French director Claude Lelouch opened the 32nd Moscow International Film Festival with his last film, which is his 43rd, What Love May Bring (Ces amours là, France, 2010), shown out of competition. This film was certainly not shown just for its undeniable artistic qualities, but also because Lelouch’s passion for cinema and his talent were born in Russia. He was one of the first to capture daily life in Russia on film, with his camera hidden under his raincoat. His passion was actually born during the shooting of The Cranes are Flying (Letiat zhuravli, USSR, 1957) by Mikhail Kalatozov, shot at Mosfilm studios in Moscow. This is why he refers to Moscow at the end of What Love May Bring.
A lawyer, who is also a jazzman, played by the famous singer Raphaël, tells the story of a client who killed a man a few years earlier. This is the story of a peculiar and particularly touching woman for 20 years… In Paris under German occupation, the young and pretty Ilva is in love with a young and good-looking Frenchman. She has to ask a German officer for a special favour; this will change the course of her life.
Having been brought up without a blood father, Ilva has learnt how to fight for survival. She seems to possess the same energy, psychological strength and courage as her mother. Both are free women. Ilva’s peculiarity is that she falls in love quickly, but never with calculated kindness or for any personal interest. She lets us think that she prefers falling in love with somebody than being loved. She subsequently often makes the wrong choices that will, each time, influence her and her life.
The warm and nostalgic atmosphere typical of Lelouch’s work inhabits each scene in What Love May Bring. The intelligent screenplay can be seen from two perspectives: that of Ilva’s story, but also that of Lelouch’s oeuvre, which means that both public and critics will find true happiness in this film.
The author divulges little by little the extracts of some of his 42 films and close-ups of actors. It almost seems that he wants to thank them through this last tribute, presenting them in uplifting tones. We actually see the unforgettable faces of actors Evelyne Bouix, Marie-Sophie L., Anouk Aimée, Alessandra Martinez, Nicole Garcia, Jean-Louis Trintignant… and the faces of singers such as Rafaël… Lelouch always tried to seek fashionable and appropriate ways of thinking, living, behaving, singing… By directing Rafaël here, or Patricia Kaas and Bernard Tapie in the past, he shows once more his desire to keep in touch with the contemporary world. The story can be savoured with unlimited pleasure if the spectator possesses a certain filmic culture and knowledge of Lelouch’s work.
When Ilva oscillates between two men, Bob and Jim, we remember Jeanne Moreau’s heart swings between Jules and Jim by François Truffaut. This parallel does not appear to be a coincidence. The scenes with the projectionist of the cinema where Ilva works also remind of Cinema Paradiso by Giuseppe Tornatore and of Lelouch’s personal experience. His parents actually met for the first time in a cinema, and a Jewish director was hidden in the cinema during the war! What then can we say about the scenes where the Germans occupy the cinema which is the place to be seen and the place to live or to die in, just like in Inglorious Basterds by Quentin Tarantino. The pure idea of plagiarism is very distant for Lelouch. The author only tries to supply, with his patchwork, the emotions that his public loved in his own films, the emotions he loved in the movies of other directors, and the ones his audience has to feel thanks to Ilva and her men.
Claude Lelouch puts a real look of love on his characters, even on the all-powerful German officer, who holds the life of Ilva’s stepfather in his hands. This actually gives the film a lightness that it wouldn’t have otherwise, in view of the historical context and the dramaturgy. Let’s mention a legendary scene when the German officer starts playing the accordion for his beloved Ilva: the Marseillaise resonates at the headquarters, so that the top advisers are completely dazed! What a great moment of emotion and hearty laughs!
The film’s elegant aesthetic, the permanence in the dialogues — full of sensuality — the shooting process and the acting raises high expectations. As we know, Lelouch has “always wished to free his actors in order to shout their subconscious instead of their know-how”, we can say that he has reached his goal. Let’s forget what Les cahiers du cinéma used to announce: “Claude Lelouch, remember his name, you’ll never see him again!”
© FIPRESCI 2010