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March 20, 2006

Les Uns et Les Autres


Claude Lelouch - 1981
Image Entertainment Region 1 DVD

About a month ago or so I saw a short film by Claude Lelouch. C'etait un Rendezvous is nothing but a celebration of the visceral pleasure of speed, or at least speed as seen from the comfort of a movie theater or one's home. That the film ends with a young lady running up the stairs at Montmatre gives those who need it the pretense of narrative. What makes C'etait un Rendezvous ultimately satisfying is that what little is said is said quite simply and compactly.

Les Uns et Les Autres is one big sprawling mess that tries to cover about thirty years of history, three generations, and four countries. To the best of my knowledge, this film did not get a release in the U.S. At three hours, Les Uns would have been a tough sell. The box office failure of New York, New York was probably still in potential distributors memories. The various story lines are so loosely strung together that the ending is forced and highly contrived. One can compare this with the equally long, multi-character Nashville which juggles several narratives, yet brings the disparate charachters and story lines together into a relatively coherent whole.

The title comes from a quote by Willa Cather: "There are only two or three human stories, and they go on repeating themselves as fiercely as if they had never happened before." Lelouch's idea of repeating human stories is to have several of his stars portray a character and their child. This includes seeing James Caan and Geraldine Chaplin as both a big band conducter and his singer wife, and popular singer-actress (seen singing in the rain above) and her manager brother. Near the end of the film, Sharon Stone appears briefly as the trophy wife of the aging Caan.

Lelouch attempts to touch on various historic events, reducing the holocaust, the battle of Stalingrad, and the occupation and liberation of France into little five minute vignettes, accompanied by singing and dancing. Some of the scenes were designed to comment on each other, such as a staged "wedding number" against the wedding of two of the characters. Lelouch also tries to link characters with long takes, particularly in one seen with the camera traveling from one end of a train station to another showing concentration camp survivors arriving in Paris while German prisoners of war are departing. About midway through, any attempt at structure seems to be forgotten and the film jumps from one story line to another for no clear reason other than that Lelouch is trying to finish what he started. Maybe it's besides Lelouch's point, but it bothered me that too often the male actors had shaggy hair styles that were not modified for playing World War II era characters. At one point characters are in a musical number that recaps various points in the narrative.

A more successful Lelouch film is And Now My Love which switches between two characters who seem to exist independently of each other until the big payoff at the end when they meet. Lelouch never really has a lot to say, and has often repeated his messages from film to film. The title almost seems like the filmmaker's justification for a career of films that are frequently self-referential.

Posted by peter at March 20, 2006 04:19 PM


Nice piece on a movie I'm completely unfamiliar with (as is often the case when reading your blog, Peter, and hat's why I like it.) Thought you might be interested in a piece I did last year on C'etait un Rendezvous. You can find it here: http://tinyurl.com/q56bk Looking forward to the Angie Blog-a-Thon?

Posted by: Dennis Cozzalio at March 21, 2006 04:03 AM

I disagree entirely with your review of this film....it is a masterpiece. Lelouche captures the horror of the holocoust in the most moving way, and the tragedy and futility of war. The reason it is hard to follow in the English version is that it was a mini series that some jerk decided to shorten into 2 or so hours from its original 6. Despite this hack job, it is still a profoundly wonderful movie. Check out some of the user comments at the Internet Movie Database for further endorsements of this film.

Posted by: saphie at April 9, 2007 03:44 AM