(director/writer: Andre Techine; screenwriters: Cedric Anger, based on La garconne et l’assassin by Daniele Voldman and Fabrice Virgili; cinematographer: Julien Hirsch; editor: Albertine Lastera; music: Alexis Rault; cast: Pierre Deladonchamps (Paul Grappe/Suzanne), Céline Sallette (Louise Grappe),Gregoire Le Prince-Ringuet (Charles de Lauzin), Michel Fau (Samuel), Virginie Pradal (La grand-mère), Mama Prassinos (Valentine), Axelle Equinet (Rachel), Peter Bonke (Ludwik); Runtime: 103; MPAA Rating: NR; producers: Michele and Laurent Petin; ARP; 2016-France-in French with English subtitles)

A provocative period drama inspired by a true story.

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

A provocative period drama inspired by a true story. Its title in French translates to “Our Crazy Years.” The great French writer-director Andre Techine (“Wild Reeds”/”Thieves”), living out a celebrated 50-year career in film, runs with the term ‘crazy’ to mean being full of spirit in a good way to explain his star’s inexplicable human behavior. Paul Grappe (Pierre Deladonchamps) after two years at the front during World War I is slightly injured and deserts. To escape further war combat he goes drag and becomes Suzanne, a streetwalker in Paris, who is costumed as a woman by his approving seamstress wife Louise (Céline Sallette). The punishment for desertion is the death sentence. The question arises as to why he continues the ruse in peacetime, though a committed heterosexual, when in 1925 he was finally amnestied. We learn that his wife Louise has many extra-marital affairs, and that he has gotten used to being Suzanne and is afraid he might not be able to reverse back to normal after living such a libertine life. When Louise can’t go along with this anymore, their affair ends in tragedy. The cynical and daunting film is told in a dark tone, taking on a black humor as it lyrically tells its mysterious story about the odd quirks of human nature. It does so without giving too many answers away or trying to make sense of something that at first glance might not make sense. This makes it an arresting arthouse film, whose lack of a pat ending might keep away many viewers but really shouldn’t. Throughout, the film veers between a linear narrative and one whose chronology is juggled with flashbacks, ellipses and explanations of events. The headliners give sensitive and superb performances, in a film that touches on greatness without a net underneath to catch it if it falls.The real Grappe was a celebrated figure in Paris’ post-war bohemia. He would tell his story in a popular vaudeville review. Téchiné and co-screenwriter Cédric Anger use the show as a framing device, a recurring narrative transitional point that the film will unfortunately slide too often to for its own sanity.