Combustible Celluloid
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With: Emmanuelle Béart, Gaspard Ulliel, Grégoire Leprince-Ringuet, Clémence Meyer, Jean Fornerod, Samuel Laberthe, Eric Krekenmayer
Written by: André Téchiné, Gilles Taurand, based on a novel by Gilles Perrault
Directed by: André Téchiné
MPAA Rating: Unrated
Language: French with English subtitles
Running Time: 95
Date: 05/16/2003

Strayed (2004)

3 Stars (out of 4)

Soul Survivors

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

In the beginning, the extraordinary Emmanuelle Béart was cast only according to her astonishingly ethereal beauty. She's now in her late 30s and more beautiful than ever, but she has begun to appear less as window dressing and in more three-dimensional roles.

As Odile, a widowed schoolteacher in hiding during the early days of World War II, she very nearly overwhelms the part with her potent presence. It's difficult to take your eyes off of her to watch the rest of the action. Fortunately, director André Téchiné has a few surprises up his sleeve.

Odile and her two children, 13 year-old Philippe (Grégoire Leprince-Ringuet) and 7 year-old Cathy (Clémence Meyer) are fleeing Paris, on a crowded road packed with refugees and all their belongings. An air raid kills half the people and forces the family into the woods, where they meet a young man, 17 year-old Yvan (Gaspard Ulliel), who appears to have some kind of military or survival training.

Odile reluctantly teams up with him, sensing that he may be the key to their survival. They find an abandoned house and move in, trying to get by as long as possible without getting caught.

Based on a novel by Gilles Perrault, adapted by Gilles Taurand and André Téchiné, Strayed concentrates on the rivalry between the party's two oldest members. Odile believes she should be in charge, but Yvan actually possesses all the survival skills, and hence the power. Odile resents Yvan, but without the novel's interior thought, her behavior comes across as petty and stubborn.

Eventually the movie succeeds by keeping Yvan at arm's length through his odd behavior; we actually begin to side with Odile. Things grow increasingly odd as Odile finds herself attracted to her younger savior.

Best of all, the film manages to evoke the uncertainties and terrors of war without subjecting us to the usual battle scenes and unquestioning heroism.

Téchiné (Les Voleurs, My Favorite Season) balances the film's psychology just right, keeping us absorbed in the action and turning the psychological tables when least expected. During the strange and tacked-on ending the spell is broken briefly. But until then, it's a riveting character study.

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