Review: Un homme et une femme (1966)


Director: Claude Lelouch | 102 minutes | drama, romance | Actors: Anouk Aimée, Jean-Louis Trintignant, Pierre Barouh, Valérie Lagrange, Antoine Sire, Souad Amidou, Henri Chemin, Yane Barry, Paul Le Person, Simone Paris, Gérard Sire

‘Un homme et une femme’ is about two people who lost their life partners at a young age. Both the man (Jean-Louis Trintignant) and the woman (Anouk Aimée) were left with a child full of grief, but because of work these children mostly stay in boarding school. Once, at most twice a week, the children are visited by their parents and it is that boarding school in Deauville where the meeting between the two main characters takes place. Anne has missed her train and the director of the boarding school just manages to stop Jean-Louis as he leaves the site. Can Anne not ride with him to Paris?

No sooner said than done, in this 1960s classic by the legendary French director Claude Lelouch (1937). Lelouch had been working on the road for a while, but with this romantic film his career took off. Not only did he win the Grand Prix at the Cannes Film Festival, he also won two Oscars for this film: one for best foreign film and one for best screenplay. Anouk Aimée’s talent also did not go unnoticed: she lost the Oscar from Elizabeth Taylor (for ‘Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf’), but she did receive a Golden Globe and a BAFTA for her sensitive role as Anne Gauthier.

Jean-Louis and Anne slowly get to know each other during the car journey and the viewer also gains little by little insight into the life history of these attractive single parents. The ride will continue and continue and it is clear that the two are very attracted to each other, but still a barrier remains. For example, it takes them a while to admit to each other that the partners they talk about are no longer alive.

‘Un homme et une femme’ tells a superficial story at first sight, no more than a ‘boy meets girl story’, but because of the background of the characters, the unresolved grief, the worries for their children, nothing of that misery it is more than that. It’s also nice to see how differently the two deal with their loss; while Jean-Louis seems a bit further in the process, or seems to run away from it, you have the idea that Anne is still holding on to it and you get the impression that she does not even want to continue. It is therefore surprising how their relationship is going.

Lelouch’s film is clearly a product of the 1960s: the Nouvelle Vague just finished. Lelouch uses different techniques: flashbacks, loud music that drowns out the dialogues (the well-known “dabadabada”) and the fragments recorded inside are in sepia / black and white, the outside recordings are in color (this was reportedly a cost issue).

In 1986 ‘Un homme et une femme’ was continued: ‘Un homme et une femme, 20 ans déjà’, but that flopped. In 2019, the director released ‘Les plus belles années d’une vie’, the second sequel to his biggest hit. The main actors returned, making this trilogy somewhat reminiscent of Richard Linklater’s ‘Before’ films.

‘Un homme et une femme’ is a cross between romantic kitsch and a solid French classic. Look for the two beautiful actors and the craftsmanship behind the camera, which certainly left a mark on later films.

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