'The Girl Who Wore Freedom' Unveils a Hidden Love Story Between the French and American GI's

An older woman with short hair holds up a dress her made her as a child.

The Girl Who Wore Freedom shares a love story that has lasted for over 75 years but has, in many ways, gone unseen by the majority of Americans -- the love story between the French and the U.S. soldiers they see as heroes and liberators of Normandy. With the perfect combination of historical fact, compelling storytelling, and curated footage, both reenacted and archived, director Christian Taylor spins a story of remembrance, empathy for the stranger, and forgiveness.

When Christian Taylor visited France in 2015, her plan was mainly to connect with her son, Hunter, who at that time was a member of the 101st Airborne Division. Hunter's division was invited to come and represent the U.S. military in a memorial and celebration held at Carentan annually in June to commemorate the D-Day landings on June 6, 1944. As she neared the site where parachutes would be launched to reenact the way the soldiers arrived at Utah Beach, Christian felt surprised and moved by the outpour of love and gratitude she witnessed in the French people. And it wasn't long before she met Danièle Patrix Boucherie, also known as Dany, the titular girl who wore freedom.

Dany shared the story of how her mother sewed her a dress made from the fabric of parachutes the soldiers left behind. At a special ceremony held at Utah Beach on June 6, 1945, Dany wore the dress in honor of the men who came to drive out the Germans and gave her people freedom. After Dany showed Christian the dress, still intact and lovingly preserved, Christian felt the call -- she would collect and curate the stories of the people of Normandy in the form of a documentary.

Three little girls wear dressed made from flags
Dany (far left) wears the dress her mother made in 1945 at a D-Day celebration at Utah Beach.

In the first part of the movie, Taylor films French survivors of the Operation sharing a variety of stories, both frightening, touching, and laugh-out-loud funny. These men and women, only young children when the soldiers arrived, still show powerful emotions today as they share their memories. Few will be able to watch these segments without shedding a few tears. While the survivors remember feeling fear and awe initially, eventually the soldiers became like fairy godmothers, giving the children candy, chocolate, jeep rides, and other trinkets. During these tales, viewers see the subjects talking, intercut with a variety of staged footage and photos of the events described. Henri Jean Renaud calls D-Day "the most important event of his life," other than his marriage.

We meet people like Charles DeVallavieille, whose father was shot by the Americans five times, but lived to forgive them and build a museum in their honor, leaving a legacy to Charles. Henri-Jean Renaud, whose father was the Mayor of Sainte-Mère-Église, now continues on a task his mother began years ago, corresponding with the families of deceased soldiers and finding and decorating their graves with flowers. And Maurice Leceour shares how his family was taken in and cared for by American troops after his mother was tragically killed during the liberation. Through stories like these, we begin to understand the complicated feelings the French have toward their liberators.

Here the tone shifts to solidly serious matter, thanks to the subject and the music, composed by Jeff Kurtenacker, best known for video game scores until now. After hearing how things were for the Norman children, who saw things with innocent eyes, Taylor shifts to telling how the French adults began to bond with the soldiers' plight. The sight of the many wounded and dead soldiers touched the hearts of the French and moved them to feel empathy for the young men who had come and died far from home. Women like Henri-Jean's mother found themselves taking weekly outings on Sundays to visit the departed's graves. The adults came to connect with the soldiers out of a shared sense of grief and loss due to the sight of so much suffering.

A crowd of teenage girls gather around an oldder veteran
Veteran Bob Freesen allows himself to be escorted by some adoring French teenagers.

At this point the narrative changes from the stories of the French to the veterans who were part of the charge. Flo Plana, a Frenchman whose grandfather was freed by Americans from a work camp run by the Germans, travels across American, filming stories of World War II veterans who often feel forgotten by their own country. Taylor captures Plana interviewing several older veterans who share their perspective. Christian Taylor's smooth, even narration encourages us to show love to veterans simply by listening to their stories.

Finally, the action completes a loop, and we see healing moments where the American soldiers return to the shores of Normandy as old men, often with mixed emotions. Some feel shame about the destruction they caused and some seem like shy schoolboys, but all end up with smiles on their faces as the French flock in droves to get autographs and hugs to the veterans soldiers that now feel like celebrities. In one of the most touching scenes, the widow of Jim Reid, a deceased veteran, travels to France to accomplish her husband's dying wish: that she bury a portion of his ashes on Utah Beach in the presence of what he considered his French family. The evocative music and emotions shown on the faces make a lovely portrait of two countries coming together and no words are needed. 

Men and women march in a D-Day parade
Men and woman march in a D-Day celebration parade held in Normandy.

With this mix of content, Taylor encourages Americans to take pride in the legacy left by veterans and
reconsider what they have been taught. The last people who lived through these events are beginning to die off, and their stories must now be passed to new generations or be forgotten forever. In France, the people of Normandy teach their kids to appreciate the American troops. In America, feelings towards the military and America's role in international affairs tend to be mixed, with younger generations feeling indifferent towards such things. While American history is full of many wrongs and injustices inflicted upon vulnerable people, The Girl Who Wore Freedom offers a perfect film to watch during Memorial Day, D-Day, or Veteran's Day celebrations to help all of us remember that once we did something good.

Release info: Purchase the movie on iTunes now. Or watch on Apple TV.

The film is making the film festival circuit and has already won 20 awards. Keep up with updates on the website

Final score: 4 out of 5