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Another lavishly budgeted but often shapeless jumble of incidents and characters from Claude Lelouch at his most self-indulgent
on 14 May 2013
Few directors are as maddeningly inconsistent as Claude Lelouch, whose career mixes genuine crowdpleasers with self-indulgent messes. Sadly, Ces Amours-La/What Love May Bring - opportunistically retitled What War May Bring and sold as a bloody saga of wartime honour and courage for UK home video - is one of the later. Like his earlier Les Unes et Les Autres/Bolero it's a lavishly budgeted but often shapeless jumble of incidents and characters spanning much of the 20th Century with the Second World War the key point of reference but without the strong sense of character and eventual destination that made his earlier Toute une Vie work so much better.
Despite the opening scrawl talking of his love of cinema, the opening montage of half-formed vignettes - rather clumsily scored by a dark bolero that sounds like it was written for a different film altogether - jumping rapidly from the birth of cinema, silent porn, the arrival of talkies and newsreels of Hitler via a brief excursion to WW1 are woefully unconvincing, though from the appearance of Marilyn Monroe in her Seven Year Itch dress and hairstyle in a pre-war scene realism clearly isn't the idea here. Unfortunately he doesn't manage to pull off a dreamlike collision of memories and fantasies either, simply coming up with ham-fisted melodrama with decent production values and ample opportunities to display his love for classic songs and their singers. At times it looks like he's clumsily setting up the characters so he can get down to the story, but no sooner has he introduced a new one than he's off on another tangent, even going back more than a century to a Texas land rush at one point. The overriding impression is that he's making every film as if it were his last, but not in a good way that results in a lovingly crafted piece of work but as if he throws in all the things he ever wanted to put into a movie whether they fit in the very loose story he's chosen to tell or not.
The story is weak melodrama at best, with neither the filmmaking or competent but uninspired cast able to compensate enough for it not to matter when it finally gets going. The clumsy framing device doesn't help, with co-composer (with Francis Lai) Laurent Couson's Jewish lawyer defending Audrey Dana's cinema usher turned trophy wife from a murder charge by launching into a long history of not only his client's life but also his own, right down to his parents' courtship and his time as a pianist in the officer's mess at Auschwitz. Although she later says her problem is that she falls in love too easily, Dana turns out to be a bit of a Paris bicycle, having an affair with the Nazi officer who spares the life of her projectionist and resistance fighter stepfather (Dominique Pinon) before shacking up with both the rich white war correspondent (Gilles Lemaire) and the black G.I. (Jacky Ido) who saved his life in a ménage a trois (meeting cute when they save her from having her hair shaved during a screening of Gone with the Wind) that ends badly when one takes advantage of the confusion of battle to eliminate the competition. Not that it does him any good once he starts having nightmares about the war and she promptly walks out on him and finds yet another lover. According to the behind the scenes featurette on the DVD and Blu-ray she's a truly modern woman and each of these men fulfils a different need in her, but it's easy to think of a different description for her.
The resources are there, with large numbers of extras and occassional spectacle even if much of it is borrowed footage from his earlier films, but it's never very convincingly or adventurously staged. Post-Saving Private Ryan the brief combat scenes are performed like something out of a bad "Bang Bang You're Dead" B-movie aimed at schoolkids that somehow could afford Cinemascope, Technicolor and a few hundred more extras, what we see of the concentration camps is rather clean and well fed and even the camerawork is less adventurous than usual for Lelouch, with none of his trademark elaborate tracking shots and all too often staying at a remove from the scene rather than drawing you in. It's only at the end with a couple of unexpected musical numbers intruding on reality and the revelation that the young Lelouch is a minor character whose work will be forever influenced by the first kiss he films while two characters finally come together and sing the same song that's been running through the film that you get some sense of what he was trying to do with it all.
Using archive footage of Charles Denner for one character's father is a nice touch and there are brief moments from earlier Lelouch films weaved in along the way to place the story firmly in his existing cinematic universe - the Normandy landings from his masterly version of Les Miserables, the liberation party from Les Unes et Les Autres, the land race from Another Man, Another Chance, a boxing bout from Edith et Marcel and a whole Cinema Paradiso montage of all the lovers from his earlier films near the end that unfortunately just reminds you of the days when he could still attract major stars, who are conspicuous by their absence here aside from a thankless bit part for his old Un Homme et Une Femme muse Anouk Aimée. (You almost wonder if Lelouch isn't all too aware of the fact: near the film's end one character tells him "I hope one day you'll film real actors.")
There are a few moments that almost work: the lawyer who was denounced by his neighbours for playing his piano too loud confronting the woman who denounced a Jewish family who didn't lend her their sewing machine often enough and asking her if she knows what it really cost, as well as a scene where the music he plays at an audition for a music conservatoire brings unwelcome memories flooding back and there's a neat symmetry to the film beginning with the first movie camera and ending with an audience leaving the cinema, but they're passing moments that never have the power intended because the characters never seemed convincing enough to care about in the first place once bad things start happening to them. You never feel you've taken the journey with them, more that you've glimpsed them briefly from a speeding train passing through the countryside.
Revolver's region-free Blu-ray is as inconsistent as the film itself. While it's never excellent, much of the film has decent picture quality but some of the darker scenes are very flat and suffer from digital noise, though the 2.35:1 widescreen transfer is at least both in its proper ratio (not always guaranteed with this label) and has a good English subtitle translation. The only extra is the 15-minute featurette. Unless it's going for the same price on both formats you can probably safely get this one on DVD without feeling you're missing out on superior picture quality.