3.5 out of 5 stars
As audiences travel into another film centred on the historical events surrounding World War Two, the expectation can be for a narrative dominated by Americans, Germans and the Japanese. While the French can be relegated to the French Resistance's mere guerilla warfare, much of the war was fought on their soil. Yet, their work was significant in the eventual defeat of the Axis nations. The person credited with being the voice of this group of fighters was Charles de Gaulle. An exiled French general who worked from inside the nation’s government and the military to give hope to the people of the land he loved.
During the events surrounding the eventual surrender of Paris in the weeks of June 1940, the De Gaulle family must come to terms with the Nazi invasion. Charles (Lambert Wilson) works within the French President's cabinet to keep the French from surrendering to Hitler’s forces. Still, the military leader works from a defeatist position. As he tries to gain Winston Churchill's support (Tim Hudson) and the English people to help his countrymen, Yvonne de Gaulle (Isabelle Carré) must determine the best course of action for their family. Especially with their youngest daughter, Anne (Clémence Hitten), who has Down’s syndrome and struggles to adapt to significant changes.
As things quickly fall apart within the French government, Charles must determine if he will remain in his homeland to fight or continue traveling to England to rally support. A decision that becomes more complex as communication between him and his family becomes limited. Yet, every situation's urgency becomes more and more tenuous, which leads to him having to leave for England with the hope that his family will be able to remain safe. De Gaulle must determine where his loyalties lie and how he can serve his country while caring for his family.
What was fascinating about this history lesson was how they humanised the war effort through a component not often seen in cinemas. To see the French experience through this cultural lens provided a fresh depiction of events and how they impacted people's lives in a short time. The film focuses on the weeks leading up to and immediately after Paris' fall to record De Gaulle’s Appeal of June 18, 1940. The now famous speech that he gave on BBC radio would pave the way for the French Resistance. A pivotal point of the war effort that led the French to be active participants in the treaties signed at the end of the war.
Even though the military history is compelling, the real story is depicted within the telling of the De Gaulle family experiences. Unlike many films within French cinema, Gabriel Le Bomin’s film is a beautiful depiction of family's value and their devotion to one another. Much of the films that come from this European nation can lean into the darker side of the human experience, while De Gaulle manages to capitalise on the struggles of life while lifting up the value of the marriage of Charles and Yvonne. Even though some may struggle with the language barrier, this is still a story worth seeking out to learn more of this era and to be encouraged by this intimate depiction of the DeGaulle’s journey together.
REEL DIALOGUE: How far are people willing to go for their convictions?
Even without fully understanding each historical aspect of De Gualle, it is hard not to appreciate the conviction of belief in the French General. Being willing to the safety of his family, losing his citizenship while in England, and potential time in prison looming for his national devotion would cause anyone to pause and think.
For Christians, this standard is set by the leader of this belief system in this statement. “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it."
Are you willing to risk it all for your beliefs and if not, what is the limit to your convictions?