Directed by Bertrand Tavernier in 1989 Life and Nothing But is a very assured French film about a Major in the French Army during World War I who is assigned to find and identify soldiers who are missing in action. In the process he encounters a woman searching for her husband. Over time they develop an interesting albeit stormy rapport with one another.
Major Dellaplane (Philippe Noiret) is a cynical soldier who has seen enough of the Great War to know he doesn't like any aspect of it including the politics of his superiors, which he finds reprehensible. However his cause is a noble one; he has been assigned to identify and bury thousands of 'unknown' soldiers so that the families can make their peace and move on.
In the process two women who have come to find the bodies of loved ones become aquaintances with Dellaplane. One is a school teacher (Pascale Vignal) looking for her lover and the other is an uppercrust Parisian woman (Sabine Azema) looking for her husband. Both women have little in common except their bond over the loss of a loved one but they form a friendship too.
Shot in CinemaScope to utilize the wide screen and the landscape of France Life and Nothing But is a big screen film with romantic ambitions and a strong theme about the unfortunate horrors of war, the value of love and the difficulty identity. One plus is that the film is not a Hollywood-type film in the sense that it manipulates or comes to easy conclusions. The character development is strong and ultimately the strength of the film rides on the ability of the characters and their situations to come to life for us.
Life and Nothing But is a film made by a filmmaker at the top of his abilities. The production value is assured, the story and theme are strong, the acting is great and the overall craftsmanship is solid.
The DVD is presented in an aspect ratio of 2.35:1 and enhanced for 16 x 9 televisions. The image quality is very good and sharp although it does show some splotches from time to time. The film is not glossy and the color has an earth tone quality to it thus evoking older movies and World War One.
The film's audio is French and in stereo and sounds quite good. There is a sublte but beautiful score.
There is one extra but it is a good one. A 30 minute interview with Bertrand Tavernier and Philippe Noiret that is excellent. Tavernier likes to talk and he always has good anecdotes and insights into his own films. Noiret adds a few good tidbits of his own. I find this better than most commentary tracks.
Life and Nothing But is a very good and engaging film about a Major and two women and the way that they are affected by World War one. The film has a romantic air too it without being obvious or overdone. The character development is strong and the directing is excellent.