“Am I a man dreaming I am a butterfly, or am I butterfly dreaming I am a man?” – Zhuangzi (Chuang-tzu)
I am considering the films of French Director Claude Lelouch for this Movie Monday. This was sparked off by watching two of his movies lately. One I had not seen before “And Now Ladies and Gentlemen” (2002), which was a rather tame romantic/adventure story a pleasant enough, inoffensive, hodge-podge potboiler that I wouldn’t recommend too highly; and “Viva La Vie!” (Long Live Life! 1984) that I had watched in 1984 and then again yesterday afternoon on DVD. It is the latter film that I shall review, although with caution…
Claude Lelouch was born on October 30th, 1937 in Paris, France, the son of an Algerian-Jewish confectioner. He began his career in the mid-1950s, making his first short documentary films and billing himself as a “cinereporter”. In 1960, he formed “Les Films 13 Productions”, where he produced over two hundred “Scopiotones” (short musical films designed for jukebox use), much like the “Soundies” made in the USA in the 1940s and 1950s.
Lelouch produced, directed, wrote and acted in his first full length film, “The Right of Man”, in 1960. However, his fame was assured with his first international hit, “Un Homme et Une Femme” (A Man and a Woman, 1966), which captivated audiences with its simple plot, its warmth and sympathetic treatment of a contemporary topic. The film caused the critics dismay as they tried to find hidden meaning in this rather simple, old-fashioned romance. When for example, Lelouch was asked for the subtextual purpose of shifting between black-and-white and colour in some scenes of the film, he explained that he’d run out of money towards the end of production and couldn’t afford colour film stock…
When “A Man and a Woman” won a Palm d'Or at Cannes and a Grand Prix award, Lelouch was briefly the most popular and influential director in Europe. His subsequent films dealt often with the relationship between sex and crime, or sex and politics, or crime and politics. This made him a perfect commercial filmmaker and his box office successes attested to the fact. In the 1970s and 1980s, Lelouch seemed to run out of ideas and attempted to repeat his past successes. Films like “And Now My Love” (1974), “Another Man, Another Chance” (1977), “Live for Life” (1984) and “A Man and a Woman 10 Years Later” (1986) were variations of “A Man and a Woman”.
And now to the film “Viva La Vie!” (1984). This is very much an 80s film with an emphasis on the threat of nuclear war. The commencing sequence shows people running panic-stricken towards nuclear fallout shelters in a generic megalopolis. Claude Lelouch is then being interviewed on radio, the director of the film pleads with viewers not to disclose the plot of the movie after leaving the projection room. This is a very lame device calculated to increase controversy surrounding the movie and get more people to go watch it, hopefully increasing takings at the box-office.
The film is uncharacteristic of Lelouch, best classed as belonging to the thriller/science fiction genre. Lelouch himself claims that the movie is essentially a story revolving around the relationship of a man and a woman, thus making even this film quite lelouchian, according to the director himself. I’ll try not to give too much away, in my outline of the plot (succumbing to M. Lelouch’s plea), even though this would suggest that the film has more substance than it does – it hasn’t.
During a period of international tension and crisis amongst the nuclear powers of the world, a very rich, successful businessman and a budding actress vanish at precisely the same time and in similar circumstances. Three days later they reappear, remembering nothing of their experience, but apparently traumatised. After they are admitted to hospital, they vanish again, only to reappear in the Sahara Desert a few days later with identical curious wounds and stitches on their head and with a message of peace and tolerance. Who is sending the message? What is it all about? What is real and what is a dream? Who is who and what is the relationship between the people we are shown?
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