Reviewed by Lesley Coffin
Fifty Years after Claude LeLouch debuted his groundbreaking feature film A Man and A Woman, one of the pioneering films of the French New Wave (also at the Chicago International Film Festival), he returns to his roots with Une + Un. Embracing both modernity and new gender dynmics, Une + Un may feel like a slight film from LeLouch, possibly even insignificant at times. But once again Lelouch provides the startling emotional pangs for both audience and characters to share and connect over.
Antoine, played by Oscar winner Jean Dujardin, is a famed composer and ladies’ man…his honesty regarding this personality trait suggests womanizer would be the wrong term. His girlfriend Alice (Alice Pol) seems aware but she is also the first woman he would consider a lifetime commitment to. On a trip to India to work on a Bollywood movie (Juliet and Romero), Antoine meets the ambassador (Christopher Lambert) and his wife, Anna (Elsa Zylbersein). Anna is planning a pilgrimage to Amma, the Hindu spiritual leader and Antoine, recently diagnosed with a brain aneurysm, tags along on her journey.
Like the Before trilogy by Richard Linklater and Lost in Translation, this is very much a tourist film told through the eyes of foreigners. India is seen through the eyes of white, upper-class French society as a magically earthy. I mean this not to dismiss their perspective of course, but it does affect the point-of-view of the film. While the film opens with scenes of the Indian actors playing Juliet and Romero, they are ultimately just a framing device for the story of Antoine and Anna. And while they interact with warmth and consideration towards the Indian people they interact with, their world remains inward-looking, focusing only on fellow Frenchmen and women, rather than on Indian culture and those people around them.
This however does allow LeLouch to explore the different ways women and men in his film explore and interact with the world around them. The women in this film, Anna, Alice, Amma, and Juliet, are women who take in life but respond with action. Anna is a student of Hindu and going to Amma in hopes of fertility because of her desire for a child. She plans he trip and when in the river, takes the plunge as she always planned…while managing to still embrace the moment’s spontaneity. Alice is too a woman in touch with her emotions, and eager to reach out, asking Antoine to marry her rather than wait for him. By comparison, Antoine in remarkably passive towards how he lives and experiences his life; sex, love, break-ups all seem to just happen around him. The world of this film changes the order of A Man and A Woman; Une (feminine) is before Un (masculine) suggesting women are not just equal in this new world, but leading the way.
Appropriately, the film embraces a very different visual style from LeLouch’s other films. Using the Indian location, LeLouch has made a bright, warm, energetic and youthful film, which only returns to the cooler, quieter tones he’s better known for when the characters are in France. It works well with the setting (the steamy river scenes are gorgeous thanks to how he embraces the bright colors and sunlight), but also suggests that Antoine is being guided by Anna on his journey, as if he’s seeing things through her huge, open eyes.
Only though her eyes could he have given himself over to Amma as he does at the conclusion of the second act. It is this moment which captures Lelouch’s true touch of brilliance as a director. Similar to his approach to the now famous train scene from A Man and a Woman, he captures a real moment of an actor experiencing real-life as their character. We observe Amma unknowingly embracing these two actors playing characters, yet has the same authentic reaction she has had to hundreds. But the reactions we see from Zylbersein and Dujardin, tearfully smiling, is the perfect intersection of emotion from the real world transcending a work of fiction transcending. And once again, Lelouche proves that his brilliance lies not it showing emotional scenes for audiences react to, but allowing the audience to experience the characters emotions alongside them.
Lesley Coffin: Is editor and founder of Movies, Film, Cinema. A writer with a masters degree from NYU’s Gallatin School in biographical studies and star theory. She wrote the biography on Lew Ayres (Lew Ayres: Hollywood’s Conscientious Objector) and Hitchcock’s Casting (Hitchcock’s Stars). Lesley currently freelances as a critic and interviewer for a number of sites, including regular contributions to The Interrobang, Pink Pen, and Young Folks, and previously wrote for The Mary Sue and Filmoria. (Twitter handle @filmbiographer, website lesleycoffin.com)