DVD: Man and a Woman: 20 Years Later, A / Un homme et une femme, 20 ans déjà (1986)

February 23, 2011 | By

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Film: Very Good/ DVD Transfer: Excellent / DVD Extras: n/a

Label: Warner Home Video (Italy)/ Region: 2 (PAL) / Released: May 28, 2003

Genre: Drama / Romance

Synopsis: Anne and Lean-Louis attempt to reconnect after their romance from 1966 fizzled out.

Special Features: n/a

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Review:

The open-ended conclusion of A Man and a Woman (1966) effectively allowed audiences to fill in their own romantic ‘happily ever after’ finale for the sultry Anne Gautier (ravishing Anouk Aimee) and Jean-Claude Duroc (charismatic Jean-Louis Trintignant), but in 1986 director Claude Lelouch decided it was time to revisit the characters and impose his own coda.

Very few filmmakers have managed to create new magic by revisiting original character(s) (Martin Scorsese’s The Color of Money, a sequel to The Hustler, being a rare exception) and buildingdrama around unresolved story strands, but Lelouch apparently felt there was a need to check out the status of his most famous couple.

20 Years Later starts with Anne and Jean-Louis living their own separate lives, still committed to the happiness of their children who are involved in their parents’ latest endeavors.

Jean-Louis now promotes fast boat racing, and Anne has become a powerful film producer after marrying (and later divorcing) a producer of note. Her daughter has become an actress – a métier Anne showed no interest in becoming in 1966 (her ‘art’ was in continuity, as she said twenty years earlier to Jean-Louis) – whereas Jean-Louis’ son Antoine is a newly married, champion boat racer.

Anne’s life is complicated by a WWII dud she’s just unleashed to audiences, not to mention an affair with one of the country’s top anchormen; Jean-Louis, in turn, sleeps with his daughter-in-law’s older sister, and like his late wife (glimpsed in the flashbacks in the original film) she’s obsessively in love with Jean-Louis to the point of self-destruction – a behavioral ill which Lelouch uses to launch an indulgent desert race sequence in the film’s final third..

Both of the lead’s temporal lovers are substitutes for the relationship they should’ve developed in the first place, and Anne decides perhaps the key to a real hit movie is to mine her own history with Jean-Louis, and craft a film version of their romance. When she calls Jean-Louis for a meeting, the two sit face-to-face, and begin an awkward patching-up after twenty years of silence and regret.

It’s only when Jean-Louis is swayed into blessing and cooperating in the film project that Lelouch gets into a creative groove and crafts an extremely clever film-within-a-film-within-a-film loop, where our beloved characters produce a musical-drama (!) of their lives, co-starring Anne’s daughter Francoise, while Jean-Louis’ son Antoine visits the set for support, if not a bit of curiosity to meet the woman he almost called maman.

The old Deauville locations are revisited, old scenes are replayed (including the sensuous love scene), Francis Lai’s themes are upgraded and offer the same sly counterpoint as in the original film, and the musical-drama concept echoes Anne’s dialogue flashback in the ’66 film, wherein Lelouch has Anne’s husband Pierre singing his dialogue over a Samba beat, nicely riffing contemporary director Jacques Demy (The Umbrellas of Cherbourg).

Anne’s filming of the couple’s love affair a clever, deftly constructed series of sequences, but as sometimes happens in films about filmmaking, the soap opera elements begin to dominate, much like the melodramatic The Bad and the Beautiful (1952). During a private cast & crew screening, Anne realizes she’s made a grievous creative blunder with her partial auto-bio – a clear effort to resolve her incomplete romance with Jean-Louis on film rather than in person.

The solution is to launch a new project, during which Jean-Louis has left Deauville (and Anne again) for a desert race with his girlfriend, and that’s the precise juncture where Lelouch starts to lose grasp of his characters and focuses on more moving cars, causing the film to meanders towards the inevitable audience-pleasing finale.

In the final act, Jean-Louis’ desert run is sabotaged by the girlfriend, now rabidly jealous of his seething love for his old flame. Anne, in turn, produces a thriller based on the recent hot-button news story of a mental patient who escapes and murders the wife of his former psychiatrist, but her dramatic licenses with the facts creates a rift between the production and the poor head shrink whose career and social stature is ultimately trashed.

For the multiple stories, Lelouch intercuts segments from the real shrink’s harrowing event with the ongoing film production (co-starring the leads seen in Anne and Jean-Louis’ musical-drama), plus the progression of the desert race, Jean-Louis’s stranded situation in the desert, and the eventual rescue.

The sum total of these story strands is the reunion audiences expect to see before the End Credits, but it should’ve occurred in Deauville, while both were observing the filming of their first liaison, not after contrived melodramatic indulgences.

By focusing on specific montages, there’s really no character development in 20 Years Later. Anne is constantly sullen onscreen and remains a stick figure, and the couple’s respective children never develop into anything: Francoise is merely a spitting image of her mother because it suits Lelouch’s film-within-a-film loop; and Antoine is just, well, there. Of anything, his racing career is what keeps Jean-Louis active and mentally challenged, but there’s no sense of why the two maintain a strong professional and familial bond.

As flawed as 20 Years Later is, Lelouch’s film technique is still a startling combination of sharp editing, inventive use of sound and music, and spectacular visuals conceived by Jean-Yves Le Menerm, the former camera assistant on Lelouch’s Bolero (1981).

More so than the original 1966 film, 20 Years Later has a glossy commercial look with stunning widescreen compositions that almost make Lelouch’s car fetish fixations work. The desert race is elegant and exciting, and the film’s opening pre-wedding sequence is an outrageous car race where Jean-Louis tries to better male members of his wedding party in a bizarre rustic road race/roving bachelor party using contemporary performance sedans barreling down muddy roads at dangerous speeds. There’s no reason for the race prologue to exist except to infer Jean-Louis and Lelouch still have a lot of verve and daredevil energy after two decades.

20 Years Later is available in Europe on DVD, and Warner Archives have also released a Region 1 edition (though no details on whether it sports the original French language track).

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© 2011 Mark R. Hasan

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Related links:

LP:  Man and a Woman, A / Un homme et une femme (1966)

CD:  Francis Lai – The Essential Film Music Collection (2011)

DVD / Film:  Man and a Woman, A / Un homme et une femme (1966)

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Related external links (MAIN SITE):

DVD / Film:  Bad and the Beautiful, The (1952)

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External References:

IMDB Soundtrack Album Composer Filmography

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Buy from:

Amazon.com – Man and a Woman: 20 Years Later

Amazon.ca – Man & A Woman: 20 Years Later

Amazon.co.uk – Man & A Woman: 20 Years Later [DVD] [Region 1] [US Import] [NTSC]

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