Saturday, June 10, 2017

1966 Winner, A Man and a Woman

A Man and a Woman

Director:  Claude Lelouch

Distributed by:  United Artists

Released:  July 1966

Country:  France

On the surface, A Man and a Woman is a film as simple as its title.  You pretty much get what you are expecting:  A romance, a touch of comedy, some suspense as to whether the man and woman will be a couple in the end—the details are what may make the movie interesting.  It’s kind of like when you watch one of those trailers that pretty much tells you the whole story, and you wonder whether you should bother seeing the film—well, if there car crashes in the trailer and you are into car crashes, you probably don’t really care if the trailer gives too much away.  If you see the title A Man and a Woman and think that’s for you, you’ll probably like it.  If you just got dumped or divorced or hate romance films, you probably should forget about it.

Jean-Louis and Anne
So the details:  Two kids are at a boarding school:  A boy and a girl.  Presumably, some day they’ll grow into a man and a woman.  Which would be a good idea for a sequel, but that’s not what this movie is about.  The boy has a father who is a widower, and the girl’s mother is a widow.  The father, Jean-Louis, is a race car driver whose wife couldn’t take the stress of being married to a man in such a dangerous profession.  The mother is Anne, whose husband was a stunt man who couldn't take the danger of being in such a dangerous profession.  And well, the reason he couldn’t take the danger of being in such a dangerous profession is that one time he got killed do a stunt.

So like any good romance, Jean-Louis and Anne meet almost accidentally, in their case because of their kids; they have a feeling-out period; they admit to themselves and to each other their attraction; they have a feeling-out period (which today would get them their PG-13 rating); then an obstacle pops up and you’ll just have to watch it find out whether the homme and the femme end up together.

Jean-Louis (Trintignant) and Anne in Amour
Having seen Amour, 2012’s Best Foreign Film, about an elderly couple who endure the woman’s serious illness, I thought of A Man and Woman as almost a prequel to that later movie.  It’s as if after Jean-Louis and Anne work out their issues, they live a long life together until Anne has a stroke.  In fact, in both films, the Woman character is named “Anne.”  The Man character is played by the same actor, Jean-Louis Trintignant, who also had an important role in 1969’s Best Foreign Film, Z.  Both Amour and A Man and a Woman are simple films about the roles each person has in the relationship.

There is a realness to Jean-Louis and Anne's romance.  Jean-Louis is frequently unsure about what to do and about what Anne wants him to do.  One humorous scene has him talking to himself about how to react to her congratulatory note after he has won a race.  Anne is the more unsure one about how she feels about things in relation to her past relationship.  The question is whether she will let go of her dead stuntman in order to be happy with Jean-Louis.  You can probably guess if she will.  But that’s okay.

No car crashes in this one
The title:  Un Homme et une Femme. More famous than the movie, perhaps, is the theme,  written by Francis Lai, who is sort of France’s answer to Henry Mancini, having also written the easy listening classic “Theme from Love Story."

The Culture:  The feel of this film is a shift in times, from the more conservative 1950’s into the more sexually permissive 60’s.  The outdoor scenes are in color and the interiors are shot in black-and-white, adding to the sense of transition.  Men wear suits on dates and both feel free to smoke while dining at a restaurant with their kids.  It’s sort of a cross between Mad Men and Flight of the Concords' “Foux du Fafa.” 

Agenda danger:  This one is as apolitical as it gets—a nice escape.

Best Picture that year:  A Man for All Seasons

Rating:  A pleasant enough romance.  Both l’homme and la femme are likeable enough, and of course, the natural impulse is to hope they get together to become un couple.  Again, a mere reading of the title will tell you whether you’ll like it or not.  I prefer more complicated stories generally, but somehow knowing there probably wouldn’t be too many surprises didn’t take away from the romance for me.  And if you are into car crashes, you just might be in luck.

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