La France is a platoon film unlike any I've ever seen. Director Serge Bozon treats the first total war with fairy-tale matter-of-factness. The movie opens in May 1917, nearly three years into World War I. French farm girl Camille (Sylvie Testud) receives a letter from her soldier husband warning that she will not hear from and perhaps never see him again. That night, she crops her hair and sets off for the front in the guise of a 17-year-old boy. Her adventures are at once dreamlike and prosaic: Wandering in the woods, she stumbles upon an encampment of sleeping soldiers and lies down among them. Next morning, the freaked-out soldiers expel the mysterious boy; when Camille insists on tagging along, the not-unsympathetic commanding officer (Pascal Greggory)—who has already warned her that traveling with them is a journey toward death—fires a warning shot that inexplicably pierces her hand. This wound insures that the soldiers will accept the lad into their ranks. While Camille seeks news of the front, the platoon resolutely avoids it. Without ever surrendering its deadpan naturalism, La France becomes increasingly poetic: The seasons change, the landscape grows barren, and the stars in the sky take their names from the dead men below.
French cannon fodder during WWI.
Runs at Northwest Film Forum, Fri., Sept. 5–Thurs., Sept. 11. Not rated. 120 minutes.