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La guerre est finie

La guerre est finie
Image Entertainment
1966 / B&W / 1:78 letterboxed flat / 16:9 Dolby Digital mono
Starring Yves Montand, Ingrid Thulin, Genviève Bujold, Dominique Rozan, Jean-Francois Rémi, Marie Mergey, Jacques Wallet, Michel Piccoli
Cinematography Sacha Vierny
Production Designer Jacques Saulnier
Film Editors Eric Pluet, Ziva Postec
Original Music Giovanni Fusco
Writing credit Jorge Semprún
Produced by Gisèle Rebillion and Catherine Winter
Directed by Alain Resnais

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 quite linear.

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:
Movie: Excellent
Video: Very Good
Sound: Very Good
Supplements: none
Packaging: Snapper case
Reviewed: February 5, 2001

DVD Savant Text © Copyright 2007 Glenn Erickson

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