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Film / Strange Gardens
aka: Effroyables Jardins

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Strange Gardens (French: Effroyables Jardins, literally "Frightful Gardens") is a 2003 French film directed and written by Jean Becker, adapting the eponymous novel by Michel Quint.

In a 1950s French village, a little boy doesn't understand why his father Jacques Pouzay (Jacques Villeret) puts a clown nose on every year and goes out to entertain the villagers. Jacques' friend André Designy (André Dussollier) tells him the story behind this...

Back in 1944, during the German occupation of France, Jacques and André foolishly blew up a railway station to make themselves a name in La Résistance. Germans soldiers soon reacted, by taking several people hostages, including Jacques and André, and threatened to execute them all should the perpetrators not denounce themsemlves. While they were waiting for the execution in a muddy pit in which the German soldiers threw them, Jacques, André and fellow hostage Thierry (Thierry Lhermitte) were surprised when one of the soldiers, Bernd, had genuine sympathy for them and started entertaining them. He was a clown at the Medrano Circus in Paris before the war.

Effroyables Jardins provides examples of:

  • All Germans Are Nazis: No one speaks the trope loud, but Bernd is there to avert it. He used to be a clown before he was drafted in the military and has troubles following orders, particularly when it involves being ruthless against civilians.
  • Death by Adaptation: In the book, Bernd isn't killed.
  • Deconstruction: The film highlights one of the least glamorous aspects of the actions of La Résistance during World War II, namely Germans taking local people hostages following said actions and executing them when the resistants don't come forward or can't be found.
  • Didn't Think This Through: Jacques and André didn't think about the dreadful consequences of their idea to blow up the station, that is Germans practicing Disproportionate Retribution on the population.
  • Disproportionate Retribution: Not knowing who committed the "terrorist" (in their eyes) action, Germans take a few dozens of hostages and threaten to execute them. It was sadly Truth in Television during the Occupation, following actions by the FTP (Francs-Tireurs et Partisans, the French Communist resistance).
  • Heroic Sacrifice: The station master takes the blame for the explosion and gets executed by the Germans as a result. This action saves the life of the hostages.
  • Historical Person Punchline: Not in the movie, but in the original novel. Bernd is the future moviemaker Bernhard Wicki, who obviously survives the events of the story in this version.
  • Pre-War Civilian Career: Bernd worked as a clown before he was conscripted in the Wehrmacht.
  • Sad Clown:
    • Bernd does his best to relieve Jacques, André and Thierry from their anguish with his clown acts as they are waiting for their execution. While himself is not an unhappy man, his fate is pretty tragic in itself.
    • Jacques performs a clown act in memory of Bernd every year.
  • Shot at Dawn: German soldiers threaten to execute the hostages should the perpetrator of the explosion not denounce himself. The station master ends up being shot after taking the blame to save the hostages.
  • Taking the Heat: The dying station master decides to take the blame for the explosion of the station. Germans take him out of his hospital bed, put him on a chair and shoot him.
  • Token Good Teammate: Bernd is the only German soldier to pity the hostages, and entertains them the best he can. He refuses to shoot them later on, and gets a bullet in the head from his officer as a result.
  • Tragic Keepsake: The clown nose Jacques kept since the war, to remind himself of the lives his foolish action took in 1944 and to commemorate Bernd's death.
  • Would Not Shoot a Civilian: Bernd decides to put his rifle down, puts his clown nose on and refuses to shoot the hostages. His officer executes him on the spot with a bullet in the head.
  • You Have Failed Me: Bernd refuses to shoot at the hostages and puts his clown nose on. His officer shoots him in the head for this.

Alternative Title(s): Effroyables Jardins