, a series of untimely events set the stage for the Mulan-like discovery of Camille’s secret. But this is not a Disney movie and the disclosure causes a deadly ripple effect.

Sadly, the rag-tag group lead by Pascal Greoggory, who at times resembles action hero Bruce Willis, never sings the anti-war chanson by Boris Vian that aptly describes their situation.

Side-note: For reasons very well known to me (but shall remain very well unknown to you), I have an affinity for kleptos. So, when the vulture antics (or “pilfering” as frequently referred to by his comrade-in-arms) of “the cadet”, Thibault Marin (Guillaume Verdier), finally catch up with him so goes the character I relate to the most. His off-camera death scene ends with a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it long shot that makes the later discovery of his body more upsetting – and not just for Testud’s Camille either.

Legendary French actor Gérard Depardieu’s late son Guillaume also makes a cameo as Testud’s runaway husband.

Classic Rating Scale: 7.5/10 – Potential Cult Clasic

LE DOULOS (The Snitch) ‘62

In this typical (in a good way) Jean-Pierre Melville affair, aged burglar Maurice Faugel (Serge Reggiani) returns to Parisian streets as a free man and soon plans another heist before settling down with Thérese (the soon-to-be victim of a slap-happy scene that puts those “leitmotifs” from the James Bonds series to shame).

However, Faugel’s trusted companions for the heist quickly prove how costly misplaced trust can be in underworld circles – but the story’s unexpected twist will leave many surprised.

Well, at least I was and I consider myself a film noir aficionado.

Melville explores the grey area of what actually qualifies as snitching – and there’s plenty examples of it since there is more than one rat in Faugel’s midst.  Jean-Paul Belmondo, ex-boxer and Michel from Jean Luc-Godard’s hallmark Breathless (A bout de soufflé) also stars in his second Melville film.

Classic Rating Scale: 6/10 – Re-Watchable

Maurice Faugel (Reggiani) takes a look at the man in the mirror. (Rialto Pictures)

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