Reviewed by Glenn Erickson
Sometimes derided for not being cinematically progressive, Claude Lelouch's
A Man and a Woman was a whopping success. In America, at least, it was Art Movie Light -
a deceptively pleasant romance that courted universality by staying very, very simple. Critics might
have winced at its lack of depth, and with the distance of time, there's a lot to say about
the picture's dated look, but in its day A Man and a Woman entertained by going against
the tide of 'meaningful' foreign films. If Americans can make romantic pictures about idealized people
living idealized lives, why can't others do the same?
Race car driver Jean-Louis Duroc (Jean-Louis Trintignant) meets script girl
Anne Gauthier (Anouk Aimée) while dropping their children off at boarding school, and
a relationship slowly develops. Both have tragedies with former mates they are trying to shake
off, and both have vibrant day jobs. They spend their Sundays at Deauville with their kids,
getting to know each other.
It's easy to rail against a film confected from such sure-fire commercial material.
It's a romance between two extremely attractive stars who need only to act coy and smile to win
our happy attention. Each has an extremely visual job, allowing for long patches of car racing
and filming that don't advance the story. Recorded before the film was shot, the jazzy, soothing
Francis Lai music dominates the film's mood. At least half an hour of it could be cut out into
five or six wordless music sequences that would effectively be stand-alone music videos. And
finally, the conflict is carefully rigged to allow us to focus solely on Ann and Jean-Louis'
romantic progress ... neither available party has money troubles, both wear elegant designer
clothing. Their only amorous entanglements involve dead people, cueing
more music-driven flashbacks. There isn't any current competition for their affections. Even their
adorable kids are in boarding school six days out of seven, conveniently out of the way. It's all
Claude Lelouch probably intended it this way; in a new interview on the disc he says that his previous
picture was a disaster and he needed a hit to survive, so it's possible that the show was a
careful market calculation. 2
A Man and a Woman won most of the festival awards available in 1966, including 2 Oscars. The
film is very carefully
made, and if one is to accuse LeLouch of confecting all of the above, some other ingredients must
be accepted as well. The directing is extremely natural, with many of the conversations improvised
around key dialogue. The tone of the couple, from uncomfortable but interested strangers in a car,
to amused people enjoying their kids at a restaurant table, is always spot-on believable.
The situations may be simplified, but they're never stupid. Both Anne and Jean-Louis look competent at
their jobs, and the freedom from imposed dramatic tension focuses us on the intimacies and low-key
realities of two people dating.
Finally, the movie has a definite look. Lelouch hints that noisy cameras influenced him to use a lot
of long-lens filming, but the final product is visually arresting. A Man and a Woman was a clear
influence on American television commercials, with its shallow focus, soft colors and telephoto
Money was the issue when it came time to choose color or black and white - LeLouch needed the color
for commercial export purposes, but saved lots of cash by shooting his interiors in b&w. Yes, it's
instant artistic hokum, but in a picture as low-key as this, it works. It's certainly better used
than in Lindsay Anderson's If..., where the shifts between color and b&w are distracting.
Lelouch's visuals have a definite feel - this is a warm & fuzzy, let's snuggle movie. The clothing,
faces and flesh have texture. The rhythms of the editing compliment the soft jazz vocals of the
Francis Lai score. It's always cold and rainy, and we feel like pulling our fur jackets around us
just as Trintignant wraps up the kids. That's the real appeal here - there's probably a fair
number of 37 year olds running around who were conceived after their folks saw this picture in 1966.
Anouk Aimée is breathtakingly beautiful (someone please release Jacques Demy's
and Trintignant is charming and sensitive without becoming a soft-headed dolt. His tempered reactions
to the problems of the final reels are an object lesson on how a wise man behaves in a relationship.
Lelouch's relaxed pace may make some viewers itchy. It takes half an hour for the couple to
get to the point where they might have a relationship. The tragic backstories
and Jean-Louis' dangerous profession prime us for another soapy disaster for a conclusion, but
Lelouch smartly substitutes a small but crucial crisis on the intimate level. Here's where he's
successful - A Man and a Woman collapses reality down to the immediate vicinity of these
people, and their happiness now depends on tiny, interpersonal factors neither of them can predict.
Lelouch has us so well attuned to their feelings, that we know exactly what's wrong when they
make love. The problem is presented and solved almost solely in visual terms (well, there is
quite a bit of interior monologue from Jean-Louis, delivered Detour-style as he drives) and
the audience is left with the kind of satisfaction anyone can understand. This has to be the date
movie of all time.
Warners' DVD of A Man and a Woman is a keeper. The image is gorgeous (a word that makes me wince
most of the time) and beautifully colored. It appears to have been cropped somewhat, from 1:66 to an
anamorphic 1:78, but that's probably how it was projected 90% of the time, at least here in the states.
The subtitles are nicely done (another reason it was a big success here - a minimized number of subs
to read) and
all that might be lacking is another set of subs to translate the obviously pertinent French song
lyrics. The extras are almost perfect. Besides a trailer for this and a 1986 followup, A Man and a
Woman 20 Years Later, there is a lengthy on-the-set featurette from 1966, and a thorough illustrated
interview with Lelouch today. We come away from the film with a full understanding of its appeal
Lelouch says A Man and a Woman took 3 weeks to shoot (!) and three to edit. It's so carefully
cut that the
3-week editing schedule becomes credible only after Lelouch explains that he had two cutters working
with or under him. Now that Warners is showing
such good judgment in its discs of foreign-movie hits, they should consider releasing Lelouch's
late-career masterpiece, Les Misérables from 1995.
On a scale of Excellent, Good, Fair, and Poor,
A Man and a Woman rates:
Movie: Very good
Supplements: New Lelouch interview, 1966 featurette, trailers
Packaging: Snapper case
Reviewed: April 8, 2003
1. In the featurette accompanying the disc we see lots of hand-held
shooting, which can't be the long-lens material ... believe me, the telephoto shots must all have been done
on a tripod with a crack operator to get the fluid smoothness we see.
2. Lelouch also says that it wasn't particularly true to his character -
that he's not as nice as the people in the movie. I have a bad transfer of a short subject
he did in 1977 called Rendezvous. It's an unbroken 9 minute take of a car racing through the
dawn streets in Paris, with the camera mounted low on the front bumper. It's completely illegal and
very risky looking - there may be 'spotters' and radios used to avoid cops, but the driver (rumored to
be Jaques Lafitte) appears to be going over 100 miles an hour at times. Totally insane, and something
only a crazy race aficionado would attempt, it's a stunt film all the way. Every time the occasional
truck pulls into our path, our heart races as the car makes an unscheduled high-speed turn onto
a unplanned street. At the end, the car POV
pulls up to a walkway on the Seine, perfectly framing a beautiful woman waiting for the driver, who
gets out and meets her for an embrace.
DVD Savant Text © Copyright 2007 Glenn Erickson