The Cannes International Film Festival announced its 2010 lineup yesterday, featuring everything from an entry by Thai director Apichatpong Weerasethakul to Oliver Stone's Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps. I found myself marking the announcement by watching La France, a deep cut from the festival's 2007 edition, which included prizewinners such as 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days, The Diving Bell and the Butterfly, Persepolis, and Paranoid Park. La France barely reached theaters stateside, playing for a single week at Manhattan's Anthology Film Archives in the summer of 2008, but it finally came out on DVD earlier this month from Kino International. It's just as good as any of the other, higher-profile Cannes alums, and even more of a revelation.
What exactly is La France? The question persists long after the credits have rolled. "World War I musical" is the handiest genre-hybrid tag, but the film features only four songs—all of them sounding like 1960s pop standards and sung by soldiers with travel instruments drawn from their rucksacks—and their lyrics don't have anything to do with the film's action. The war also remains off-screen.
The most striking aspect of the film, directed by first-timer Serge Bozon, who also co-wrote the film with his wife, Axelle Ropert, is that the gender roles are almost uniformly reversed. Camille (Sylvie Testud) receives a letter one day from her husband, who's fighting on the front. In it he asks her to forget him, claiming that she'll never see him again. She consults a map, cuts her hair short, straps on suspenders to hold up her baggy clothes, and she's off to find him.