Chris Knipp Writing: Movies, Politics, Art

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PostPosted: Tue Jul 06, 2004 9:51 pm 
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Confusion of war, confusion of identities

[Published on Cinescene.]

It’s a pity André Téchiné’s brilliant little movie, Strayed (Les Égarés), comes to America not long after Jean-Paul Rappeneau’s Bon Voyage, which treats the same event, the French wartime flight from Paris to the countryside, in a much more buoyant, charming manner. The contrast may make the much lower-keyed Strayed look a bit drab. But it’s an intense, haunting film and pure Téchiné with its sexy, somewhat ambiguous relationships and intense encounters across generations.

The sad-eyed, lovely Émmanuelle Béart is Odile, a recent war widow with a 13-year-old son, Philippe (Grégoire Leprince-Ringuet), and a seven-year-old daughter, Cathy (Clémence Meyer), on the road with all the others, in their own auto. Then suddenly when the convoy they’re in is strafed by stukas and bodies are lying around and their car’s a mess and they don’t know what to do, a youth named Yvan (Gaspard Ulliel) appears out of nowhere and leads them into the woods and finds a big house for them to stay in.

Yvan is a wild, lean young man with a hard body and sheared-off hair, like the brother Benoît Magimel plays in Les Voleurs. Odile and her children are Paris people; they’re brave but inept in these circumstances, and Yvan has survival skills they lack. Camping in the recently abandoned house, these people live for a few days as an unconventional family. Yvan is big brother, younger brother, husband, elder son, outcast, wild boy, protector, or provider to the others, alternatively indifferent and willing to do anything to stay with Odile.

The wartime context has been clearly established and we know this can’t last. There are curious paradoxes. The household is mad, disturbed, yet idyllic and peaceful. Yvan is wise beyond his years, yet ignorant and uncivilized. It emerges that he can’t read. Philippe is a weak child and looks up to and tries vainly to bond with Yvan. But he’s more civilized than Yvan, more mature in moral sensibility. It’s clear that Yvan’s sense of property is vague and so are his origins. He tells a strange story about a friend who has died, but his background remains mysterious.

Strayed is as sad and brutal and incomprehensible as the war itself, and as such has more in common with Michael Haneke’s apocalyptic Time of the Wolf (also just released in the US) than with Rappeneau’s operatic, comedic, but ultimately hard to care about Bon Voyage. In Strayed, you don’t have time as a viewer to prepare for anything, just like the characters. Suddenly Odile’s car was hit and people nearby were dead. Suddenly a young man pulled Odile and her children off into the woods. Suddenly, after the odd idyll in the nice house has gone on for a few days, with Yvan catching rabbits for the others to eat, two French soldiers from Sedan appear and spend the night at the house. Suddenly when their awkward and threatening visit ends Odile and Yvan make love out in the dirt, like savages. Suddenly the whole interlude is ended and Yvan and the little family are separated. Yvan is taken away, and Odile and her children are in a refugee camp, little more than prisoners. Their moment of luxury and experimentation is over. C’est la guerre, Téchiné style.

It’s not contemplative: it’s so vivid and immediate that, were it not for the crowd scenes and Forties clothes you’d question if it has any period flavor, but it’s touching and alive and it leaves you a little bit devastated – if you’ve been paying attention – with just a hint of what it’s like to be marked by war’s abrupt gifts and deprivations. Strayed works on a smaller scale than Téchiné’s best films, but you feel the Téchiné style in every scene. However modest, this is a compelling and accomplished piece of work.

©Chris Knipp. Blog:

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