Lelouch goes back to the future in Cannes

Love story continues 53 years on

by Richard Mowe

Together again after all these years - Anouk Aimée and Claude Lelouch
Together again after all these years - Anouk Aimée and Claude Lelouch Photo: Richard Mowe
There can be no doubting the waves of emotion that washed over director Claude Lelouch and his two actors Jean-Louis Trintignant and Anouk Aimée when they returned to the Cannes Film Festival with The Best Years Of A Life.

The new film - which also stars Monica Bellucci - picks up where the same characters left off their love story in A Man And A Woman some 53 years earlier and gives them a fresh start.

Lelouch confides that in those far-off days he did not really understand what was happening to him. He received the Palme d’Or and the film travelled around the world. It mixed black-and-white and colour images, hailed as a revolutionary technique but it was brought about by the exigencies of the budget.

Claude Lelouch: 'Every time I make a new film I want to find new things in terms of photography, emotion'
Claude Lelouch: 'Every time I make a new film I want to find new things in terms of photography, emotion' Photo: Richard Mowe
He said: “In the space of a 90-minute screening we went from the shadows to the spotlight. Audiences recognised themselves in the story between Jean-Louis and Anouk. I even got thousands of letters from people who said that thanks to the film they had found their husband or wife again and were reconciled.

“I had the impression that it was more than just a film and it would leave a deep and lasting imprint. I never imagined that 53 years on it would still be shown regularly on TV channels and other media all-around the world.”

The idea for the new film started three years ago at a screening of the recently restored version of A Man And A Woman.

Lelouch said: “During the entire screening I did not actually look at the film but looked at Jean-Louis and Anouk, who were sitting she by side. They were whispering to each other and holding hands. I saw them as very happy and not sad to see how all the time that had gone by. I thought then and there that it was something I was going to have to film one day.I spoke to them about it and they both said that so many years later the public might be disappointed. They suggested that I forget the project.”

During the next three years life continued its course and Lelouch did other films. By chance he met Trintignant’s assistant and arranged a meeting. “Jean-Louis gave me incredible smile and a huge hug. He had more or less said he was not going to do any more films, but I then gave him a quick pitch, and he thought it would be a fabulous starting point for a film. Then we had to have thousands of other miracles for him to confirm and to get the producer on board,” added Lelouch.

Monica Bellucci, who had never worked previously with Lelouch, found the experience liberating. She said: “The script is a guideline and he encourages you too improvise. That way he ensures that the actors give him everything. We had total freedom. When I heard he was making this film through a friend, I decided to contact him. I was a huge fan of the original Un homme et une femme - for me it seemed to sum the whole idea of French cinema. And I was entranced by the beauty of Anouk who encouraged me to dream. I like this idea of unconditional love which has nothing to do with sex."

Monica Bellucci joins the Lelouch 'family' for the first time
Monica Bellucci joins the Lelouch 'family' for the first time Photo: Richard Mowe
Lelouch has made 49 films and each time he feels as if he was going back to school. He said: “Every time I make a new film I want to find new things in terms of photography, emotion. I do not like making just one more film. I like to do something different. I knew full well that his one was going to be an over-sized challenge. It is the film that scared me most and the actors as well. I told Jean-Louis that if he did not like the film we would not release it. That seemed to reassure him. And we shot the encounter on the first day of shooting and by the evening I was the happiest man in the world. If nothing else at least we had a good short. Every day we would take more risks every day and instead of being just an epilogue it turned in to a real film.”

New technologies and lighter cameras appear to energise and inspire Lelouch. His next film has been completely shot on a mobile phone. “I dreamt of having these new kinds of cameras for my entire life. Cameras used to be heavy and cumbersome and complicated. I loved 35mm and 16mm. I grew up in the golden age of French cinema and art house films. And now we have mobile phone films and these are like magical eyes. It is the lens that is closest to the human eye. I have made an entire film that way. It is just being finished and if all goes well you will see it at the end of the year.”

Lelouch hopes the film will appeal to youngsters - “as long as they don’t find out it is an old guy like me making it.

Jean-Louis Trintignant and Anouk Aimée in The Best Years Of A Life
Jean-Louis Trintignant and Anouk Aimée in The Best Years Of A Life Photo: © Valérie Perrin

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