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Image continues its limited line of fanciful Claude Lelouch romances with Toute un vie, known in the US as And Now My Love after the popular Francis Lai ballad from its soundtrack. Although it doesn't go in for 'cute' effects, this epic actually has a lot in common with the hit Amélie from couple of years back - the meeting of a pair of lovers takes an epic stretch of storytelling to come about, and is expressed as the culmination of a full century of effort, from them and their parents before them.
Toute un vie takes its own sweet time getting going, with about half an hour of barely-connected set-pieces at the turn of the century and during WW1. Romanticist Claude LeLouch isn't as sensitive as Truffaut or as insightful as Jacques Demy, but he has a technical flair and clarity of expression that well serves this saga of the heart. If not a movie that sweeps one up in emotion, it certainly holds one's attention.
Ambitious is too limited a word for a movie that makes major set-pieces of landmark occurrences spanning 75 years, with a lengthy science fiction coda. Some scenes are cut ordinarily, but LeLouch often uses one complicated tracking shot per scene, with perhaps a single cutaway. A camera will truck through a station following a train covered with victory celebrants, and then weave through the crowds as a wife discovers her husband isn't among the survivors. The shooting of a porno film in the 60s is one long trucking shot as well. LeLouch chooses his vantage point and stylizes the action to fit - in one arresting scene a filmmaker's commercial exploits the sport of skiing, and we see a very long & flawless ski run taken in just two shots through a skiier's legs. 1
Like Amélie, the beginning is a whirlwind of supposedly unrelated scenes that only later fall into their places in LeLouch'es ironic tapestry. By the time we're seeing newsreel scenes of Hitler we're totally lost, and then the story slows down by way of Sarah's successive birthday scenes. Eventually we concentrate on the problems of Sarah and Simon. She's filthy rich and he's an unrepentant thief but both eventually earn our sympathy. She drifts from a suicide attempt (rewarded by a lengthy around-the-world trip that's more than a bit gratuitous) into various tangential relationships with men and women (notably a long-time lover played by Carla Gravina). None last very long - there's a labor organizer, a businessman, another businessman (Gabriele Tinti of The Flight of the Phoenix) and an anonymous 'stud' she picks up off the street when she gets the notion of becoming a single mother.
Simon's adventures parallel Sarah's, almost crossing in a restaurant and when she sees one of his porno movies, a 'Nazista' showing Hitler 'having sex with all 50 of them'. Their eventual convergence comes naturally, marked when their separate luggage appears to make love on the Air France conveyor belts.
Toute un vie is a regular cornucopia of LeLouch's armchair wisdom, from Sarah's father's ceaseless advice and opinions on everything from husbands to Chairman Mao, to the cellblock rules that Simon follows. None of it is of that much use, but everyone seems to be formulating their own philosophy of living. In Simon's case, the laws of La Sante end up being very useful in the world of film - commercials, pornos and legit features.
LeLouch pulls two clever show-off tricks in search of an ending for his seemingly open-ended movie. (slight spoiler). Simon's big cinema success is a story of his own life, where many events from earlier in the movie are re-played as a movie being filmed by Simon, with a 'star' taking his role. It's more than clever, providing yet another 'cinematic' layer to LeLouch'es fractured 'history lesson'.
Toute un vie was released in 1974 at the end of the first cycle of apocalyptic ecological concern. The second third-act gimmick extrapolates this theme into the future by having Simon tell the story of how he thinks the world will end, or almost end. As the events play like a hokey science fiction movie (Logan's Run, Z.P.G.) set in the 'futuristic' 1980s, the effect is a little silly and almost upsets the balance of the end of the picture.
Simon's autobiographical movie allows dialogue that rather patly communicates all of Lelouch'es concerns about the movie we're watching, too. When Simon says he'll cover the rough edges with lots of good music, we're reminded of how LeLouch is doing exactly the same thing. Unlike some of his New Wave contemporaries, pop director LeLouch self-consciously avoids pretensions, making his romantic epic that much more accessible.
Marthe Keller's range of moods and expressions show exactly why she was a touted import for Marathon Man - she's terrific. André Dussollier is winning as a dapper crook who converts the risks of crime into the risks of making films. Twenty five years later, he has a large role in Amélie, making one more parallel between the two films. Charles Denner has the most interesting part as the holocaust survivor who becomes a millionaire making warm shoes, because his feet were always cold in the concentration camp.
LeLouch peppers his picture with incidental characters like Simon's funny lawyer who rehearses his courtroom spiel before his best critic, his wife. There's a bit too much emphasis on Sam Letrone as a crook-turned restaurant owner, who does a gag with trained chickens about four times too often. The movie has its charms but doesn't make them into a whimsical fantasy world, as did Amélie.
There's a great joke at the expense of Francois Truffaut, who when making pictures about movie-making Day for Night likes to show the covers of his favorite cinema books and magazines. Simon's producer is seen reading Cahiers du Cinema several times in an effort to understand his partner's ambitions. He finally pays off the joke by saying that the magazine makes no sense whatsoever. 2
Image's DVD of Toute un vie looks great, with a perfect enhanced picture. Fans who saw it in its American arthouse run will be interested in knowing that it's about a half hour longer now. I wonder what was cut out, as the continuity and form of this show would seem as fragile as a house of cards, if one started chopping it up. Maybe they removed a couple of chicken jokes. 3
After seeing the picture, one rushes to the 'special features' section, to find that the only feature listed is the (welcome) ability to turn off the English subtitles.
On a scale of Excellent, Good, Fair, and Poor,
Toute une vie rates:
2. The sometimes reliable IMDB says the original film is still
seven minutes longer than what we have here. I didn't notice any speed-up, but at this length,
that might be accounted for by PAL-NTSC time compression.
3. Major spoiler .. John Kirk tells me that part or all of the
may be involved in the fact that in at least one French version of the film (major spoiler,
now, honest) the plane in the last reel crashes ... BTW, John also provides an explanation
for the title of this film in a letter at the end of the Savant review for
Les uns et les autres.