The Things of Life
For those who loathe the sound and fury of traditional summer blockbusters, there are some really tasty alternatives at Lincoln Center. The Film Society’s four screens seem to be running day and night with old and new quality films. In fact, it’s tempting to give up your day job and just go from one to the other, trailing tickets, popcorn (high-end and modest price at both the Walter Reade and the Elinor Bunin Munroe) and hopes sure to be fulfilled.
If you’ve forgotten the glory that was French cinema in the 1970s, ’80s, and ’90s, and specifically the glory that was Claude Sautet, there is a week of his best about to unspool from August 1—9. The series is named, with good reason, for the opening night’s film, The Things of Life (1970). It’s two stars, the succulent Romy Schneider and equally succulent Michel Piccoli, transmit an effortless chemistry that centers their story. It’s a pleasure to see these smart, sexy pros at the top of their game. They, and their supporting cast are all about love and loss, but in ways that defy cliches. In other words, they are complex characters who keep us guessing, perfect avatars for Sautet’s script and the structure of the film, which cuts back and forth in time, drawing us with it right to the last frame.
But the best part (and there are many): the sights, tastes, textures of France then; they remind us of why we went there in the first place, and kept going back. The sound of the language; the elegance and style of the people—their posture, the culture itself. The relationship of one generation to another, and the uncanny maturity and politesse of teenagers accustomed to adult conversation and ways. There’s a cocktail party with live chamber music! There are scenes of winding streets with medieval towers, and scenes of crowds staring at an accident—these could only be French streets and French faces!
Well, it’s fine to wax romantic, because The Things of Life is, in fact, a romance. If you don’t get it right away, there’s Philippe Sarde’s lush score to give you clues and the erotic subtext it fits like a glove that gives the film a satisfying richness. But it’s always about emotion, rather than sensation. There’s nostalgia, too: Romy Schneider types her stories on a typewriter, with carbon copies. People make urgent calls from cabines at the post office. And they smoke. All the time (you can almost smell the Gauloises…).
So do yourself a favor. Look through the series’ schedule and faites vos jeux. Among the highlights: appearances by Yves Montand, Jean-Paul Belmondo, and a week of screenings (beginning August 10) of Max et les Ferrailleurs, never before seen in this country. Bonus: it stars Schneider and Piccoli. sautet schedule