Serge Bozon, La France, 2007, still from a color film in 35 mm, 102 minutes. Le Lieutenant and Camille (Pascal Greggory and Sylvie Testud).

SERGE BOZON’S SINGULAR, extraordinary La France (2007), which never received a proper theatrical release in the US but will be available on DVD from Kino this week, might be thought of as the structural inverse of Jacques Demy’s Umbrellas of Cherbourg. In Demy’s 1964 musical, every word of dialogue is sung; within this audacious exercise lies an achingly antiwar film, its hero shipped off to fight in Algeria. Bozon’s film, similarly daring, unfolds as a drama about the horrors, loneliness, and camaraderie of World War I that intermittently (four times, to be specific) blooms into a delirious, anachronistic musical.

Liberty, equality, fraternity: Gaul’s motto is dissected throughout Bozon’s movie, which laments the folly of nationalism. The straightforward title of the film is echoed in the names of the songs themselves: “England,” “Italy,” “Germany,” and “Poland.” Each, with lyrics written by the director, begins with the line “I, the blind girl. . . ,” sung by weary soldiers who come to life with their handcrafted string instruments, made from tin cans and other everyday detritus. Gender discordance runs throughout, as Camille (Sylvie Testud), in search of her fighting husband, cuts her tresses and binds her breasts to join ten combatants led by a haggard lieutenant (Pascal Greggory), who, like Camille, also hides a secret. Testud and Greggory, two of the finest actors working today, convey the depth of their characters’ despair with precise gestures, usually a shrug or a downward gaze.

Yet the dolor isn’t constant: Camille beams with pure enchantment the first time her comrades break into song—creamy, harmonious ditties that suggest outtakes from Pet Sounds and other mid-’60s pop manna. The aural magic of La France, combined with the magnificent cinematography of Céline Bozon (the director’s sister), who frequently films anxious wives and the roaming regiment at a distance, transports the viewer out of fixed notions of time and space. In its final scene, Bozon’s unforgettable war movie can no longer remain earthbound.

Melissa Anderson

La France is available on DVD beginning April 6. For more details, click here.