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For more movie summaries, see Kam's Kapsules.

photo caption:
DESPERATELY SEEKING A SAFE HAVEN: Cathy (Clemence Meyer, left) is being carried by Yvan (Gaspard Ulliel) while Odile (Emmanuelle Beart) and Phillipe (Gregoire Leprince-Ringuet) follow closely behind as they escape the Nazi plane strafing them when they were caught in a traffic gridlock caused by refugees, like themselves, fleeing the war.
end caption.


"Strayed" ("Les Egares"): Desperation Makes Strange Bedfellows in World War II Survival Saga

Review by Kam Williams

It is 1940 at the onset of the Nazi invasion of France. The recently widowed Odile (Emmanuelle Beart) has abandoned her home in Paris and is fleeing the city with her children, 7 year-old Cathy (Clemence Meyer) and 13 year-old Philippe (Gregoire Leprince-Ringuet). Then, while their car is idling in the traffic gridlock caused by equally desperate refugees, a German fighter plane swoops down and starts strafing the defenseless queue of innocent civilians stuck like sitting ducks on the congested highway.

Frozen with fear, the family is saved by Yvan (Gaspard Ulliel), a quick-thinking 17-year-old who rushes them into the forest before the aircraft returns for another round of slaughter. Bedraggled and bewildered, they walk deep into the countryside where they find a manor house whose owners have gone. Yvan breaks in, and rather than rejoin the insanity of war, the four find some solace in the temporary tranquillity offered by this undiscovered oasis.

This is the point of departure of Strayed, directed by André Techiné, the celebrated French filmmaker who has been nominated 7 times at Cannes, winning Best Director in 1985 for Rendez-vous. He's been nominated for a total of 14 Cesars over the course of his illustrious career, winning three for writing, directing, and producing Les Roseaux Sauvages.

Strayed, Mr. Techiné's 21st film, is based on Les Egares, the best-selling novel by Gilles Perrault. What is remarkable about this jewel of a movie is that it measures up to its source material, but not via a faithful compacting of each chapter, as has been done in so many ill-fated adaptations which briefly recount every significant event of a book.

Instead, this picture manages to convey both the breadth and depth of its characters' horrible plight without resorting to either wide-angle panoramas of devastation or the unending accounts of agony normally associated with such sagas. Thus, though we sense that carnage is occurring elsewhere nearby, Techiné's unusually-tight camera shots cast an almost claustrophobic pall over the story he has chosen to tell.

Strayed is not really set against the backdrop of the war, although the Nazi occupation has infected the protagonists with a primordial fear which has them each behaving in bizarre ways which can only be explained as primitive self-preservation. Reminiscent of such desert island classics as Swept Away and Lord of the Flies, this film shows how easily civilization can break down into anarchy.

Initially schoolteacher Odile, as the only adult, takes charge as they set up house. She even offers Yvan lessons, when she realizes he cannot read. But because Yvan is physically stronger and has a good sense of survival, he emerges as the head of the household.

Yvan, though a virgin, seeks sexual favors from this attractive older woman who must be about twice his age. Vulnerable, Odile knows that she is not in a position to dismiss his overtures out of hand. Meanwhile, her children are playing up to Yvan for his protection, with innocent Cathy asking him to marry her, and Philippe shifting loyalties, lying to his mother to protect the stranger suddenly in their midst.

The ensuing scenario becomes more complicated when a couple of starving French soldiers wander into their forest haven. What makes Strayed so compelling throughout is that it is, at heart, a microscopic suspense drama quite independent of the war which brought its unfortunate characters together.

Excellent (Three and 1/2 stars). Unrated. In French with subtitles.

end of review.

For more movie summaries, see Kam's Kapsules.


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