Reviewed by Glenn Erickson
In the 1960s, many Americans took European art films as a personal insult. Continental filmmakers
didn't have John Wayne or Frank Sinatra and kept making these movies we just couldn't understand.
They were in B&W. They were slow. They didn't care about a full music score to tell us how to
feel or jokes to keep us entertained. Worst of all, they had subtitles. A lot had stories that
were hard to follow, and sometimes no formal story at all. When a normal American audience saw
something it didn't understand, like pictures where people stand around and stare for minutes
at a time (Michaelangelo Antonioni) or when the action is a jumble of random-looking scenes and
printed titles (Jean-Luc Godard) or when most of the movie is an interminable dream sequence
(Federico Fellini), it tended to suspect that their leg was being pulled. The fact is that
average European audiences felt the exact same way. They were all watching Wayne and Sinatra too;
films by the "world cinema" auteurs often played to miniscule audiences ... much in the same
way that all the media attention given haute couteur fashion designers is for clothing
that few people actually buy or wear. When Art Films were popular, it was usually because they were
thought to contain sexy nudity or forbidden subject matter.
One of the most intellectual and inscrutable of these auteurs is Frenchman Alain Resnais, who
probably holds the record for the most movies that sent self-professed cinema elitists searching
for ways to describe their profundity. We film students don't count; if we read it in a book or
a professor told us a film was Deep Art, it was Deep Art.
The fact is that Alain Resnais, who made
Hiroshima, Mon Amour can be a
pretty darn deep artist. His Last Year at Marienbad is a frustrating intellectual
puzzle about time, space and memory. It uses composition and movement and beautiful images
to present a story with no story except that in the memories of its icy cast, who even have
code letters instead of names. It is as much about verbal poetry as cinema. There's almost
no chance of getting a purchase on it without reading some author's theories first - which
really puts another level of interpretation between you and the movie itself.
Although its style is definitely that of Alain Resnais, La guerre est finie's
subject is not an abstraction, but a real man's revolutionary politics. Although some people
will be frustrated, it has a compelling story, big stars, romance and intrigue that seems far
more 'real' than similar mainstream movies. Savant found himself fascinated.
Carlos (Yves Montand), an aging Spanish Communist fighting underground against the
fascist Franco regime in 1965, feels his way of life is crumbling. His older comrades, who
run a clandestine network of spies from Paris, have the unrealistic notion that Spain is ready
to rise up in revolution. He meets and beds a young Parisian activist (Genviève Bujold);
her associates agree with his dissent but prescribe violence and terrorism. Carlos is partially
blamed for a rash of arrests in Madrid, and feels he must return to Spain to warn other agents,
which will put himself in danger. His long-time girlfriend (Ingrid Thulin) wants to have a
baby with him, and / or join him in his risky lifestyle. Just as Carlos leaves again for the
border, she discovers that the authorities have set a trap for him.
La guerre est finie is a remarkable film, beautifully photographed and acted, and
probably a lot more accessible to American audiences now that storytelling styles have caught
up with the avante garde of 1966. Resnais uses flash-forwards and stream-of-consciousness
associative editing that can become quite confusing. But unlike some of his earlier successes
that seemed to exist on a mental plane outside of time, Guerre is for the most part
Montand, playing a Spaniard who passes for French, is a soulful soldier whose war was lost
long before he began to fight. The tension of being an outlaw to the state shows on his tired face
as he goes through the simple process of crossing borders on trains and in cars. One slip-up
and capture by the fascists might send him to prison for the rest of his life. When he voices
his frustration, we see a man who is living a quiet but nerve-wracking film noir nightmare.
Ingrid Thulin graces this film in a part that's more accessible than many of her
Ingmar Bergman roles, a complex Parisian capable of loving a man whose identity she can't
always be certain of. Both she and the very young (it's her first film) Genviève
Bujold are totally able to commit to Carlos' cause. Both have intense, elegant and very
well-filmed lovemaking scenes with Montand. Bujold's is strangely stylized - she rises from
her bed onto a featureless background of white light, and we simply see individual parts of
her body as Montand caresses her.
This is more of a meditation than a thriller. There are pursuing authorities in Guerre,
but we only see events from Carlos' point of view, which makes the situation all the more
tense. At one point the counterrevolutionary police seem to be closing in ... but are we
panicking over nothing? Just when you feel that the movie is heading into standard thriller
territory, there is a very 'Resnais' ending ... which luckily for us is altogether
appropriate instead of jarringly frustrating.
Image's disc of La guerre est finie is a simple but clean and pleasing DVD.
The beautiful B&W photography often lingers on shadows on the ceiling or the texture of Ingrid
Thulin's hair and skin. It looks great in this clean 16:9 transfer, as do the authentic
French and Spanish locations. Paris looks as if one could reach out and touch it, by night or
day. There are no extras, not even a trailer, and although some kind of background text
about Resnais or the film would have been welcome, the show was quite satisfactory without it.
The English subtitles can be removed for those who understand French and Spanish, or who want
to use it for teaching.
On a scale of Excellent, Good, Fair, and Poor,
La guerre est finie rates:
Video: Very Good
Sound: Very Good
Packaging: Snapper case
Reviewed: February 5, 2001
DVD Savant Text © Copyright 2007 Glenn Erickson
Go BACK to the Savant Index of Articles.
Return to Top of Page