Emmanuelle Béart stars as a widowed schoolteacher who flees Nazi-occupied Paris with her children. A teenaged boy comes to their rescue by leading them into the forest -- their best shot at ... Read allEmmanuelle Béart stars as a widowed schoolteacher who flees Nazi-occupied Paris with her children. A teenaged boy comes to their rescue by leading them into the forest -- their best shot at survival.Emmanuelle Béart stars as a widowed schoolteacher who flees Nazi-occupied Paris with her children. A teenaged boy comes to their rescue by leading them into the forest -- their best shot at survival.
They lose their car and all their possessions, but are rescued by a strange, resourceful teenager who becomes their guide, companion, but in some ways, their charge, as they try to hide out -- from the war itself.
This is the kind of film that most American audiences wouldn't like, because after that strafing run, not another shot is fired, not another blow struck. The story that plays out is about the main characters getting to know, tolerate and even grow found of one another, but then finding themselves faced with some uncomfortable choices.
Gregoire LaPrince-Ringuet is very good as the 13-year-old boy of the family who might have been elevated to the man of the house status, had not the mysterious teenager arrived on the scene. But rather than show resentment, he winds up doing everything possible to become the older boy's friend.
Gaspard Ulliel is quite effective as the older boy, a sort of domesticated wild child. But the film belongs to Emmanuelle Beart, who plays the mother.
Beart's character is fascinating. She has lost her husband, her home, everything she has except her two kids. She is on the road with them, dead broke, dead tired and close to despairing. But of course, she is a tower of strength, right, magnificently holding her family together in the face of personal disaster and global chaos.
Actually, no. Beart's character is depicted as a woman clearly out of her depth who can barely keep herself together in the face of the problems confronting her. She's like a ticking time bomb, ready to completely fall apart at any moment. The only thing that holds her together is her rigid, school teacher training that allows her to continue to run her fugitive family as if she is maintaining order in a classroom during an unplanned fire drill.
And it works. Beart comes off neither as the typical weak, frightened woman Hollywood movies presented so often in the 50s, nor the kick butt superwoman that we see so often in American films today. Beart is so frightened during the air attack that she pees in her pants. She is so in need of structure to take her mind off things that she starts cleaning the windows of the abandoned home they later hide in.
But she is also together enough to handle a couple of French soldiers who drift by, easily dealing with them when her self-appointed teenage protector is so unsettled by these two potential rapists he can't even stay in the house with them.
Beart underplays her role, which features spartan dialogue to begin with. But there is a lot going on for her and you see it all playing out in her eyes, and behind her eyes as well.
It is another great performance from this French star and the film would be worth seeing just to study her acting, even if she were not one of the screen's great beauties.
- May 21, 2004