Claude Sautet & Romy Schneider Duo: Les choses de la vie [Blu-ray]
Blu-ray A - America - Film Movement
Review written by and copyright: Eric Cotenas (6th July 2020).
The Film

David (Best Foreign Actor): Yves Montand (winner) - David di Donatello Awards, 1973

César thought people couldn't part without talking, but that's what happened. Neither he nor David tried to find her. Rosalie was worried at first, then reassured.



César et Rosalie: After five years in the United States, comic book artist David (Band of Outsiders' Sami Frey) returns to Paris and visits Antoine (Emmanuelle 2's Umberto Orsini), the ex-husband of David's old flame Rosalie (10:30 A.M. Summer's Romy Schneider) with whom Antonie has a daughter (Céline Galland). Now divorced, Antoine is unfazed by David's interest in Rosalie since the cause of their breakup was the mutual admission that they did not love each other; however, Antoine informs David that Rosalie is now involved with scrap merchant firm owner César (The Wages of Fear's Yves Montand). The wedding of Rosalie's former sister-in-law to another man is the occasion whereupon David and Rosalie are reunited but César is unaware until after the reception and after a bit of masculine rivalry that nearly results in a road accident that David tells him outright that he is in love with Rosalie. Rosalie admits that she was in love with David and that he "allowed her" to marry Antoine when he went away, but offers no assurances that the past is past; indeed, when pressed, she tells César "I'd be with him if I wanted to. I'm free." When César is honest with her about his feelings after she fled his weekly poker night to visit David and his artist friends, Rosalie promises not to see David again. César, however, takes matters into his own hands and confronts David, claiming that Rosalie is pregnant and letting it slide that he has already killed a man for her. Upon learning of César's lies, Rosalie leaves him and moves in with David leading to an explosion of violence and an act of retaliation that sees the young couple going on the lamb. When a seemingly contrite César tracks them down and attempts to make amends, David starts to become jealous and distrustful of Rosalie.

Director Claude Sautet's take on the "love triangle" conjures up associations with fellow countryman François Truffaut's better-known , and there are moments of high drama, yet a tragic ending is thwarted not by a compromising filmmaker but by characters who are as capable of impulsive and violent acts as they are of introspection and growth. The catalyst is not an unstable woman, but two men who seem like polar opposites but are really not all that different. César seems outwardly as amused by David as he is by the younger man's comic strips, masking a deep insecurity under flippant disdain while David sees César not so much as a square but as a bully (depicting him as a gangster in caricature drawings that César actually appears hurt when he sees them). They both pretend to be forthright with each other about their feelings for Rosalie and pretend to be unfazed by one another; and neither are truly honest with Rosalie, who does not seem to change so much as their perception of her moods at their shortcomings taking on significance with the threat of a rival. Rosalie walks out on César because he lies to her while David leaves her before he thinks she will leave him for César – she admits to loving both but one feels insulted on her behalf that they can only perceive her as leaving one for the other and back and forth – and it is only when she walks out on both of the that they can be honest with each other, leading to a wonderfully bittersweet coda and the perfect fade out. Michel Piccoli (Belle de Jour) – who was the original choice to play César – narrates, and a then-unknown Isabelle Huppert (The Piano Teacher) also appears as one of Rosalie's friends.

Palme d'Or: Claude Sautet (nominated) - Cannes Film Festival, 1970
Prix Louis Delluc: Claude Sautet (nominated) - Prix Louis Delluc, 1969

Les choses de la vie: On a rain-slick stretch of country road, the life of Pierre Bérard (Contempt's Michel Piccoli) flashes before his eyes after his car collides swerves to miss a stalled truck and sails off the road. In the days leading up to his accident, things have started to become chilly with his younger girlfriend Hélène (L'Important C'est D'aimer's Romy Schneider) who presses him on whether to sign a new lease for their apartment or find a house – rejecting his offer of the use of the summer house he shares with his ex-wife/still business partner Catherine (L'avventura's Lea Massari) – but she seems to be the last one to know that his business trip to Tunis may result in a three year job out of the country. His wife, his grown son Bertrand (Indochie's Gérard Lartigau), his brother-in-law François (The Big Blue's Jean Bouise), and even his father (Bay of Angels' Henri Nassiet) who is financially upon both him and his own pensioner conquests know of this and react to his the possibility of his extended differently; Catherine wants him to see to long-neglected repairs to their summer place, his father is emotionally-manipulative, and his son suggests a two week fishing trip in what amounts to a last ditch attempt to get to know each other before Pierre leaves for his job and Bertrand does his national service. Unaware of Pierre's job offer and his insecurities about another serious relationship, Hélène just feels that she cannot compete with his familial obligations and will always come second, and Pierre lets her believe it to the breakup easier on himself. When he finally realizes that he wants the same thing as Hélène, it may be too late as he embarks on a fateful road journey to their place of assignation.

Based on the novel by Paul Guimard and adapted by Jean-Loup Dabadie, Les Choses de la Vie was a comeback film for director Claude Sautet after a five year fallow period following The Dictator's Guns. That film was also preceded by a five year gap following Class tous risques and another following Hello, Smile! during which he worked regularly as screenplay ghostwriter; however, he seemed to find his footing as a director with Les Chose de la Vie as he not only directed ten more films in the next twenty-five years of his career but the film's themes and stylistic approach would also inform the rest of his filmography in focusing on "the things of life" compared to his earlier more conventionally genre works. The scenario featuring the leisure lives of emotionally-entangled comfortably middle-class characters might not resonate on the surface with all viewers, but the psychological underpinnings are where the film hits close to home. Pierre uses familial obligations to delay decisions with his girlfriend, and we see the effect it has upon her in the present but Pierre may only see the effect of treating his family like excuses and obligations when his life flashes before his eyes. His ex-wife masks whatever feelings she has left for him – and they exist since we François mediates between them and seems to suffer from some stress because of it – and his grown son barely knows him; indeed, his son's hobby/side business involves creating electronic birds who do not fly away, their calls at regular intervals, with the goal of becoming part of the sounds of the household, essentially replacing something natural with a more reliable simulated version of it. Hélène compares the two of them to a "childless couple" because they have no shared history like he does with his family, and flashbacks of his first meetings and the happier days of their relationship only become part of the narrative after their breakup, sometimes merging with those of happier times between Pierre and his wife and son. In an early scene, Hélène is translating a book from German into French and asks Pierre for an appropriate translation of the world "verschönern" which she defines as "telling lies… or rather, telling stories" and he response with "embellish." François later says of Pierre's memory that he "embroiders." The viewer knows that the body of the film is his life flashing before his eyes thanks to the opening and occasionally cutaways to details from the accident and its aftermath, so it is not surprise that the scenes he remembers are significant; however, Pierre's tendency to embroider calls into question just how he recalls these scenes, and indeed if the scenes we see in which he is not present are objective reality or what he supposes happened. Pierre's fantasy about the future when he and Hélène will be happy together, happy for Catherine, and they happy for them veers suddenly from revelry into nightmare with the presence of some unexpected guests impinging from reality while his fantasy turned nightmare of his fishing trip with his son is the film's saddest moment (so much so that viewers may miss the moment when Catherine first sees Hélène from afar and takes pity upon her). The accident sequence is ambitiously-staged and horrifying in meticulous detail of Piccoli's reactions, the effects of each impact upon the car, and the disturbance it wreaks upon the landscape and inside the car (with Hélène's scarf and Pierre's cigarettes flying and spinning around him surely influencing his flashbacks). The score of Philippe Sarde (Ghost Story) is familiar in execution and orchestration among the composer's oeuvre but no less effective in emphasizing that this is a tragedy not a melodrama. The film was more slickly but less effectively remade in 1994 by Mark Rydell (For the Boys) as Intersection for Paramount Pictures starring Richard Gere, Sharon Stone as the wife, and Lolita Davidovitch as the mistress.

Video

César et Rosalie was released theatrically by Columbia Pictures arthouse offshoot Cinema 5 Releasing but was not released on VHS until the late eighties by Axon Video followed by a 2003 DVD release from Wellspring who released a handful of Sautet titles around the same time. A 2015 theatrical re-release from Rialto Pictures was preceded by Blu-ray releases in France and the in 2012 and more recently a German release last year, but the film did not makes its stateside Blu-ray bow until Film Movement's 1080p24 MPEG-4 AVC 1.66:1 widescreen edition utilizing the same master provided by Studio Canal. The image is free of damage with good detail in wide shots and faithful but not always flattering rendition of facial features apart from Schneider who exists in a glamorous softness that does not appear to be filtration, while the color are generally naturalistic, with only some night blues looking possibly pumped up a little.

Les choses de la vie was released theatrically in the U.S. and U.K. by Columbia Pictures. While the film was released on VHS by Arrow in 1993, presumably in anticipation of the remake, the film has been hard to see stateside apart from Rialto Pictures' 2015 theatrical reissue. Film Movement's 1080p24 MPEG-4 AVC 1.66:1 widescreen Blu-ray marks its American digital debut, presumably using the same 2014 HD remaster that appeared only in France in Studio Canal's Sautet boxed set and more recently as solo editions in Spain and Japan (a French single disc edition in 2019 was a Fnac exclusive but will be available for general release in August). The transfer is generally in keeping with the look of César et Rosalie in terms of color and sharpness, but there are some inconsistences that may be a mark of the film's production more so than the elements or an attempt in grading to average out inconsistently lit shots as the black levels are uneven during the night scenes, ranging from slightly diluted in the exterior to almost milky in the tighter shots inside Pierre's car during his breakup with Hélène and some other scenes look a tad grainier than the surrounding footage. The only place where this is truly evident is the crash scene which was shot with eight to twelve different camera models in 35mm and 16mm at different framerates (and then some of these shots were optically sped up or slowed down during editing).

Audio

The mono mixes of both films are given LPCM 2.0 encodings, with César et Rosalie highlighting a more modern and experimental score than arthouse fans may expect from Philippe Sarde (The Tenant) and some slightly more ambitious sound design for the period from Les choses de la vie during the crash scene. Both films feature optional English subtitles.

Extras

César et Rosalie's sole extra is the "César et Rosalie, sérénade à 3" documentary (29:59) from the import Blu-rays in which script supervisor Geneviève Cortier (Au Hasard Balthazar) suggests that the César character was inspired by Sautet's older brother, and editor Jacqueline Thiedot (Nelly & Monsieur Arnaud) recalls that the original scenario was very different from the finished film involving motorcycle racing. Producer Michelle de Broca (Flight of the Innocent) recalls the screenplay's notion of a woman who openly loves two men being progressive and being the only producer who wanted to take the project on, and that Lino Ventura (Army of Shadows) was originally cast. Scenarist Jean-Loup Dabadie (Vincent, François, Paul and the Others) recalls writing César for Michele Piccoli and then helping Montand shape his characterization but coming into conflict with Sautet over Rosalie who he began to dislike as he focused on the two male characters; Sautet countered that Rosalie was not a "pain in the ass" as Dabadie described her but a woman in pain, and Dabadie came to see her not as whore but as a woman who loved two men at different times and sometimes at the same time. He also recalls that Sautet wanted Catherine Deneuve (Repulsion) and was reluctant to cast Schneider only because she had already appeared in his previous two films. Dabadie also notes that they considered Gérard Depardieu (Maitresse) for David but thought him too young at the time. Actor Bernard Le Coq (Flower of Evil) discusses how Montand had earned notice as an actor in Wages of Fear but that César et Rosalie was a new direction in the aging actor's career. Sautet's assistant Jean-Claude Sussfeld (Mado) also comments from an audio interview.

Les choses de la vie features the documentary "Symphonie Metallique" (48:22) with the same participants as well as composer Sarde and uncredited still photographer Claude Matthieu. Script supervisor Cortier and editor Thiedot discuss Sautet's earlier films and the four year gap between The Dictator's Guns while screenwriter Dabadie recalls his and author Guimard's difficulty finding any producer or director interested in the novel, regarding it as too depressing and that audiences would not relate to the characters. He asked Sautet – who had been working as a ghostwriter at the time – to look at the screenplay draft. Sautet's wife read it first and insisted that he read it, leading Sautet to decide to return to directing with the project. They, along with assistant Jean-Claude Sussfeld, recall Sautet's desire to cast Schneider who was not so well-known to French audiences at the time, and that she fell in love with Sautet. Cortier recalls that Sautet was a ladies man and not always faithful to his wife, but he relied upon her to distract Schneider when she demanded too much of his attention. The shooting of the accident sequence is discussed, noting the amount of cameras needed during a time of the year when many films were in production, building a road to the screenplay's specifics when they could not find one that matched it and could be shut down for three weeks, the stunt driving (done by both Piccoli and stuntman Gérard Streiff, rigging the car for the shots where it flipped, and using wires and string to make the flying objects in the car move exactly as specified in the script.

Packaging

Packaged with the discs is a illustrated 16-page booklet by author David N. Meyer, five of which consist of text, with the author distilling both films – and possibly much of Sautet's filmography – as being about "the urgency with which men resist love, the demands they place on the women who love them and the rewards awaiting both if the men can just grow up" (which may even apply to later films like Un Coeur en Hiver in which the male protagonist learns to live with coming to things "too late" and Nelly & Monsieur Arnaud in which the female protagonist finds some solace with an older man who seems to resist happiness which encourages both to look for happiness again with other partners).

Overall

Film Movement's Claude Sautet & Romy Schneider Duo of César et Rosalie and Les choses de la vie provide a nice overview of Claude Sautet's ability to balance intense romance and tragedy with relatable realistic characters with a focus on "the things of life."

 


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