Maurice Pialat’s second feature from 1972 brutally and violently depicts the breakup of a couple who definitely won’t grow old together. Noel Megahey reviews the Masters of Cinema release.
The world had perhaps not been ready for Maurice Pialat’s hard-hitting, social-realist debut film of abandoned children, L’Enfance nue. Pialat himself admitted that if it had been made by anyone else, it wouldn’t have exactly been an appealing subject or, using non-professionals and regular people for actors instead of big film stars, the kind of film that he would have gone to the cinema to see either. Inevitably then L’Enfance nue was not the success it deserved to be, but the casting of Jeanne Yanne and Marlène Jobert for his second feature Nous ne vieillirons pas ensemble proved to be a more attractive proposition for cinema audiences.
Even then, it’s hard to imagine that a French cinema audience would have ever seen a love affair or even the break-up of a love affair depicted on the screen quite the way it done by Pialat with Yanne and Jobert. Here, Pialat is at his most uncompromising in terms of script and dialogue, the film barely even having anything you could describe as a plot. Nous ne vieillirons pas ensemble consists entirely of a repetition of scenes of Jean, a forty year-old filmmaker, breaking-up and getting back together with Catherine, a 25 year-old office worker who he has been seeing for six years in a relationship that is long past its sell-by date. That simple description however couldn’t prepare you for the level of vehemence and violence with which this nasty, sordid and banal little story plays out, nor can it describe the impact with which Pialat, drawing with brutal honesty from his own experiences, displays the deep flaws that lie not just within himself, but ones that will also be painfully recognisable to many viewers.
The title says it all really – we won’t grow old together, we’d probably kill each other first. Pialat depicts the last three months of Jean and Catherine’s relationship leading to their breakup, but the clear implication is that it’s been like this for years. It’s a relationship that has been doomed from the start, taking place in cars, in hotels on the occasional weekend breaks or working holidays. Jean moreover is still living with his wife Françoise (Macha Méril), who he doesn’t want to divorce, even though their marriage is now over. Catherine then just meekly accepts how things are, even when Jean explodes in fits of jealousy that results in bitter name-calling and physical violence – it blows up and then blows over. Jean half-heartedly offers Catherine his mother’s wedding ring and she half-heartedly belatedly accepts it (or has it simply left with her), but they both know the relationship is going nowhere until one of them has the guts to admit it.
Like many of Pialat’s films, it’s easy to criticise, be appalled or completely put off by the flaws and the inexcusably bad behaviour of some pretty despicable characters, the film not even having the excuse of a plot to hang it onto – but just like his characters, behind the bluster of Nous ne vieillirons pas ensemble, there is a deeper element that is less accessible, but worth examining for the truths it reveals about the nature of love. Love is a need in Nous ne vieillirons pas ensemble, a force that drives people to do and say horrible things to each other. Why has it been twisted into this deformed version of what it ought to be? The problems that afflict the couple here, certainly from the male perspective at least, are an extension of the psychology behind L’Enfance nue which extends through to the third part of the autobiographical-influenced trilogy of the director’s first features in La gueule ouverte, and it can be seen down the line in several of Pialat’s later films, notably Loulou. There’s insecurity, being unable to give or receive love unconditionally through the fear of not being accepted and the fear of being abandoned. This explains Jean’s brutal putting-down of Catherine – trying to keep her also feeling insecure and often succeeding – but it doesn’t excuse it. And if those underlying sentiments are put across here just as convincingly, accurately and in just as hard-hitting and realistic a manner as it was in Pialat’s debut feature, it’s because it’s largely autobiographical material in the hands of a fearless director determined to get to the root of raw human emotions and present them on the screen without the distancing, softening mediation of conventional cinematic narrative, structure and dialogue. Pialat tells it like it is.
Much as it was a necessity in commercial terms as well as to find performers with the ability to meet the demands of the intense script (and the intense director), working with professional star actors would however come at a cost, Yanne in particular being so infuriated with Pialat and disliking the tone of the film so much that he would even refuse to pick up his Best Actor award for the film when it competed in Cannes. This tells us a lot about Pialat and his working methods, the lengths he would go to in order to push actors far beyond what they are accustomed to in their adoption of a role, often alienating them and using that anger and resentment in service of the film. The results speak for themselves.
Nous ne vieillirons pas ensemble is released in the UK by Eureka as part of their Masters of Cinema collection. The film is presented on a dual-layer disc, is in PAL format and region-free.
Nous ne vieillirons pas ensemble is one of the better encoded films from the French Pialat titles released by Gaumont and ported over for UK release by Masters of Cinema with the addition of English subtitles. There quality of the restored print is just as good as the other releases, the colouration strong and well-toned, but even better here, there is none of the minor flickering of artefacts that are sometimes visible on other titles. Grain is handled well, the image is fairly sharp, or at least as sharp as Standard Definition allows, with no evident marks or damage to the print. Superbly photographed (it’s a beautiful film regardless of how ugly the content is) by Luciano Tovoli, some scenes look simply spectacular in this transfer.
The original audio track is presented in Dolby Digital 2.0 and it is also fine, the dialogue clearly audible, with no background noise.
English subtitles are optional and in a clear white font.
The Original French Trailer (3:44), using clips and stills, emphasises the up and down, back and forth nature of the film, as well as its raw brutality, but gives away many of the film’s powerful little violent moments.
In a recent Interview with Marlène Jobert (19:09), the actress tries to account for the power of the film’s subject in the honesty and perceptiveness with which Pialat presents it. She confirms that it was not improvised, and puts this down as a testimony to how good the script is, but it also says a lot for the acting.
Pialat’s short film, La Camargue (1966) (6:07) obviously has relevance, no doubt being the real-life film he was making in the region, depicted fictionally here in the film. The film emphasises the almost wild west qualities of the unspoiled region (also seen in Albert Lamorisse’s childhood fantasy White Mane).
Pour Le Cinéma: Spécial Cannes (5:09) is a bit of a gem, including a couple of deleted scenes, with festival interviews with Pialat, Yanne and Jobert.
In Vive Le Cinéma (1) (7:54), François Truffaut talks about Pialat’s debut L’Enfance nue and gives his views on his reading of the script for Nous ne vieillirions pas ensemble followed by his initial impressions upon actually seeing the film.
Vive Le Cinéma (2) (12:06) is another interesting curiosity, Pialat discussing and analysing the film over dinner with a critic and some guests, the critic amusingly describing the character of Jean in brutal terms without seeming to realise he is talking about Pialat himself. Some scenes from the film in the form of rushes are included here.
6 x Maurice Pialat Trailers for all the films released and to be released by Masters of Cinema are included also.
The 32-page booklet contains a baffling essay by Emmanuel Burdeau based on a spurious or at least barely tenuous link between Pialat and Proust, called Pialat n’est pa là (he certainly isn’t). Of more interest are Pialat’s comments from various interviews on the making and casting of Nous ne vieillirons pas ensemble, talking about his distinctive approach to the subject, the idea of realism in his films, and his single-minded dedication towards achieving that, regardless of the pain it causes for all concerned.
Modern French cinema has traditionally excelled in relationship dramas, and their strength can in most cases be traced back to the work of Maurice Pialat. Even now, looking at Nous ne vieillirons pas ensemble from 1972, nothing has dated but the swimming costumes, Pialat fearlessly dissecting and laying bear the nature of one particular relationship and in the process saying a lot about men and women in a way that still has resonance today. Pialat’s second feature film is a powerful piece of work, beautifully shot and superbly acted, the performances and method of filming bringing a raw authenticity to an exceptional, brutally honest script which still has the power to shock. This is essential cinema, one of the best films of one of France’s greatest directors and Masters of Cinema admirably bring it to the UK in a fine edition with a great transfer and strong supplemental features.
It’s the end, but the moment has been prepared for…
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