THE ABRIDGED BARNESYARD

index*Originally published on the E Street Film Society blog on February 8, 2010.

A Man and a Woman (1966; Dir.: Claude LeLouch)

GRADE: B-

By Daniel Barnes

The 1961 Oscar win for Bergman’s compact chamber drama Through a Glass Darkly makes a lot of sense given the time period – the still-young Hollywood was mired in an inferiority complex to the New York stage, and subsequently awarded a higher significance to stage and literary (or in the case of Bergman’s film, stage-y) properties put to screen. West Side Story won Best Picture that same year, and fellow winners and nominees from the period included Judgment at Nuremberg, The Diary of Anne Frank, My Fair Lady, Gigi, and the Terrence Rattigan creaker Separate Tables.

Claude Lelouch’s 1966 win for A Man and a Woman (over Gillo Pontecorvo’s seminal The Battle of Algiers and Milos Forman’s sublime Loves of a Blonde!), meanwhile, probably reflects the film’s commercial popularity more than anything. The movie seems to follow the template of Claude Lelouch’s career, in that it’s tantalizing, pretty and vapid, like a lipstick commercial. Lelouch has been making films steadily since the early 1960’s, although few since A Man and a Woman have received wide American release (his 2007 Roman de Gare played in SF, but did not make to Sacramento; however, his 2002 And Now Ladies and Gentleman showed at the Tower). A Man and a Woman won the Palme d’Or prize at the 1966 Cannes Film Festival, no doubt delighting festivalgoers weary of French films that they didn’t get.

There’s nothing ungettable about Lelouch’s film – it’s sort of a New Wave forebear of this summer’s indie hit (500) Days of Summer, an irresistible, smug-cute attempt at rewiring the hardware of romance movies. A handsome man (Jean-Lous Trintignant, sort of a Gallic Ed Harris) and a beautiful woman (Anouk Aimee) meet while dropping their children off at a boarding school. Through cheeky cutaways, we learn that she’s the widow of a stuntman who she still pines for (the “samba came into our life” sequence, which shows their idealized bohemian marriage in an extended musical montage, is one of the film’s highlights) and that he’s a race car driver whose wife committed suicide.

And that’s about it – they come together, they fall apart, and then (SPOILER ALERT!) they get back together. The rest is just postcard photography and a fairly original storytelling style – most of the film seems to exist in memory, fantasy, or somewhere in between; photography shifts between color, black and white, sepia, and slate; and there are those tantalizing gaps in the story that are ultimately just empty space.

Despite some truly elegant driving scenes, great photography, and good performances by the leads, A Man and a Woman (much like (500) Days of Summer) is entertaining but hollow. The actors aren’t given the room to develop personalities that might make us care about them, and we never get the impression that there’s a guiding hand behind the gimmick, or a soul beneath the surfaces.