Tuesday, December 11, 2012

L'Aventure c'est l'aventure

1972, France, directed by Claude Lelouch

Though every film is, obviously enough, a product of its particular historical moment, it's hard to imagine Lelouch's film taking place in any time other than the immediate post-1968 period in France: if someone decided to make the film today, it surely would have to be as a 1970s period piece.  The picture opens with an extended sequence in which Lino Ventura, as an old-school criminal, comes to the realization that the world has changed when the prostitutes from whom he profits begin to unionize, bandying about words like autogestion a good year before they were back on everyone's Lips in reality. Later, there's an extremely amusing sequence in which Ventura and his cohorts undergo political education in order to understand the ideologies currently in the political air, the men struggling to come to any understanding of dialectics, never mind any of the many -isms presented to them.

It's perhaps that exquisite sense of the zeitgeist that made the film a strikingly big hit, despite the fact that the titular adventure is less than enthralling at times, the expected thrills and spills for the most part displaced by extended dialogue scenes: it must be the wordiest caper film on record, melding kidnappings and robberies in exotic locations with the kinds of extended debate that you might expect to find in something like La Maman et la putain. Still, for all its up-to-the-minute content, there's no sense that the film itself is especially progressive -- Lelouch is far more interested in having us spend time with his motley crew of criminals, dedicated exclusively to the ideology of personal enrichment, than in any thorough-going exploration of his own changing country. Like Ventura's character, Lelouch is mostly amused, and perhaps a touch disgruntled, at the idea that those prostitutes are organizing, though he doesn't tarry long over their fate. Whatever the politics, there's an enjoyably loose, improvised feel to the film, which is in no particular hurry to set its plot in motion -- you get the sense that the actors are constantly trying to avoid bursting into laughter at some of the more absurd sequences, whether it's the hilariously bizarre kidnapping of Johnny Hallyday, the men's attempts to impress women on the beach, or Jacques Brel in character as the world's most Belgian plane passenger.

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Boston, Massachusetts, United States