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Wednesday, April 27, 2016
Claude Lelouch | Un homme et une femme (A Man and a Woman)
an unsung opera
by Douglas Messerli
Claude Lelouch and Pierre Uytterhoeven (writers), Claude Lelouch (director) Un homme et une femme (A Man and a Woman) / 1966
Forgive my rather didactic title, but the quite pleasant Claude Lelouch film of 1966, A Man and a Woman simply demanded it. In a time before sexually correct films (and, of course, there are still many such films remaining today), Lelouch’s loving fable about a man and a woman, is far more about the male persona than the brown-eyed beauty whom the dominant males pursue.
That he may have been, like Duroc himself, a flamboyant peacock of a man, sometimes untrue to his wife, is never hinted at. Duroc himself is so clearly beloved by his own wife that when, after crashing on a race course, when he comes out of surgery still in critical condition, she has “nervous breakdown” and kills herself. Never mind that when Duroc meets the beautiful Anne on a weekly trip to visit his school-boarded son, Antoine, he quickly sends his current mistress (Yane Berry) on her way. Women in this film are secondary to male desires and egos.
Meanwhile, Duroc is teaching his young son to take charge, pretending a role as a chauffeur who might drive his father to the golf course, the go-carts, or just to the piers, as if a child of 6 or 7 might be able to drive away on his own volition. It is a lesson in male competence and superiority that I never learned. But then Duroc, like Gauthier’s now dead husband, is a truly “dangerous” man, a race track driver, who is willing to put his life on the line, just as did her stuntman husband had. In short, the men in Gauthier’s life are both macho-heroes who are attracted to her quieter script-girl persona. She can’t even imagine herself as an actress or someone possibly in control of her own existence; she is simply a craftsperson, a woman who helps to make things happen.
His “Revving up” song, played soon after while he speeds along the local race track, long served throughout the later 60s as the introductory music for numerous US television news channels, its driving rhythms and lyrical interludes seemingly representing the newscasters own determination and compassion.
Duroc’s first sexual encounter with Gauthier, however, is a failure; she’s still imagining her stuntman husband. It takes a trip back to Paris to finally win her over. Never mind the “La-ba-ba-ba-ba” chorus. The music still wins over any but the most hard-hearted hearts, mine included. And Gauthier (apparently a surprise even in the filming) gladly embraces him: he is, after all, a perfect replacement for her adventurous former lover—and besides, as her own fantasies portrayed him, he is a far richer “pimp.”
Los Angeles, April 26, 2016