Come What May
2016, R, 114 min. Directed by Christian Carion. Starring August Diehl, Matthew Rhys, Alice Isaaz, Mathilde Seigner, Olivier Gourmet, Laurent Gerra, Joshio Marlon, Thomas Schmauser, Jacques Bonnaffé.
REVIEWED By Marc Savlov, Fri., Sept. 23, 2016
The plight of wartime refugees has rarely if ever looked so picture-postcard perfect as it does in this well-intentioned but ultimately plodding and far too painterly period melodrama directed by Christian Carion. While parallels between the current Syrian refugee crisis and the massive exodus of 8 million French people fleeing the invading Nazi army and Luftwaffe in May 1940 can be drawn, Come What May perhaps follows its protagonists too closely, presumably to humanize the scale of this disastrous historical event. The result has a similar impact to that of a plastic, scale model-kit Stuka: It looks great, and obvious care has gone into it, but it isn’t able to replicate the kineticism it depicts.
German anti-Nazi protester Hans (Diehl) and his young son Max (Marlon) have fled the Third Reich and landed in the tiny French village of Pas-de-Calais where they hope to escape the war. Overheard speaking German in a bar one otherwise perfect afternoon, Hans is promptly jailed, leaving Max in the care of the local schoolteacher Suzanne (Isaaz). Within days, the Nazis are within kilometers of the town, and the mayor (Gourmet) makes the decision to move the inhabitants east while the British and French armies attempt to forestall the Huns. Unbeknownst to everyone except Percy (Rhys), a lone Scottish officer trapped behind enemy lines with the now-free Hans, the British are already retreating to Dunkirk and the French are on the verge of unconditional surrender. What follows from here is a remarkably uninspiring story of a father searching for his missing son during wartime.
Even an achingly beautiful Ennio Morricone score (too beautiful by half, truth be told) can’t spare us from the tedium of the villagers’ forced march. A bizarre subplot regarding a Snidely Whiplash-grade Nazi-propaganda filmmaker does little to advance the plot, but it does give Rhys something visually stunning to do. To be fair, there are moments of lyrical beauty scattered around like dead dray horses in wartime – an air attack on the villagers’ ragtag column, a poetic sequence featuring dozens of Panzer tanks rolling like behemoths across a rippling French wheat field – but Come What May over-romanticizes the horrific, forced French exodus. There’s even a wine-besotted town drunk who stays behind to save his beloved cellar cache of rare vintages and ends up traveling with Percy and Hans. Trés Française! It’s all too much, and trop belle pour moi.