Strayed (Les Egares)

on May 16, 2003 by Tim Cogshell
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As the Germans begin their brutal occupation of France in the summer of 1940, the denizens of Paris flee into the countryside. Exposed on the open road, the civilians--mostly old people, women and children--are attacked by German Stukas in vicious strafing runs. A young widow, Odile (Emmanuelle Beart, "8 Women"), and her two children, 13-year-old stoic, bright Philippe (Gregorie Leprince-Ringuet) and five-year-old Cathy (Clemence Meyer), are saved by a capable older teenage boy called Yvan (Gaspard Ulliel).

Though Odile is distant and leery, the children are quickly taken with the strangely charming yet unrefined boy. He finds an abandoned house in the country where they take up residence away from the war. An odd family dynamic is formed. Savvy Yvan is good at finding food and provides a steadying presence for Philippe and Cathy. They feel safe with him, as does their mother, though for the longest time she's loath to admit it. Yvan is taken with the beautiful Odile, who ultimately finds herself attracted to (and protective of) the odd young boy.

Actor Gaspard Ulliel's startling good looks belie the strangeness of his character. Yvan has secrets and he tells little lies, yet he is just as likely to speak biting truths at the most inappropriate moment.

Unlike many directors who've explored the war period, Techine ("Wild Reeds," "Alice and Martin") focuses not on large-scale destruction but rather on the smaller, personal story. The war exists in "Strayed," and it weighs heavily on all of the characters, but there's nary an epic battle or menacing Nazi to be found. Instead, Techine sees the war through a set of interesting characters whose paths cross out of happenstance, but who affect each other profoundly, leaving marks as indelible as any the long war will ultimately render.

A strange family drama and romance on the fringes of WWII is hardly as devastating as "Saving Private Ryan" or "The Pianist." But for those burned out on big battle scenes and carnage, this is an insightful reprieve every bit as weighty as its noisier cousins. Starring Emmanuelle Beart, Gaspard Ulliel, Gregoire Leprince-Ringuet, Clemence Meyer, Jean Fornerod and Samuel Labarthe. Directed by Andre Techine. Written by Gilles Taurand and Andre Techine. Produced by Jean-Pierre Ramsay-Levi. A Wellspring release. Drama/Romance. French-language; subtitled. Unrated. Running time: 95 min

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