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À Nous la Liberté More at IMDbPro »À nous la liberté (original title)

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21 out of 23 people found the following review useful:

Classic French masterpiece.

Author: uds3 from Longmont, Colorado
4 November 2003

Sobering indeed that this innovative and quite unique early French "talkie" has garnered but four reviews. This is akin to the Cistine Chapel going six months without visitors!

As any student of early film would have discovered, the premise of "A Nous La Liberte" was undoubtedly "lifted" and used by Chaplin in his revered MODERN TIMES. Others have mentioned this aspect.

The film is a satirical comment, almost a control experiment from one viewpoint, focusing on the ideology of big business, and in regard particularly to newly gestated industrial technology, just how the individual is viewed as little more than a means to an end. A resource to be used and no more. Clair poses the question, is the worker..the LITTLE man - any more or less a free-thinking and needful entity than the embittered prisoner serving out his time?

The film follows the fortunes of two ex-cons. One makes it to the top of the industrialised ant-hill, the other makes it to the nearest sheltered alleyway or park bench. Whilst Clair experiments freely here with music and song, the Metropolis-like buildings lend a sombre note to the proceedings at hand.

Stylistically dated perhaps now, and the humor betrays its thirties origins, nevertheless at its core the observations made still hold true. This remains a critically important cinematic benchmark not just in terms of early French cinema but also in terms of a director's extraordinary vision so many years ago.

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11 out of 12 people found the following review useful:

Freedom for ever.

9/10
Author: JohnRouseMerriottChard from United Kingdom
21 September 2008

Emile and Louis are two jailed friends who dream of freedom and plan to escape. Louis is successful and becomes a phonograph factory tycoon, after Emile finally breaks out he seeks work at Louis' factory. Tho initially the harshness of industrialisation keeps them poles apart, they both come to realise that friendship and being honest to oneself is far more rewarding than love or any sort of financial gain.

À nous la liberté {orginaly titled Liberté chérie} is a truly biting musical satire written and directed by the considerably talented René Clair. Filmed without a script, with Clair giving his actors free licence to improvise, the picture focuses on the dehumanisation of workers at an industrial plant. Shifting as it does from prison to this monstrosity place of work, the viewer is forced to wonder just exactly which is the prison of the picture? For workers trundle in to work, punching in to a clock and sitting at a conveyor belt for hours on end, they are merely robots for this corporate machine, life is indeed desperately dull.

Clair pulls no punches in portraying everyone who doesn't work on the shop floor as greedy capitalist schemers, one sequence literally see the elite grasping for Francs strewn by the mounting storm. This wind of change also releases Emile and Louis from their respective constraints, and it's thru this change that we the viewer are rewarded with a truly uplifting ending that closes the film magnificently. The picture was a flop on its initial release, managing to offend parties from various corners of the globe, but now in this day and age the film has come to be hailed as something of a French masterpiece, coming some five years before Charlie Chaplin's Modern Times {Clair's camp even wanted to sue Chaplin for plagiarism, but Clair actually took it as a compliment}, this clearly is the template movie for industrial indictment. At times devilishly funny, at others poignantly sad, À nous la liberté is a cinematic gem that all serious film lovers should digest at least once. 9/10

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13 out of 17 people found the following review useful:

The satire may be dated and gauche, but the film still takes off when it focuses on physical comedy and visual cinema.(possible spoiler in last paragraph)

7/10
Author: Alice Liddel (-darragh@excite.com) from dublin, ireland
21 December 2000

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

I saw this on a double-bill with Clair's silent classic 'Paris Qui Dort', and was initially dismayed that the feathery magic of that film was replaced by clunking ironies, heavy compositions, and shrill, caterwauling 'music'. 'A Nous la liberte' is in many ways a forerunner to 'Modern Times', with about as much political subtlety - the factory assembly line disrupted by an inept worker would be 'borrowed' by Chaplin, although, instructively, the sequence is much funnier in the Hollywood film, perhaps because the little tramp is such a recognised, beloved figure, and the rather non-descript Louis is not; or perhaps because Chaplin was such a master at pantomime, and enlivened the mechanical scene with a vibrant display of physical virtuosity; more probably, it is because Chaplin developed the scene, showing not only the effect of human error on the most perfect of technological systems, but also the dehumanising, mechanistic effect of emergent modern capitalism on its workers.

Clair sees life for the worker under capitalism as identical with the life of a convict in prison - both systems seek to stamp out or rigidly order humanity, turn people into socially acceptable machines. With humanity so thoroughly contained, it is not surprising that it should be a fundamental human emotion - love - that causes anarchic chaos in this system.

Clair also links capitalism with criminality - the Big Boss in the film, the man who engenders the new technocratic society, who unites workers and the wealthy, past (his own, his friend, his blackmailers), present and future (the new machines), is an escaped convict. Despite the rigid heaviness of the buildings and machines, and the system they uphold, the status quo is ultimately transitory and fragile. It's easy to climb the social ladder, but just as easy to fall, as Emile shows with remarkably good grace. No such system - and capitalism claims to be natural - can ever offer stability or genuine security for the exploiters who need it most: capitalism carries within itself the seeds of its own destruction. Clair is also canny or prescient in linking the new capitalism with emerging fascism throughout Europe - Emile's factory is ordered on crypto-military lines, with uniforms, symbols and leader's iconography.

If Clair's politics are heavy-handed, his visual sensibility is not, and this film transcends itself when it looses its political shackles and gives into subversive whimsy, a rondelay of chases, fist-fights, drunken fracas, Bunuellian iconoclasm. Clair may not have been as profound a director as Renoir or Vigo, but neither had his eye, or his way with orchestrating movement, of creating chaos from order, and vice versa. The climactic surreal opening ceremony is obvious politically, but a visual stunner, with even nature undermining the narcissistic parades of power, in a way that anticipates Fellini and Kusturica.

The spare, oppressive sets are a delight, from the 'Metropolis'-like factory, to the unwitting mirror-home of the Big Boss. The end, in its rueful freedom, is pure Renoir. The inspired and inventive use of sound doesn't obscure the fact that much of this movie is beautifully filmed silent cinema.

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12 out of 16 people found the following review useful:

One of the great masterpieces of the early French Sound Cinema.

Author: PaulinCa from New York City
20 October 1999

I was lucky enough to see "A Nous La Liberte" along with it's sister film (in my mind, anyway) "Le Million" at an early age at the Museum of Modern Art. I have never gotten over them. They are both miracles of studio production with even many of the exteriors built in studio. Both films were designed by the great Lazare Meerson and evoke the magical Paris of the 20's. Both films make wonderful, inventive use of music and song, though neither one is exactly a Musical in the modern sense. "A Nous La Liberte" is also interesting for having been Chaplin's inspiration for much of "Modern Times."

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7 out of 7 people found the following review useful:

Slapstick Gallic Satire Skewers Industrialism and Corporate Greed Between the World Wars

9/10
Author: Ed Uyeshima from San Francisco, CA, USA
24 July 2007

This early talkie is an unexpected joy to watch and an artful piece of transitional cinema. It's difficult to believe that Charlie Chaplin claimed he never saw René Clair's fanciful 1931 musical comedy since it predates many of the same leitmotifs that came up in "Modern Times" five years later, including pointed jabs at corporate greed interlaced with Keystone Cops-style slapstick. In fact, Clair seems completely inspired by Chaplin in the way he carefully orchestrates the chase scenes and the robotic assembly line in this film, so much so that Chaplin borrowed back the visual cues in "Modern Times".

Clair sets up his story as an elaborate parable centered on two convicts, best friends Émile and Louis, who make toy horses in the prison assembly line. In a long-planned attempt to escape, Émile escapes thanks to a generous leg-up from Louis, who is caught and returned back to their cell. Years pass, and Émile becomes a successful industrialist in charge of a phonograph manufacturing business. Meanwhile, Louis serves out his term and upon release, ironically finds himself working in the assembly line of Émile's factory. After some hesitation, Louis and Émile reunite and join forces with a rapid-fire series of chaotic complications leading the two friends to realize that a life away from work may be their true fate.

The film master does not belabor his sociopolitical statements about materialism, but it is intriguing in hindsight to appreciate the film's prescience in showing France disconnected from the encroaching Nazi menace. Moreover, the film boasts startling visual elements thanks to Lazare Meerson's unmistakably Expressionist art direction. Henri Marchand and Raymond Cordy make a fine comedy team as Émile and Louis, though what really shines is the timeless spirit that Clair imbues this film. The 2002 Criterion Collection DVD includes two deleted scenes, a brief 1998 interview with Clair's widow, and a twenty-minute short, "Entr'acte", that Clair made with French artists Francis Picabia and Erik Satie. Speaking of Chaplin, in an audio essay, film historian David Robinson describes the plagiarism suit that the film's producers brought against Charlie Chaplin when "Modern Times" was released.

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10 out of 13 people found the following review useful:

Marvellous early sound film

Author: ouija-3 from Finland
21 September 2000

Clair's À nous la liberté is a wonderful satire of modern mass production, magnificently shot, directed, decently acted and with impressive sets. The satirical content is stressed but not too on-your-face. The main reaction to the film is delight.

Some of the sequences were an obvious inspiration to Chaplin, whose masterpiece Modern Times resembles this film quite a lot both in the way it looks as well as thematically.

The picture and sound quality, at least in the version shown on Finnish TV, are superb which is surprising considering the age of the film.

The music is good and well used, except the songs which are slightly irritating. Still, this is a great and pleasing film with a very amusing scene in the end, taking place at the opening of a new factory.

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8 out of 11 people found the following review useful:

An all time classic

Author: Harry T. Yung (harry_tk_yung@yahoo.com) from Hong Kong
19 June 2005

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

Made a full 8 years before Gone with the Wind and Wizard of Oz, "LA LIBERTÉ À NOUS" does not come across as remote at all even today. Whenever reference is made to this film, too much attention is invariably given to the plagiarism alleged against Charles Chaplin. There is in fact much more in "Freedom for us" than the assembly line syndrome. For example, there is a little bit of a Jean Valjean in the escaped convict turned tycoon Louis, except that instead of a Javert hot on his pursuit, he has old buddy Emile left behind in the escape (reluctantly) coming into his life again after subsequent release. Emile's own episode has just a little bit of a Cyrano flavour, a passionate love destined to be unfruitful. In addition to obvious social satire, the movie itself takes the form of a light musical or operetta at one time, and farcical Three Stooges madcap at another, and winds up with the happy wanderers on the road again. In addition to the two hugely lovable characters, the movie also offers some beautifully framed shots utilising the lines and angles of buildings and structures, and then adds life by fluid movements of human objects. An all time classic.

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6 out of 8 people found the following review useful:

Charming early French comedy, with a fine score

8/10
Author: LCShackley from United States
10 July 2007

Rene Clair's first film was the bizarre surrealist short ENTR'ACTE, which had music (and a cameo) by composer Erik Satie. Also showing up briefly in that film were two of Satie's young protégés, Darius Milhaud and George Auric.

When Clair made the talkie A NOUS LA LIBERTE, he hired Auric to do a completely original score, which was not common at the time, and a lot of the scenes were shot to recordings of the Auric music. This was only Auric's 2nd film (after Cocteau's BLOOD OF A POET) but he already shows the mastery that would lead to well over a hundred further scores.

Clair and his Oscar-nominated designer fill the screen with wonderful art deco visuals, and there's a sympathetic cast cemented by the two central characters, Louis and Emile. There are some wonderful physical comedy bits in the film (mostly in the factory), as well as the social satire which I didn't find particularly heavy-handed (although that adjective has been used by others). The fine balance of music, visuals, and comedy makes this a winner.

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5 out of 7 people found the following review useful:

Timeless French classic

9/10
Author: Steamcarrot from Much-Snogging-On-The-Green, East Yorkshire
22 November 2006

This is a little gem of a film that doesn't date nearly as much as you would think, considering it come from the early thirties. The masterful hand of director Rene Clair overcomes an insubstantial plot and imbues the film with some fantastic visuals, humorous satire and some good clean knockabout fun. Two prisoners escape from custody and one reaches the top of the ladder while the other clings onto the bottom rung. Clair makes his feeling about capitalism clear by showing how the worker under the capitalist is as much a prisoner as the people locked in the jail. But any political overtones are not so much that they interrupt with the comic narrative and the film merrily continues with it's chases, bottom-kicking and all manner of good-natured silliness. Highly recommended.

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3 out of 4 people found the following review useful:

"Life is beautiful when you're allowed to be yourself"

8/10
Author: Nin Chan from Canada
3 October 2007

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

This film is feral, anarchic energy, imbued with Clair's keen intelligence and siphoned through crowd-pleasing Chaplin-y slapstick. I am constantly reminded of Jean Vigo's timeless "Conduit Zero" and "L'Atalante" as I guffaw to "A Nous La Liberte"- this one, through the course of a lean, sinewy 83 minutes, deconstructs the wholly arbitrary norms and myths that constitute our mechanized, capitalistic civilization before illustrating just how easily these protocol are upset and subverted. I have learned that Rene Clair had previously lent his hand to the surrealists in the silent era, and that does not surprise me in the least, for this film is, for all its cynical realism, is Surrealist in agenda, a thorough exploration of Liberty.

The premise is simple- two convicts escape from prison and pursue vastly disparate avenues outside penitentiary walls. One becomes an unscrupulous opportunist and erects a financial empire, the (rather effete) other is more smitten with a flighty factory girl than money. By a dialectical process the two eventually renounce chimeras like wealth and marriage, opting for a life of Deleuze/Guattari-esquire nomadism, true freedom unrestrained by social expectation. Clair is rarely subtle with his jibes- the factory workers are represented as wholly expendable vessels of labor, weighed and assigned with serial numbers. Their lives are mechanized to the point of eating slop from a conveyor belt.

The Paris that Clair evokes is not a romanticised, perfumed city of profusion and resplendence, but a graven concrete sarcophagus, populated with automatons of all varieties. The sole glimpses we get of organic flora are of wretched-looking daffodils, offered to an unappreciative object of affection. Most biting are Clair's sketches of the bourgeoisie, whose cultivated tastes revolve around rumor-mongering, rococo decor and totally maudlin and cloying music. Everywhere carnality peers deviously beneath the gaping crevices, seething and sizzling beneath the Victorian prudishness- look at the rakish dilettante who woos the tycoon's wife, and the virile factory worker who commands the secretary's amorous attentions.

Through the course of the film, Clair's intent is in drawing parallels between life in the penitentiary with dehumanizing industrial life and stuffy bourgeois society, illuminating the worrying commonalities that all three share. The conclusive insight, then, is truly surrealist- man constructs his own prisons, circumscribing the possibilities of existence with norms that he then perpetuates with bad faith. When this epiphany strikes our phonograph magnate, he becomes privy to the sheer tentativeness of these stifling dogmas, and engages in a journey towards freedom, culminating in his renunciation of wealth and reputation.

The latter half of the film is a STINGING lash against cant and cupidity, and the film reaches a summit in one of the most uproarious and singularly BRILLIANT sections in French film- a fierce gust of wind disrupts an octagenarian's garrulous, grandiloquent (and nauseatingly vacuous) speech, blowing away the elaborate ornamentation adorning the speaker's podium and scattering a profusion of overhead banknotes across the compound. The gathered industrialists resist temptation for a few moments before a madcap scramble for cash ensues, the bumbling old speechmaker struggling to recite his script in the resultant mania, the sole bastion of 'order' in this wild debacle. This is Clair's consummate statement- beneath the ostentation and contrived niceties, we can barely obscure our animalistic greed. The wind blows beneath surfaces and reveals mercenary ardor.

A political film that you can show to your kids, as well as a consummate, meticulous masterpiece on par with any Keaton, Chaplin or Tati. Like those artists and Friedrich Nietzsche, Clair knows all about the subversive power of laughter. We must take his approach to life, to nurture the capacity to laugh at all the things we take so gravely, our environs and even ourselves. This is the wellspring of ecstasy and freedom in life. I wonder if Luis Bunuel was a fan...

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