OUTPUT CINE – Lambert Wilson is a chameleon. After having played in the cinema abbé Pierre (Winter of 54, 1989) and jacques Cousteau (The Odyssey, 2016), here it is in the movie De Gaulle (Wednesday, march 4 on screens) in the role of the leader of the free France and founder of the Fifth Republic.
The French cinema is oddly little interest to general de Gaulle: four television films, but no feature-length film. This De Gaulle is the first one on the big screen, but is not a biopic, it is limited to the three-month period, between April and June 1940, when the fate of the general –and France– has shifted.
The De Gaulle “illegitimate”
The director, Gabriel Le Bomin, explained that the issue was quickly settled with his screenwriter Valerie Ranson-Enguiale: “We quickly agreed on the fact that we could not tell all his life, since there are many De Gaulle-in-one. So, where is the address? What was of interest to us, it is the De Gaulle “illegitimate”: the man of June 1940, the one who said “no”. It is without doubt the time of his life where he is most fragile, the most interesting and the most human… As a backdrop to this project, there was the ambition to gain access to the intimate”.
The film tells these weeks in the spring of 1940 where the war is intensifying, where the French army collapses, where the Germans advance toward Paris, and where the panic wins the government. Freshly promoted to general, De Gaulle between the government of Paul Reynaud as under-secretary of State for War and national Defence. This is the end of his military career and the beginning of his political career.
De Gaulle made numerous trips to London and meetings with Winston Churchill to try to find a response to the invader, German. But when the marshal Pétain, who took the estate of Paul Reynaud, announces the capitulation of France, De Gaulle decided to stay in London, launched his famous appeal of 18 June, and calls for resistance.
The film shows around de Gaulle’s support of Georges Mandel (Gilles Cohen), then minister of the Interior, the hesitation of the president of the Council Paul Reynaud (Olivier Gourmet) influenced by his mistress Hélène de Portes (Philippine Leroy-Beaulieu), the intransigence of his successor, marshal Pétain (Philippe Laudenbach), and in London the key role played by Winston Churchill (Tim Hudson). All of this is filmed in a classical way, in a tone sometimes very explanatory, with dialogs a little starched: when a character speaks to another, he mentions his name, so that the spectator identifies.
The De Gaulle family
While this historical context is known. What is less clear, and this is the other aspect of the film –the main one, and the most interesting– it is the De Gaulle family and in particular his intimate relationship with his wife Yvonne, been discreet, who has never given any interview, often caricaturée, and to which the movie gives a great place, in the guise of Isabelle Carré.
During these few weeks, she leaves the family home la Boisserie in Colombey-les-deux-Eglises in the Haute-Marne with their three children (Philip, 18, Elizabeth, 16 years old, Anne, 12 years old) to stay with her sister in the Loiret before heading towards Brittany Carantec and then to Brest, where she attempts to board a boat for England… On the roads of the exodus, separated from her husband, she has no news of him –and him not. When Charles moved to London on 17 June, Yvonne ignores it… And, “we show in the movie, it is reading an English newspaper that she will learn that her husband has launched his famous appeal on the BBC! It is a true gift of the Story for writers…”, said Gabriel Le Bomin.
Their daughter, Anne, down’s syndrome, died at age 20
The director filmed the lunches family at Colombey, shows Yvonne de Gaulle lively and passionate, imagine the intimate scenes between her and her husband, and especially times spent with their daughter, Anne, to have down syndrome, who died of pneumonia in 1948 to 20 years (see here the famous photo of De Gaulle taking Anne in his arms on a beach in Britain in 1933).
“Yes, the film is the story of a married couple,” explains the director. “Yvonne and Charles de Gaulle had a strong relationship, very built and can be seen clearly in the letters they exchanged at that time or in his war Memoirs, which he dedicated to him “for you Yvonne, without whom nothing would have been done”. Yvonne is very present in the choices he makes, especially in these times when it is fragile”.
Not a hagiography
It is the fourth feature film of fiction by Gabriel Le Bomin, known for his historical documentary and political cooperation, the Algerian war or the Fifth Republic, after having joined in his youth the Service cinema of the army. He said not to have asked for the permit to the heirs of De Gaulle to realize his project: “The film was not meant to be a hagiography, or placed on a guardianship of any kind, whether it is family or institutional, ( … ). Therefore, we do not went to see the Foundation Charles de Gaulle, or the family De Gaulle. But we’ve been informed from the beginning by getting in touch with the grandkids, Yves de Gaulle and Anne de La Roullière”.
Prosthetics and makeup
Still had to find the performer of the “grand Charles”. This was Lambert Wilson, who has spent during the shooting three and a half hours daily for makeup, placement of dentures, the hairstyle and the dress, but wanted to avoid a strict imitation. “We’ve spoken a lot with Lambert Wilson, with the willingness to do anything to overload”, says the director. “It was necessary to give him all the qualities to embody De Gaulle (the costume, the makeup, prosthetics, etc), but I wanted the actor remains present. I didn’t want to have the impression of filming in the Grévin museum!”
Not imitation of the voices of the general
Lambert Wilson (recently seen in The Translators, and has been the captain of a frigate in Voluntary in 2018) has notably avoided trying to imitate the timbre of voice of the general. “To be honest, I admit that we have thought to do that at the beginning,” explains the actor. “But with Gabriel, we’re told that, in intimate moments or daily, De Gaulle could not use a tone bombastic. It was a tribune exceptional which was addressed to crowds, and who, at the time of the film, begins to find this kind of tone especially when its interventions to the BBC. But it is a sound, very dated which was necessarily different when he was with his own. (…) I have come to understand that trying too paste to the voice of De Gaulle would bring a theatricality that could be dangerous and create a distance with the character”.