The adaptation of Roger Martin Du Gard's mammoth novel which won the Nobel prize in 1937 was some kind of Hercules's thirteen labor.8 volumes,almost 2,000 pages, lots and lots of characters -some of whom have been completely ruled out:Jenny's cousin Nicole and Jacques 's first love Lisbeth-.at the time ,it was one of the biggest budgets (if not simply the biggest) French TV spent for a miniseries.But even with that,the production will seem rather cheap for today's audience .The remake ,which must be released this year,will certainly do Martin Du Gard Justice.
The first three episodes were directed by André Michel:his art is static and theatrical and the saga hits its stride only in the third episode which focuses on the father's death.It owes a great deal to Charles Vanel's sensational portrayal.Other great moments include the scenes in "the pénitencier" (the reform school) where the father locks up his rebellious youngest son Jacques.
The three last episodes were made by Alain Boudet who is much more talented than his colleague.His camera is more moving and he uses lots of interesting trackings,close-ups,zooms in and out .This artistic choice is highly appropriate,since the last parts of the novel ("l'été 14" and "épilogue" ) depicts the last days before WW1 breaks out.
Episodes 4 and 5 are the best :Boudet successfully follows Jacques and Jenny in Paris where the frightening news which arrives with alarming speed plunges the city into a turmoil.A lot of sequences are far from being simple made-for-TV quality:Jacques and Jenny's meeting in the public gardens at night;Jenny's mother arrival at the dawn of the first day of the mobilization;Jean Jaurès's murder at the café du Croissant ,which Boudet almost treats like a western scene;Jacques bidding his brother Antoine adieu,as his elder goes to war.Best moment comes at the end of the fifth episode:Jacques and Jenny go near a church where they see lots of burning candles on the evening of the mobilization as the great organ plays some kind of dirge.
Episode 6 is not so good :the first part goes sordid .Jacques's death,depicted with a remarkable sobriety by Martin Du Gard ,is almost turned into a horror movie ,because of the actor's ridiculous make-up which makes him look like Jason in "Friday the Thirteenth." The last volume of the saga (epilogue) is only given 45 minutes ,the final segment of this last episode.The readers will notice the main change:Antoine,who is a gas victim ,is looked after ,not in a hospital in the south of France ,but in Jenny's mother's one in Maison-Laffites ,near Paris.This is a good choice,because the last book of the Thibault saga is sometimes epistolary.What was first a letter -Jenny's brother whom war made a sexless man- becomes a dialogue ,which is more appropriate for a cinematographic treatment.One regrets that Antoine's Diary ,which climaxes the novel ,should be botched.Hardly two or three lines were taken from this admirable meditation of a man who is dying when the war finally comes to an end.
For sure,Martin du Gard deserved much better,but this seventies attempt is honorable. I'm looking forwards to seeing the 2003 miniseries.
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