For all its originality and haunting imagery, the wartime drama “Les Égarés” [Eng. Title: Strayed] from André Téchiné remains one of his most underrated films. Much like a summer storm – it is idyllic one moment and nasty another, we won’t know how the film is going to end until the last few frames. From a Louis Malle style pace, it swings to the other extreme where events are rushed through, but they will nevertheless linger in your mind long after – there is a clear intention in the seeming chaos.
Set in 1940 when France is invaded by Germany, we watch newly widowed Odile and her two young children Philippe and Cathy in a slow-moving convoy of refugees heading south. They are in their own motorcar, and hoping they’re on the road to safety – until they get strafed by a German plane (this is a very well shot scene). Out of nowhere a youth with sheared-off hair appears and ushers them to safety in the woods just as their car is blown apart. After a night’s sleep in the open “like animals”, the youth, Yvan discovers an abandoned villa and takes the family to live there. He also forages from a nearby abandoned village and hunts rabbits to provide food for the family, in the process becoming the de facto man of the house. Odile and the children cope remarkably well, considering their grief, loss and displacement, and a strange tranquil descends upon the house when the world outside is in utter chaos. During this time Yvan also clumsily proposes to Odile. But there’s a feeling of unease that this tranquillity couldn’t last for ever, and it doesn’t. Their first ‘threat’ comes in the form of two French soldiers returning from the war, who decide to stay in the villa for the night. Yvan, fearing that they’ve come to capture him, refuses to return home. We are now provided a hint about the mysterious Yvan, is he escaping from law? But Odile handles the soldiers deftly on her own, and just when they’d seen them off, another threat arrives, after France had fallen to Germany…
I cannot quite praise this accomplished film enough – right from the direction and cinematography to the performances by the main cast – Emmanuelle Béart is particularly magnificent as the complex and charming Odile, and a young Gaspard Ulliel impresses as the impetuous yet resourceful and well-intentioned Yvan. This film is without doubt a classic, and Highly Recommended Viewing..!