For Reel


Le Grand Amour (1969)
October 4, 2016, 9:08 pm
Filed under: Reviews | Tags: , ,

Director: Pierre Étaix
4 Stars
le-grand-amourOne of the earliest scenes of Le Grand Amour finds a couple happily at the altar and a voice over protesting that, “It had all started badly.” We have seen this plot before—an older man (Pierre Étaix) finds that his decent wife (Annie Fratellini) isn’t offering him any surprises after a decade of marriage, and so he falls for the secretary (Nicole Calfan) that is young enough to be his daughter. Director Étaix, however, brings an equal sense of exuberance and melancholy to the telling. The film’s greatest setpiece involves a dream wherein beds travel down country roads in place of cars. If it is an image of fantastical delight, there is something about the emptiness of the roads (not to mention the remnants of crashed beds) that carries an uncanny sadness. Étaix masterfully harmonizes his joyful forays into surrealism with an undercurrent of grim reality, so that even at its most playful Le Grand Amour is rooted in palpable desperation. During the scene at the altar, the groom ponders how he might have married any number of women that he dated throughout his lifetime, and Étaix creates an image of an endlessly multiplying bride. The visual wit of the moment is seductive, but what makes it linger is Étaix’s fascination with the stories we tell ourselves and the choices we make. In the film, to marry is not only to abandon freedoms, but to shut the door on the countless lives that could have been.

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