Twenty years ago, struggling young French film maker Claude Lelouch scraped together $100,000 to make "A Man and a Woman," a simple love story told in what would become his familiar elaborately structured, dizzyingly kinetic style. The high fizz combination of visual razzle-dazzle, fatalistic Gallic romance and Francis Lai's insistent theme made it a winner at Cannes, in the Academy Awards and at box offices around the world.
Lelouch has now made "A Man and a Woman: 20 Years Later" (at the Westside Pavilion, Town & Country and Edwards Town Center), reuniting his stars, Anouk Aimee and Jean-Louis Trintignant, but spoiling the fun with a runaway plot that lurches into the ludicrous. For some time now, starting probably with his quite irresistible "And Now My Love" (1975), Lelouch has increasingly imposed a symmetry and fortuitous coincidence upon his stories rarely found in real life.
Cross-cutting with his usual passion, Lelouch reintroduces us to Trintignant's ex-professional race driver who's now organizing a Paris to Dakar rally, and Aimee's script girl, long since graduated to producer. As Trintignant tests cars, Aimee winds up production on an epic-scale wartime romance, zipping us through its fade-out, post-production and disastrous premiere. What's there to do but to recoup fast, and what better story to tell than her own affair with Trintignant, overshadowed by her undying love for her late husband?
Thirty-seven minutes into this movie's giddy near-two hours, Aimee and Trintignant finally meet face-to-face for a long, beautifully sustained scene that shows Lelouch's improvisatory technique with actors at its best.
Was ever middle age so glamorous? Here's Trintignant, bearded and weathered but still slim as a teen-ager. And here's Aimee, the sensual, hollow-cheeked beauty, scarcely changed but for a few lines that suggest character rather than age. But just as we're ready to settle down to a really grown-up rekindled romance, Lelouch whisks us back to his filmic roller coaster.
Alas, Aimee decides to rework their love story as an "Umbrellas of Cherbourg"-like musical, in which she casts her daughter (played by Evelyn Bouix) and Richard Berry.
Fair enough, but it's at that point that "A Man and a Woman: 20 Years Later" (rated an appropriate PG) goes hopelessly over the top, as Aimee scraps the musical to make a Hitchcock homage while Trintignant runs into big trouble in the middle of the Sahara.
By this point Lelouch has played so skittishly with present and past (drawing upon large hunks of the original film for flashbacks) and truth and illusion that, rather than catching us up in his delirious, fast-breaking plot developments, he only makes us all the more aware that what we're watching is just a movie--and an increasingly incredible one at that.
When Aimee first reveals her plans to Trintignant, he points out rightly that they really don't have a story to tell. Yet Lelouch, 20 years ago, made of their brief encounter a salute to life, love and the fleetingness of both. Twenty years later the love affair is strictly between Lelouch and his camera.
'A MAN AND A WOMAN: 20 YEARS LATER'
A Warner Bros. release of a Les Films 13 production. Writer-producer-director Claude Lelouch. Adaptation and additional dialogue Lelouch, Pierre Uytterhoeven, Monique Lange, Jerome Tonnerre. Music Francis Lai. Lyrics Pierre Barouh. Camera Jean-Yves Le Mener. Art director Jacques Bufnoir. Costumes Mic Cheminal. Anouk Aimee's wardrobe Emanuel Ungaro. Film editor Hugues Darmois. With Anouk Aimee, Jean-Louis Trintignant, Richard Berry, Evelyn Bouix, Marie-Sophie Pochat, Philippe Leroy Beaulieu, Charles Gerard, Patrick Poivre d'Arvor, Thierry Sabine, Antoine Sire, Andre Engel. Special appearances Robert Hossein, Jacques Weber, Tanya Lopert, Nicole Garcia. Unbilled: Michele Morgan, Jean-Claude Brialy. In French, with English subtitles.
Running time: 1 hour, 52 minutes.
MPAA rating: PG (parental guidance suggested; some material may not be suitable for children).