Review: Les uns et les authors (1981)

Les uns et les authors (1981)

Directed by: Claude Lelouch | 184 minutes | drama, music | Actors: Robert Hossein, Nicole Garcia, Geraldine Chaplin, Daniel Olbrychski, Jorge Donn, Rita Poelvoorde, Macha Méril, Evelyne Bouix, Francis Huster, Raymond Pellegrin, Paul Préboist, Jean-Claude Brialy, Marthe Villalonga, Fanny Ardant, Jacques Villeret, Jean -Claude Bouttier, Richard Bohringer, Nicole Croisille, Ginette Garcin, Jean-Pierre Kalfon, Geneviève Mnich, Alexandra Stewart, Éva Darlan, Manuel Gélin, Candice Patou, James Caan, Sarah Abrell, Féodor Atkine

Human life is a tragic repetition of moves that are always experienced with the same dedication. This surrender is largely due to art and culture. That is more or less the thematic basis of the musical megaproject ‘Les uns et les autres’ (Claude Lelouch; 1981). Such a generalization is, of course, rather short-sighted. The film is much more than a statement about the self-reliance of art and culture. Yet the most important features of film, the image and the sound, are used in such a way that other plot elements are put in the shade.

‘Les uns et les autres’ tells the story of four artists, all of different nationalities and artistic disciplines. When the Second World War is about to start, their artistic existence comes under serious pressure. At first, there doesn’t seem to be much going on. Even before the war, life is not always a bed of roses. But with dedication and passion, they stay upright without much effort. But then, apparently out of nowhere, a swastika appears. The world is about to change. Although these changes are first looked at with an innocence, their lives will not be the same in the eventual cessation of the war. Only music and dance can counterbalance the darkness.

After the capitulation, the war echoes long after. The survivors, insofar as there are any, try to pick up the thread again. Even now they do it the only way they know how. By making art. And the stirring of their fellow man. Because art, and the emotion that accompanies it, conquers all. The film thus gives a positive twist to the idea that poetry is no longer possible after war. Art is the Great Healer that can get humanity back on the right track. Man destroys and rises again. A perpetual cycle that would come to a devastating end if art and culture, civilization as it were, were not on the other side.

As mentioned, that idea can be found in every pore of ‘Les uns et les autres’. The film does this in the simplest but effective way possible: by making the art expressions visible and audible. ‘Les uns et les autres’ takes the time to visualize and play the countless ballet performances, classical concerts and vocal performances. The viewer is taken along in long shots, full of movement and life. Dialogue is minimal. The many details give the film a dynamic appearance. Art, in its purest form, is given plenty of time to take its place in the spotlight.

That only comes at the expense of the involvement with the characters. Because the story in ‘Les uns et les autres’ comes to the viewer from multiple perspectives, some emotional events remain at a distance. Just as two characters are being transported to a camp, the film switches to the next scene. The frequent use of a voice-over, although pleasantly self-conscious, does not bring the viewer any closer. The camera mainly works by registering. As a result, real affection for the characters is lacking. The narration serves the theme. The plea for art and culture is rock solid, but a little more emotional dimension wouldn’t have hurt the film. However, the final chord, in which all the characters, based on the lives of historical artists such as Edith Piaf, come together for the interpretation of Ravel’s Bolero makes up for everything.

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