Page 45 Review by Jonathan
"We'll sleep in the car. One night won't hurt us!
"That's a French plane I think."
It's not... It is the Luftwaffe, but that's the least of Gabriel Corte's problems as he tries to flee Paris with his mistress for the safety of, well, anywhere the Germans aren't. Unfortunately practically every other Parisian in June 1940 has had the same very sensible idea and taken to the roads and rail network causing travel chaos akin to a British Bank Holiday Monday! Amidst this turmoil and mass movement of people we follow the varied misfortunes of several families and individuals of rather diverse social standing seeking refuge en route to apparent safety. As you might expect, there are those whom think they can simply buy or bribe their way out of the situation, and those who are just going to have to rely on their wits, good manners and the charity of others. Oh and of course we will be certain to encounter a few ne'er do wells all the way...
The source material for this adaptation has a fascinating history all of its own. Originally planned as a series of five novels, the author Irène Némirovsky was arrested by French Vichy policemen, ironically enough shortly after having fled Paris for being a 'stateless person of Jewish descent' and she died in Auschwitz of typhus just a month later. Her red suitcase containing the two novels she had written was kept by her two daughters but not opened until 1998 as they were afraid it contained their mother's personal diary. The novels were subsequently published in a single volume entitled Suite Française in 2004 to widespread acclaim and a film part funded by the BBC was released earlier this year.
What captivated me about this adaptation was the real sense of turbulence, indeed absolute utter chaos, brought to people's lives overnight by the enforced Parisian exodus, and the very different reactions of the protagonists' responses. The upper crust, you can tell, believe it a mere temporary inconvenience, and you can certainly see how there were those who were only too willing to collaborate with the Germans for a quiet life and return to normality.
I wouldn't go quite so far as to say they merely, naively, saw it as little more than an enforced change of government, but they were clearly blissfully unaware of what was going to follow over the next few years. The working class, however, were fairly immediately subject to uncertainty, deprivation and hardship, though again, a mere taste of what they had to expect during the war once it got started properly on the western front.
Reading this certainly left me an urge to try the novels themselves (our Dee is a big fan) as the only downside, probably due to the large cast of characters, was I felt I was getting barely more than a snapshot of each of their stories. I suspect the adaptation must by necessity have been substantially abridged. In terms of the art, had I not known it was a different artist, I would have completely believed you if you told me it was Jacques Tardi, in ADELE BLANC-SEC form, even down to the lettering. In fact I note this artist, Emmanuel Moynot, continued the hugely popular (in France) NESTOR BURMA series of graphic novels after Tardi had done the first five, so I'm possibly not the only one to notice the similarity in style!