When Un Homme et Une Femme was released in 1966 Claude Lelouch was a failing, critically reviled director with only five films under his belt. After winning the palme d’or for Un Homme et Une Femme he became one of the auteurs of a generation. A startling transformation, facilitated by a startling film.
Un Homme et Une Femme tells the story of a widow and widower (Anouk Aimée and Jean-Louis Trintignant respectively) who meet by chance and end up falling in love. It’s a saccharine premise but this is undercut with Lelouch’s refusal to leave out the uncomfortable, truthful parts of dealing with love and death. The film isn’t melodramatic about these deaths, rather letting them fade into the background of the action and story. This new love takes over from the mourning period and they react to this process wildly differently. Anne is stuck in limbo between loving Jean-Louis and accepting the loss of her husband. Jean-Louis meanwhile has moved on and joyfully accepts a new love into his life. This tension seems to be played out in the colour scheme of the film. The unfulfilled, empty time between two loves is often in desaturated tones of sepia. However this seems to be applied inconsistently, as if there was once an intelligent idea that got lost in the pursuit of aesthetic.
The result of all this is a beautiful, light film, which distracts from the deeper thoughts of love and death with a jangly soundtrack and some ethereal close-ups. The aesthetic is flawless throughout, romanticised and reminiscent of the old Hollywood ideals that probably never existed. Despite her character being riddled with emotional turmoil, Aimée’s role as actress is limited to a few key lines and generally being pretty. If it weren’t for a few killer monologues Trintignant’s part would be the same. The actors just exist in this beautiful world, communicating through a few stolen glances. It’s an effective technique, but it’s easy to see how this film could have been another Lelouch flop had he not been gifted with these two actors who can bring a silent, mellow love story to life. It almost feels as if the whole film just happened by accident as Lelouch was filming things that he found pleasing to the eye.
You can’t help but enjoy Un Homme et Une Femme but it’s very hard to tell whether this greatly enjoyable ride was a work of genius or a lucky break dressed up in the clothes of an art-house success.
- Entertainment: 4/5
- Artistic: 5/5
- Intellectual: 3/5