Film Review: ‘Come What May’
During the attempted mass migration of 1940 often dubbed “The French Exodus,” it was easy to tell the refugees from the aggressors. Generally, the former spoke French and the latter spoke German. However, that put a dissident German like Hans in a difficult spot. Overshadowed by outrages like the Velodrome Round-up, the ill-fated evacuation gets its dramatic due in Christian Carion’s “Come What May.”
As a critic of the National Socialist regime, Max found it advisable to leave Germany with his young son Max in a hurry. To avoid deportation, they try to pass for French Christians of ruddy peasant stock. Frankly, they are not so convincing, but the residents of their Pas-de-Calais hamlet are inclined to simply live and let live, especially Hans’ yeoman farmer boss Paul, who also happens to be the mayor.
Unfortunately, this peaceful interlude will not last long, as viewers should expect. Eventually, Hans is arrested and interned for misrepresenting his citizenship, leaving Max in the care of the town’s schoolteacher, Suzanne. Shortly thereafter, the Maginot Line [concrete fortifications and weapon installations that the French built in the ’30s to stave off invasions) caves, setting off the town’s desperate flight from the invading Germans.
Supposedly, there was a plan in place for the townspeople to be sheltered in Dieppe in the case of such an eventuality, but getting there will be quite the trick. The roads will be clogged with other internal refugees, at least until the Germans start their strafing.
Of course, their supplies quickly dwindle and communication is haphazard at best. Nevertheless, when Hans is released on humanitarian grounds, he joins forces with Percy, a stranded junior officer of the Black Watch, a Scots battalion, and together they manage to follow the notes Max leaves for him on school house blackboards.
Carion makes it clear what a sweeping, tragic, and ultimately futile chapter of French history this truly was, but his but his primary focus falls on the intimate survivors’ stories of father, son, and the displaced villagers.
August Diehl (from “The Counterfeiters“) and Joshio Marlon are totally believable and often quite touching as the exiled father and son.
Olivier Gourmet also deftly walks the line between rugged salt-of-the-earth-ness and Gallic pigheadedness as the Mayor.
However, Matthew Rhys (“The Americans,” “Death Comes to Pemberley“) steals the film several times over as the dashing Percy. With his casual panache and pencil moustache, the Welsh Rhys playing the Scots officer brings to mind the British David Niven, who really executed missions behind enemy lines as a commando with the British Army’s “Phantom” Regiment.”
Inspired by Carion’s own family history, “Come What May” helps humanize and contextualize the French wartime experience. It is often grueling, but there are moments that pay-off in spades.
The aptly stirring Ennio Morricone score is certainly an additional selling point. Recommended for Francophones and fans of Rhys, “Come What May” opens this Friday, Sept. 9 in New York, at the Paris Theatre uptown and the Angelika Film Center downtown.
Joe Bendel writes about independent film and lives in New York. To read his most recent articles, please visit jbspins.blogspot.com