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A famous left-wing satirical comedy about two ex-convicts, one of whom escaped jail and then worked his way up from salesman to factory owner, where he oversees a highly mechanized operation where the workers are reduced to mere automatons. Fearful of being exposed over his past, at first by his friend and later by another gangster, the owner chooses to give his factory to the workers, then escapes with his friend to the freedom of the open road. The production company for "A Nous la Liberte" was for more than a decade embroiled in a lawsuit claiming that Charles Chaplin had seen their film and plagiarized many ideas from it as he developed "Modern Times." Written by
[Voice over Singer]:
Liberty is the happy man's due / He enjoys love and skies of blue / But then there are some / Who no worse crimes have done / It's the sad story we tell / From a prison cell
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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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