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Make Love and not War... and before thinking it's too corny, think of today's context...
"Ilsa, I'm not good at being noble. But it doesn't take much to see that the problems of three little people don't amount to a hill of beans in this crazy world."
These unforgettable lines from "Casablanca" hit a sensitive chord in Gérard Jugnot's "Blue Beret", which is about a couple in crisis after the husband, Patrick, a rich wine grower cheated on his wife, a Spanish wine expert named Alicia. They're both played by Gérard Jugnot and Victoria Abril, and like in Jugnot's previous film, "A Wonderful Era", they have a great chemistry as a couple, and the writing really strikes for its tragicomic realism, as both speak from the hart, yet, no one manage to reach the other's: that verbal dead-end is the soul of marital arguments.
The story takes off when Patrick tries to make amends by taking Alicia to a second honeymoon in that Mediterranean island where they have so many cherished memories. The mission of Patrick will be to conquer back his wife's heart and this game like sea tides, will have its share of ups and downs, he'll try to flirt with her, win a smile or two, gives his best shot by recreating the same romantic dinner they had in the seaside, but marital history repeats itself until adultery raises its ugly head. So, the great evening crashes into Alicia's incapability to forgive Patrick's behavior: total dead-end. We feel like only an act of God can save the couple, or something really, really exceptional.
It all comes down to Patrick's desperate attempts to revive the marital flame being caught in the real flames, a Balkan-like war, that will be put more than their love, at stakes, but their lives. They'll discover the extents of the world's craziness and as good old Rick would say, the value of their little problems. Of course, they totally forget about them, and the flame of love is revived, a rather thin consolation, but when Alicia misses her only chance to flee on a plane just to join her husband, it's a very emotionally rewarding moment. And we understand the title as the Blue Beret refers to the peacekeeping troops of the United Nations, and the strange way the real war was the peacekeeper within the war we witnessed between the main protagonists.
But the film doesn't just focus on these two characters. The exposition presents us the other vacationers, and what strikes first is that there aren't many ones, but it's not in quantity, but quality, the less, the more substantial they are. You have a has-been singer, in love with the hotel owner, a French homosexual in the closet, played by the late Jean-Pierre Cassel. You have an ex-soldier soldier declared unfit for the service, an old (and odd) couple with a little dog, they're both played by two veteran actors: Claude Piéplu and Micheline Presle, and to complete the gallery, the spinster, a bitter secretary played by then rising star Valérie Lemercier, she looks like a comic relief but she might be the most heart-breaking one. And basically, the film opens with the right misleading impressions, and that's what makes it pleasantly surprising.
Ever since "French Fried Vacation", the cult comedy from 1978, made by the Splendid Troop (including Jugnot) vacations movies have always been a major sub-genre of French comedy, and the success of the "Camping" franchise proves it. So the film starts like a comedy, the poor secretary who desperately seduces the owner, clueless about his homosexuality, the old man who's too busy catching the right angle with his camcorder and so forth, but these characters don't play their cards from the start, and the misadventures they live allow us to get deeper in their troubles, Oedipal or personal, those that aren't solved yet, contrarily to Patrick and Alicia. Jugnot proves that his 'Peace and Love' times were over, even love could have war as an ugly backdrop, and that ugliness might conceal some hidden wounds, all relate, guess what, to love.
There is a lot of anger repressed in the film, and finally it's only during the crisis that people open their heart and can finally vent their feelings. In a scene where they're all trapped in a fridge, they finally reveal their secrets, and it goes on until a resolution that close each character's arc in a way that never gets too simplistic or unrealistic. And this is a talent that Jugnot already displayed in "A Wonderful Era", he's really capable when it comes to invent true to life yet cinematically appealing characters. This might have to do with his average French looks, but his total lack of glamour is like a prism that could capture all the insecurities and psychological torments of average people, to which Jugnot is the most emblematic spokesperson.
And for once, the average guys face an extraordinary situation, the one reveals the greatest souls, and the bottom-line of "Blue Beret" is that some people's problems can amount a hill of a bean after all. While they will all try to get the hell out of the war, not all of them will take the plane to go home, some find a better meaning to their life, a new path, and they all have one thing in common, they're driven by love. The conclusion echoes that beautiful sequence when Edith Piaf's "Hymn to Love" was heard on the bus radio when they cross a disaster area, full of ruins, cadavers, crying children and blood marks. The contrast between the song and the hellish vision of war is like the combination of the best and the worst from humanity, and yes, sometimes, from the worst, you can make the best.
It can't get more inspiring than that, and Jugnot handles drama and comedy with a remarkable virtuosity, to show that in the worst contexts, anyone can be good, even excellent, at being noble.
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