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PARIS — The highs and lows of French cineaste Claude Lelouch’s half-century career are summed up by the man himself in From One Film to Another (D’un film a l’autre). Composed of clips and behind-the-scenes footage from the director’s sizeable filmography, this self-produced documentary provides a crash course for Lelouch newbies, as well as ample fodder for his fans … and detractors.
Made to mark the 50th anniversary of Lelouch’s Paris-based production company, Les Films 13, the documentary will receive a small-scale local rollout on April 13th. Other engagements will be limited to fest sidebars, film museums and Francophone territories on a niche basis.
An avalanche of archive material kicks off with what is likely the writer-director-producer-cameraman’s most riveting achievement: the nine-minute, real-time racing short, C’était un rendez-vous (1976). Shot at 6 a.m. in a sports car driven with impressive expertise by Lelouch, it reveals both the beauty of Paris at dawn and the pleasures of seeing a fast-paced action sequence sans cutting, camera trickery or police escort.
Lelouch, who narrates this and other clips with wit and nostalgia, uses Rendez-vousas a metaphor to describe 50 years of moviemaking that had him racing from one project to another, often with little regard for the consequences. Early on, he relates how his first feature, Le propre de l’homme (1961), tanked in theaters and became a punching bag for critics, famously summed up by a review in the Cahiers du Cinéma which began: “Remember the name Claude Lelouch … because you’ll never hear it again.”
Never one to be deterred by poor critical reception, he plunged into a successful stint making shorts, newsreels and Scopitones – the forerunners of modern-day music videos. When he came back big time with A Man and a Woman (1966), which scooped up both the Palme d’Or in Cannes and two Academy Awards, Lelouch had his own sweet revenge on French reviewers, who would continue to deride his work for the decades that followed.
The captivating on-set footage from A Man and other projects shows the director to be chock full of energy, operating the camera like an elated teenager. If his films are marked by such an enthusiasm, and by an eye for capturing sleek imagery, they often lack sufficient dramatic pull, as well as any clear message beyond, perhaps, the thrill of filmmaking (which may explain why many of them feature movie shoots). The barrage of clips actually demonstrate that Lelouch was probably a better shooter than storyteller, and one wonders what his career could have been had he accepted offers to come to Hollywood in the ‘60s, rather than remaining in France to become a self-proclaimed, and sometimes self-financed, auteur.
Lelouch’s commentary on certain flops reveals that he’s not completely oblivious to such hubris, which spawned follies like the preachy sci-fi fantasy, Long Live Life, or the bizarre Christ fable-cum-gypsy musical, La belle histoire. Yet despite plenty of downturns, especially during a slew of tedious works from the ‘80s and ‘90s, he kept going, casting some of France’s finest actors – including Catherine Deneueve, Fabrice Luchini, Jacques Villeret and Annie Girardot– in numerous films.
If this, coupled with his nonstop energy and the occasional box-office success, allowed Lelouch to continue working constantly all the way up through last year’s regrettable Ces amours-là, the question ultimately raised by From One Film to Another is whether we will manage to remember all these movies as well as he does.
Opened: In France, April 13
Production company: Les Films 13
Director/producer/narrator: Claude Lelouch
Editor: Stephane Mazalaigue
Sales Agent: Les Films 13
No rating, 108 minutes
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