Film Review: Come What May

In his well-crafted period war drama, writer-director Christian Carion’s uses memories of his parents and others to create an engaging slice of history both tragic and triumphant as approaching German forces send fearful Norman French villagers fleeing.
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Fans of French films and World War II history will be especially receptive to filmmaker Christian Carion’s wartime drama of decent citizens in a farm community caught in the inevitability of wartime cruelties that at best disrupt ordinary lives and families and, at worst, cost bloodshed and innocent lives.

While much of the narrative core of Come What May is based on memories of the ordeal shared by the filmmaker's family who lived in one of the these threatened villages, Carion and co-writer Laure Irrmann widen the lens to feature anti-Nazi German Hans (August Diehl) and Scottish soldier Percy (Matthew Rhys) in the mix of unfortunates caught up in the chaos.

Hans first emerges with his eight-year-old son Max (Joshio Marlon) in 1939 Germany, where the Nazis who have come to power perceive him as an enemy and force his flight to France. In the small farming town of Lubucquière (where the filmmaker lived with his family and where he shot some scenes), Hans, French-speaking but blaming his accent on his being Belgian, finds refuge and work at the farm of town mayor Paul (Olivier Gourmet) and bistro owner wife Mado (Mathilde Seigner).

But when war with France is official and Hans accidentally lets slip that he’s German, he’s thrown into a nearby prison, thus separating him from little Max. Pushing west, the German army storms the prison and Hans makes for a getaway, also meeting fellow escapee Percy, a Scottish soldier who lost his entire unit in battle and needs to return to England.

Meanwhile, Max, under the watchful eye of his young village teacher Suzanne (Alice Isaaz), joins the exodus of 1940 with Paul, Mado and other villagers, including Albert (Laurent Gerra), a good-hearted Frenchman reluctant to leave behind his beloved wine cellar, and the also-reluctant Roger (Jacques Bonnaffé), who has trouble believing the German threat is real.

On the country roads with their belongings, often packed in horse-drawn carts, the French flee. In some harrowing scenes, some realized by terrific CGI tricks, they come under attack as the Germans bomb-dive or track the migrants with menacing Panzers.

As Hans and Percy also travel the roads, Hans comes upon a blackboard message left by Max that he’s OK and will continue leaving messages in abandoned schools. Contributing added tension, this narrative strand of a parent’s war-related search for a missing child recalls Fred Zinnemann’s acclaimed post-war tale The Search.

Come What May has its share of surprises, including Percy’s startling confrontation with Arriflex (Thomas Schmauser), the fancifully named, fanciful character Carion concocted, a Nazi propaganda film director who stages re-enactments of the besieged French as they flee.

Ennio Morricone’s music is another plus here, although there will be viewers perplexed by so many, if not all, of the exteriors in this war tale bathed in sunlight. Apparently, the actual weather during the 1940 exodus was quite stunning, except for the heat. And at least one coincidence, involving Hans, is pretty hard to swallow but worth the effort for a tale like this.

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