It’s hard not to think of the tragic crisis in Syria while watching the long marches of refugees through the countryside in “Come What May,” a dramatic World War II film based on the displacement of 8 million French citizens after the Germans invaded in May 1940.
The film has its share of Nazi atrocities, but what’s striking – and a bit incongruous – is how picturesque the film is. That’s the case from the lovely countryside landscapes and the dignified processions of well-mannered people fleeing for their lives to the pretty film score by the great Ennio Morricone.
The film by French filmmaker Christian Carion toggles between following the hoped-for reunification of hollow-eyed Hans (August Diehl), a German resistance fighter, and 8-year-old son Max (Joshio Marlon) after they are separated, and the struggle of the northern French village they first arrive in to evade the advancing Germans.
Hans, jailed under suspicion of being a spy, is released as the Nazis swarm the town and he finds his way to safety to look for Max while teaming up with Percy (Matthew Rhys), a Scottish officer and later, a farmer with a valued wine cellar.
Max is watched over by Suzanne (Alice Isaaz), a caring teacher who becomes a surrogate mother, as Paul, the village’s strong-shouldered and good-hearted mayor (Olivier Gourmet), elects to evacuate their village for safer haven. While on the move, Max leaves notes for his father on chalkboards.
Both Hans’ entourage and the villagers encounter their share of tense confrontations. The most harrowing comes in the form of deadly strafing from German warplanes. There are also staged killings by a German filmmaker making propaganda films and the pursuit by German soldiers on search-and-destroy missions.
The film has the familiar story arc of a traditional war film, but could have used fewer subplots and more character development. There are also missed emotional connections that cried out for more to occur.
Even so, “Come What May” has its share of suspenseful and touching moments, while reminding viewers of the hardships faced by refugees of war, then and now.
COME WHAT MAY
2 1/2 STARS
STARRING: August Diehl, Joshio Marlon, Matthew Rhys, Olivier Gourmet, Alice Isaaz
DIRECTOR: Christian Carion
RUNNING TIME: 113 minutes
RATING: Rated R for violence and adult themes
THE LOWDOWN: A father and son seek to be reunited and villagers seek safe haven in northern France during World War II.