It’s 1939 and the Germans are at the border of Arras in director Christian Carion’s Come What May, a wearisome historical drama that peddles dainty images and a melancholic score by Ennio Morricone in its depiction of the Nazis’ persecution of French citizens. The time period provides little more than an excuse to include shots of horses carrying carts of forlorn French people who are distraught by their present circumstances, but hopeful for a day when they can return to their quotidian affairs. Throughout, the filmmakers idealize oppression without interrogating its effects, placing victimized people within a painterly setting and sentimentalizing their devotion to national pride as a form of political resistance.
Scores of individuals parade through the film’s rustic terrain, and Carion fails to convincingly humanize a single one of them. Persons like Suzanne (Alice Isaaz), who’s tasked with caring for young Max (Joshio Marlon) after his father is abducted during the night, simply wander about with a furrowed brow, her consternation the extent of her characterization. When Max screams for his stolen father during the night, Carion rotely overlays piano notes from Morricone’s lamentful score. The filmmaker isn’t interested in wedging his way into his characters with any rigor or depth, which gives Come What May an incessantly hit-and-run feel, incapable of taking stock of the destruction its very premise claims to be compelled to explicate.
An earlier moment displays a richer attunement to the complex relationship between a character’s persona trauma and the history from whence it came. As a father clutches his young child inside a cemetery, Carion shoots them from a distance, with the gravestones flanking their embrace as a reminder that war is a generational affliction. However, when the Pas-de-Calais is bombed, throughout a CGI recreation that features hails of gunfire, explosions, and crashing rubble that rains down on the area’s citizens, the film grinds to a halt. Furthermore, low-angle shots ensure those pricey effects are on full display. Like Pearl Harbor or United 93 before it, the film shamelessly wrings excitement from the recreation of violent ideological conflict.
An inevitable procession of scowling Nazis is finally confronted by the resolve of French nationals, yet Carion knows only the desired end of resistance and nothing about the sociopolitical process that entails sacrifice to achieve as much. One wonders why the postwar lessons of Le Silence de la Mer, with its emphasis on the unspoken word as a universalizing form of resistance on the road toward European unification, haven’t rendered untenable the prospect of this kind of schmaltz-laden, arthouse sham. When Paul (Olivier Gourmet), a displaced farmer, says with a straight face near the film’s conclusion that “the only way to keep our grip is to return to where we belong—our home,” Come What May unwittingly becomes an endorsement for the Brexit era.