The long and winding roads.
Whatever its shortcomings, Come What May, the World War II thriller by Oscar-nominated filmmaker Christian Carion (Joyeux Noel), deserves credit at least for getting to its point with a series of title cards right up front, explaining that the German military invasion of France, beginning on May 10, 1940 “drove almost 8 million people from their homes,” resulting in “One of the largest displacements of people of the 20th Century.”
Backtracking slightly to a year earlier in Germany, the film introduces Hans (August Diehl, Inglorious Basterds), a local activist and resister of Nazi efforts, who finds that he has no alternative but to flee his homeland if he wants to ensure freedom and safety for himself and his eight year old son Max (Joshio Marlon, Alone in Berlin). The pair takes up residence in Lebucquière, a little farming village in the northern region of France until Hans’ ruse as a Belgian expatriate is exposed and he’s hauled off to jail in the nearby capital city of Arras, suspected of being a German spy.
Acting on instructions from the Prefecture, Lebucquière’s mayor (Olivier Gourmet, Madame Bovary) gathers his neighbors to inform them that the German invasion has begun and they’re hereby advised to leave at once—temporarily abandoning their homes and fields—and head towards the southern “host town” of Dieppe, for their own safety. Duty-bound, the mayor offers to lead them on this arduous journey. As the large convoy heads out—some in horse-drawn carriages, but most on foot—responsibility for the recently abandoned young Max is grudgingly taken over by his pretty young schoolteacher, Suzanne Blondel (Alice Isaaz, Elle).
As bombs rain down upon the city, causing its citizens to flee, Arras prison guards make the humane decision to unlock the cells, so that their inhabitants have a fighting chance for survival. Thus sprung, Hans decides to make his way back to the little farming village where he left his son. On the way, he runs into Percy (Matthew Rhys, The Lost World), a Scottish soldier whose entire platoon has been wiped out by enemy fire. Though at cross purposes, the pair decide on travelling together, making their way under the cover of dense forest.
From this point, Come What May cross-cuts between the two travelling units, simultaneously blending heart-felt moments of sadness, joy and sheer terror with mechanical problems that had my critical nostrils flaring. It may sound petty to point out Carion’s over-reliance on long pans over lines of tired, hungry refugees on the march—yes, there are pregnant women, senior citizens and small children among the ranks—but how many times do we need to see this same progression before these streams of haggard people begin to represent little more than transitional shots from scene to scene?
Let’s just skip past the matter of anachronisms in the forms of hairstyles and lessons in feminist empowerment and focus the cloying, manipulative method employed to let Hans know that he’s on the right road to reuniting with his son. Resourceful little Max decides to leave his father notes on a series of schoolroom blackboards along the way, careful to correspond in only French, so those horrible Nazis will be none the wiser.
Sounds clever, yes? Think about it, though. This method of communication would be fool-proof only if: a). France was so small a region that everybody would be forced to trek exactly the same paths to get from one place to another. b). Hans and Max were the only Germans who understood French. c). Blackboards were incapable of being erased and schoolrooms were incapable of being destroyed by the same weaponry currently leveling all other forms of architecture in the surrounding areas.
O.K., I’m off the soapbox and happy to report that on balance, Come What May succeeds in giving an over-used cinematic setting (World War II) a fresh perspective by focusing less on battlefield heroics and casualties, in favor of spotlighting the plight of the displaced. Not to worry: if you’re looking for action, this film’s got its fair share, but without the vile, anonymous gratuity of a video game. That said, one of the most interesting characters introduced here represents inhumanity at its finest—a documentary film maker (brilliantly played by Thomas Schmauser, Farewell) from the Third Reich, grandly endeavoring to present the thrilling success story of the glorious Nazi campaign by casting prisoners of war as enemy soldiers to be mowed down by real bullets in battlefield reenactments.
The spring blooms, the blue skies—occasionally darkened by advancing Stuka squadrons—and the bullet wounds are all brought out in exquisite and excruciating detail for this this 2.40:1/1080p Blu-ray transfer from Cohen Media. Equal attention has been paid to the DTS-HD 5.1 Master Audio track, which deftly blends the multilingual dialogue with Ennio Morricone’s stirring score (mixed with period songs by Edith Piaf and Charles Trenet; a nice touch) and the sounds of nature, which in the case of war, can go from sublime to sickening within seconds.
Cohen rounds out the package with a healthy compliment of extras including audio commentary and an additional interview with director Carion; a pair of behind-the-scenes featurettes: one on the making of the film, another on composer Morricone (The Sicilian Clan), and finally, the theatrical trailer.
Largely through the efforts of first-rate performances from a large ensemble cast, Come What May ultimately triumphs over its technical deficiencies, delivering a unique and compelling tale that needs to be told, lest we forget.
Vive le Film!