Not the first kiss, but the last love is central to Claude Lelouch’s fiftieth (!) film


L’amour c’est mieux que la vie, where the protagonists Sandrine and Gérard both know very well how short-lived their love will be.

Romantic movies are often about the things that happen for the first time. The first eye contact, the first touch, the first kiss. They also play along Love is better than life by Claude Lelouch a role. But they are colored by something else: the importance of things that happen last.

Love is better than life is the fiftieth feature film produced by 84-year-old Lelouch, a milestone proudly announced in the film’s opening credits. In his native France, the film was released exactly sixty years after Lelouch’s debut Le propre de l’homme from 1961. In this he showed the creation of a couple from both perspectives – the man’s and the woman’s.

Argument between the sexes would remain his main theme for the rest of his career. The most famous is the triptych that started with A man and a woman in 1966 and had sequels in 1986 and 2019 (Les plus belles années de la vie). In three films, Lelouch followed a couple played by Anouk Aimée and Jean-Louis Trintignant through a lifetime.

Love in the twilight of life

Lelouch’s latest is also explicitly about love in the twilight of life. Love is better than life (“love is better than life”) revolves around the terminally ill Gérard (Gérard Darmon), who receives one last big love from his best friends. They hire the very expensive escort Sandrine (Sandrine Bonnaire) for him, who wants to pretend that she really falls for Gérard.

The rest of the complications are pretty easy to guess. Lelouch is therefore not concerned with the story, but with the observations he can gradually present about life, love and cinema. “It’s a different kind of film than I did before,” the director said in a video call. “A sort of summary of my life and the films I’ve made. I have been lucky enough to have a relationship with cinema for sixty years. Fifty times I went back to film school, to learn, to observe. Now I want to share these observations with my children and grandchildren.”

The finitude of life is central to the film, but without it being at the expense of the light-hearted joie de vivre that characterizes Lelouch himself and his entire oeuvre. For Gérard, knowing that he is doing things for the last time leads to extra pleasure. The beer he drinks in the full knowledge that it could be his last beer ever tastes all the better to him.

It is a feeling that Lelouch took over from the singer Jacques Brel, who died in 1978, with whom the director was friends. “Shortly before his death we had a beer together and he said exactly what I have Gérard say in the film. He did things very deliberately for the last time in that period and that allowed him to really enjoy the moment. He said, I’ve never enjoyed your company as much as I do now, because I know it’s probably the last time I’ll see you. That became the heart of the film for me, the core of what I want to say with it. It’s about about enjoying the moment and about the power of love.”

The beginning of a new trilogy

Although it starts as a pretend relationship, something really blossoms between Gérard and Sandrine. A love that they both know well how short-lived it will be. “I think by now your last lover is much more important than your first,” Lelouch says. “Because you choose the last woman with full knowledge of what you’ve learned from all your past relationships.”

And maybe something similar applies to your latest films. “Even at my age, there are still things you do for the first time, again with this film. But there are also things now that I know I have to do for the last time – and that’s more than the new things I got yet. It’s this mix that makes life interesting to me now.”

So don’t expect Lelouch to sit still and wait for the end. By the exit of Love is better than life he casually announces his next two films. “This is the first part of a triptych,” Lelouch confirms. “Together, they are a reflection of everything I know after fifty films and a lifetime of filmmaking. The same actors return in the next two films, but in new roles. The second film is about the fertility of chaos, and the third is about about madness – about the crazy world we have created for ourselves.”

Claude Lelouch: 'I have had the same co-author in all my films: life.'  Picture ANP / AFP

Claude Lelouch: ‘I have had the same co-author in all my films: life.’Picture ANP / AFP

Corona

Love is better than life opens with a scene where the protagonist Gérard books a cruise around the world, which is subsequently canceled due to the covid crisis. Likewise, Lelouch also had to adapt his film to the restrictions during the pandemic. He won’t complain about that for a moment. “I’ve had the same co-writer in all my films: life,” he laughs.

“Everything that comes my way becomes part of my films. When the protests in 1968 became part of my film L’aventure, c’est l’aventure, so this new movie is my answer to covid. It is now more important than ever that we see the beauty in the present, despite all the sadness and misery that the pandemic has caused. The present should be dominated by happiness and love. Through my films, I want to convey my love of life to the public. Because I love life – in all its ups and downs and with all its problems and contradictions.”

Love is better than life can be seen in Cinecenter and Eye.

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