Strange Gardens Review

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Set in and just after World War II in France, this film looks at a boy and his family and the impact that the war has on their lives.


Jean Becker is often dismissed as a peddler of feel-good Gallic heritage by chic British critics but — as with 1999’s undervalued Children Of The Marshland — this is a charming and deceptively acute study of the French rural character in extremis.

Given that Michel Quint’s novella considers how an act of kindness by a Nazi soldier could persuade an accidental Resistance fighter to become a clown, the action could easily have lapsed into sentimental fantasy. But such is Becker’s understanding of the delicate balance maintained by most ordinary folk during the occupation that it’s the nature of sacrifice and unity — not courage and patriotism — that underpins the flashbacked story.

Jacques Villeret and André Dussollier are both mischievous and remorseful as the teacher and milliner whose act of sabotage backfires, but the entire ensemble is as note-perfect as Zbigniew Preisner’s score.