DEAUVILLE, France — Soft piano music flooded through the foyer of the five-star Hotel Normandy, mood music redolent of liaisons past and probably to come, wafting along the corridors like fragrant scent. Even the wallpaper was the color of faded romance.
In the dining room, Claude Lelouch listened to the sounds filtering through from outside, watched the rain slicing across the big picture windows.
He smiled. The harder it rained, the better he liked it. " Formidable! " he said, squinting through the slender lightweight 35-millimeter camera strapped around him like a parachute harness. " For-mi-dable! "
He'd ordered Michel the bar pianist to keep playing day and night if necessary, whenever Anouk Aimee, Jean-Louis Trintignant and his cast and crew were around. And always to include that certain theme from Francis Lai: Sha-da-da-dadada-da-dadadada-da. . . .
They've come together, the director, the stars, the rainy mood, to make "A Man and a Woman--20 Years Later," just two decades almost to the day since that first marvelously evocative, hugely successful and, some said, crassly overromantic "Un Homme et Une Femme" elevated Lelouch to the pedestal of France's unrivalled director of le grand amour .
The theme was disarmingly simple: Young widow, still pining for lost husband, meets daredevil racing driver at the boarding school their children attend. She finds herself drawn to him. They begin an affair overshadowed by their past lives, draw together, hesitate, break apart, reunite. . . .
Now Lelouch is back with the same cast--and all of them 20 years older. To do what?
"To find love again," he said. "The first was like 'Brief Encounter.' It was a love story that never really had time to begin. This is a complete original. It's not a sequel like a 'Rocky' or 'Rambo.' People change. You're not making the life of the same person after 20 years."
Aimee, a script girl in the first film, has now become a powerful and successful producer. Trintignant has gone back to his first love--racing fast cars--and, in the meantime, he has married again. Aimee, the career woman, has not. She decides instead to make a film about that vital part of her life--and to find the man who shared it with her.
Should the past be left alone? Or should you try to rekindle the ashes? That's the question Lelouch sets out to answer.
"Rekindling the ashes? Of course it's dangerous. That's why it's fascinating." A Gallic shrug. "Making love is dangerous, but people do it! And a love story is like a national lottery. It's a miracle if you win it!"
At 48, Lelouch exhibits a boyish eagerness, like the kid loose in the candy store. His enthusiasm is contagious. He's here, there, everywhere. Up at 6 to get ready for the day's shoot (civilized French hours of noon to 8 p.m.), in bed some time after 1 a.m. The best time, the only time, to catch him is over breakfast before he becomes embroiled in the day and gets lost forever.
"When we made the first one, we all kind of joked among ourselves, 'If everything goes well, we'll do a sequel in 20 years!' Well, everything did go well," Lelouch enthused.
"I thought about it after 10 years, and did nothing. But as 20 years approached, I thought, 'I've always wanted to make a film about making a film. This could be my chance. . . . As I worked on it, I found it was the richest source of inspiration I had ever had in my life.
"Five years ago, I saw Anouk and Trintignant and found they were still magnificent! Like good wine, they had aged well."
Certainly Aimee has. She's 53, but you'd never believe it. Between takes she sat on Trintignant's knee, talking intimately, her face buried in his shoulder. They are old friends, nothing more. She looked stunning in a royal blue bolero shawl over a tight black skirt and black stockings. Her pale face is exquisitely structured, the high cheekbones setting off the haunting dark eyes.
"After 20 years, it would be OK to rake over the coals again," Lelouch said. "That would be permitted. Not after six years, or even 10. Too soon. But the 20th anniversary seemed somehow important. It represents a generation. It represents a life. It's crazy what can happen in 20 years."
"Script? What script? There isn't one," a bewildered Warner Bros. executive shrugged helplessly. He'd flown from California to discuss the launch of the film at the Cannes Film Festival last May--and found himself railroaded into being an extra when the movie went into production. (It wrapped last month.) The script resides in Lelouch's head and on sheets of blank paper stuffed into his hip pocket, which fills up as the day progresses. His stars know the structure of the story, but not the nuts and bolts. The dialogue is supposed to flow fresh and clean, born of the moment. Lelouch has always worked this way.