Wednesday, August 01, 2007

La Vie est à nous

1936, France, produced/coordinated by Jean Renoir

Although he did direct a number of sequences in the film, Renoir himself rejected sole directorial credit for La Vie est à nous, a 1936 election campaign film for the French Communist party (the party almost quadrupled its previous total of deputies, and took power as part of the Popular Front government, which lasted one year). The film never received the censor's approval, and hence was restricted to private showings organized by the party itself. There's little of Renoir's usual directorial presence here, with the film often devolving into pure propaganda, of a kind that now makes many (including former adherents to the movement) distinctly comfortable - perhaps especially the brief segments lauding Stalin.

About an hour long, the film is divided into two segments, the first an essay-like statement of conditions in France and her neighbors, melding lectures, documentary footage and manipulations (such as the amusing, and yet chilling, sequences in which Hitler and Mussolini bark like dogs); it's a fragmented collage that likely influenced Godard's most openly political films, as well as later filmmakers such as Jean-Marie Teno, adept at assembling collages from many sources (notably, though, there's barely the slightest reference to France's overseas empire, on which so much of the country's economic success depended). The second half of the film narrates three episodes where the party is seen to be a force for good; while the anecdotes undoubtedly had parallels in reality, the manner in which the party is seen to provide material and spiritual succour can perhaps be indulged as characteristic of the spirit of the times, but ultimately has little of the power of more subtle, fictional Popular Front films such as Renoir's own Le Crime de Monsieur Lange or Julien Duvivier's (now) little-seen La Belle équipe.

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Boston, Massachusetts, United States