Wednesday, February 23, 2011

A Man and a Woman, Indeed

Although he's been directing movies for almost fifty years, I had never heard of Claude Lelouch until the other day, when I rented a movie he made called A Man and a Woman (1966). This exquisite romance was nominated for four Oscars® during the 1966 season and declared Best Foreign Film and Best Screenplay. Not exactly a lightweight.

Much like Michaelangelo Antonioni, Lelouch was a documentary man who found success in art films, although it appears he did not find as much success as good ole Antonioni. Despite having only seen one (1) film of his, I feel comfortable saying that for two reasons:

1. I had never heard of him before the other day and I heard of Antonioni before I uttered my first word (almost).

2. Despite a prolific fifty-year career, he appears to have only made two movies of enduring quality: A Man and a Woman and the 1981 musical Les Uns et Les Autres (aka Boléro). The fact that a 23 year-old Sharon Stone has a bit role in the latter film only piques my curiosity and fear not--it is already on my Netflix queue.

Please do not think I mean to belittle Lelouch's contribution to the world of art, however. Anybody who contributes one exquisite book, painting, poem, photograph, motion picture, building, or sculpture to the global treasure trove can hold their head high in my book.

We should all be so lucky as to be responsible for the crafting of something enduringly beautiful, something strangers the world over can enjoy indefinitely, something that never would have existed without their unique efforts.

In other words, Joseph Heller can rest easy after 38 years of painful (trust me) failure post-Catch-22 and Claude Lelouch certainly has no reason to be ashamed of his cinematic hit ratio.

A Man and a Woman unfolds like a love poem crafted by a master, jumps right into the deep end, races its audience around the narrative at will, and dumps them off at the most romantic place ever created by man--the train station--for its unpredictable finish.

How does it end? Well, I won't spoil everything for you, but I will spoil this:

Anouk Aimée (one of my favorites in La Dolce Vita) and Jean-Louis Trintignant (fantastic in Eric Rohmer's My Night at Maud's) both deliver triumphant performances dripping with nuance and aching with longing. My favorite sequence begins when Jean-Louis Duroc (Trintignant) finishes the grueling 24-hour LeMans auto race in his trusty Ford Mustang. He receives a telegram at the victory banquet and immediately races from LeMans to Paris, battling exhaustion, only to find she has gone to Deauville. Loverboy that he is, he speeds off to Deauville in the still-filthy race car. A lingering shot of a dog frolicking on the beach at Deauville is followed by a shot of Jean-Louis about to mount doe-eyed Anne Gauthier (Aimée). But when Anne drifts into fantasy, she imagines herself playfully rolling around in the snow with her dead husband like a couple of giggling children and that just ain't right for the mood...

Aside from its rich black & white cinematography and vivid character exploration, of particular note is the stylish story structure of this movie. One element I particularly enjoyed was the substitution of dialogue about each character's past with vivid flashback sequences that reveal so much more about what happened.

If you are not afraid to read your movies and not allergic to the beautiful grain of 1960s black & white film, check this gem out when you get the chance. Expert Tip: Invite over a special someone of any gender/age/ethnicity/body type, crack open a bottle of Bordeaux, and let love blossom where it may.



Michael O'Sullivan said...

Un Homme et Une Femme is one of my favourite 60s movies, showing those glamorous people with their glamorous jobs and cars - it is like a series of commercials for these new getaway people of the 60s but it also works on an emotional level. Anouk is fabulous, though she is always pushing her hair back, lovely soundtrack too by Francis Lai - it and the movie were huge hits, I love the "Samba Saravah" sequence when it seems the movie is cut to the music.... I want to see it again right now. Lelouch had a few other hits, his followup "Vivre Sa Vivre" with Yves Montand and Candice Bergen was a hit. He also made "A Man and A Woman 20 years later" with the same stars, I have not seen that one - but like his 1978 western take "Another Man Another Chance" with James Caan and Genevieve Bujold out west, its a lovely period piece and re-works the same story and situations. Worth checking out.

Karl said...

So sad that Joe Heller could never approach the lofty heights of "A Portrait of the Artist as an Old Man."

Goodtime Charlie said...

Thanks for the input, Michael. I'll have to check out those other movies you recommended and dive into some Lelouch for a spell...

Goodtime Charlie said...

Just checked Netflix and none of those 3 Lelouch movies you recommended are available on DVD (or even listed at all!). On a similar note, I can't believe "The Birds, the Bees, the Italians" is still unavailable. Anybody know somebody at Netflix we can threaten to finally make these movies available to the public? I don't like leaving my mansion unless it's to take a dip in my saltwater infinity pool...