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The most beautiful years of our lives
3 January 2007
The first film made up of sketches made by different directors.(unlike
Duvivier's works ).All deal with the return of prisoners in their
native France after WW2.Of course the quality is uneven,but all are
perfectly acceptable,some highly commendable.
SEGMENT ONE:The return of Aunt Emma or "Will evil never end?"
Aunt Emma comes back from the Concentration camps .Her psyche is
shot,she's lying on a bed ,she hardly utters one word ,and she has only
eaten a "Petit Beurre" (French biscuit)..Enter her family: they seem to
come from a Maupassant short story.False smiles,false compassion,false
emotion .Gaston (Blier) seems the good guy whereas Charles (Lucien Nat)
seems despicable.But all in all ,both strive towards the same aim:make
pitiful aunt Emma sign the papers so that they' ll be able to latch on
to their inheritance.
This is Charles Spaak at his most ferocious and André Cayatte's
directing is up to scratch.The way he films aunt Emma is stunning and
the last picture (her face as the light fades out) reveals all the
horror she endured ...no flashback needed.
SEGMENT TWO:the return of Antoine or "eight women and more"
Antoine (François Périer) finds again his job of a bartender in a hotel
but the place has been commandeered by an English all female
regiment.Probably because of censorship,the story never takes off
.Probably intended as a comic relief,it's not really funny ,in spite of
SEGMENT THREE: the return of Jean or " horror is timeless". By far the
best short of the lot.HG Clouzot was a genuine genius of the cinema ;in
his relatively small output, with the eventual exception of "Miquette
et Sa Mère" ,he never produced anything mediocre.In "the return of
Jean,he's at the top of his game .Unlike the other sketches,this one is
timeless and could happen anywhere any time.A more recent work such as
Polanski's "Death and the maiden" deals with the same subject.
A person who was wounded during the war,Jean, has become bitter and
desperate.One day,in the boarding-house where he lives,a wounded German
takes refuge.At first,against all odds,returning good for evil,he wants
to help him;but his pal ,the doctor,tells him he was a torturer.Still,
Jean wants to know WHY a man can act like he did: so they give him
morphine and a terrifying dialog begins...
Clouzot's lines are hard, dissecting the darkness of the human soul,and
finally coming up against the terrible question:why?By far the best of
the whole movie, Louis Jouvet's performance will leave you on the edge
of your seat .
SEGMENT FOUR The return of René or "the known soldier"
The two final segments are by Jean Dreville who cannot match Clouzot's
brilliance,but who makes decent efforts.
René is the 1500th soldier to come home so it's cause for
celebration.Best moments come at the beginning;the speech ,by a
government representative ,sounds hollow: the man who probably waged
war in his office has no idea of the sufferings endured by the humble
soldiers;then those present rush to the buffet where they make a clean
sweep of wine and biscuits.René finds his wife gone (but do not worry
,the Concierge says,she 's gone with a resistant,not with a
collaborator!) and his apartment occupied by a family.But,like the
fifth segment ,it will end on a note of hope ,after all ,the 1949
audience was in need of optimism.
SEGMENT FIVE:The return of Louis or "guess who's coming to dine"
Louis is welcomed at the railway station by his mother and the mayor of
his village.But he is not alone.He 's got a wife with him and she's
German!With hindsight,it seems normal,but if you had been in those
people's shoes,you might have thought the same.Louis and his wife
become outcasts -Louis's sister's husband was killed during the war-
and their life becomes unbearable.
Serge Reggiani shines all along the sketch and ,with the staggering
exception of Jouvet's ,gives the finest performance of "Retour à la
Vie" .That said,the ending is melodramatic to a fault ,but once again
,it was necessary to conclude on a happy note.
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