A NOUS LA LIBERTE
Review by Michael Jacobson
Henri Marchand, Raymond Cordy, Rolla France
Director: Rene Clair
Audio: Dolby Digital Mono
Video: Full Frame 1.33:1
Features: See Review
Length: 83 Minutes
Release Date: August 20, 2002
like I learn something new every week with a Criterion DVD release.
I never knew, for example, that the studio that produced Rene Clair’s A
Nous la Liberte actually sued Charlie Chaplin and United Artists for
plagiarism over Chaplin’s later film, Modern Times, which is probably
my favorite of all of Chaplin’s films! Interestingly
and fairly enough, the disc includes a printed essay, which charges that Chaplin
was in fact guilty, and an on-disc audio essay, which takes the position he was
or not Clair was an influence on Chaplin, one need only to watch A Nous to
understand that Chaplin was certainly an influence on Clair…a fact he freely
and openly admitted (he even refused to take part in his studio’s lawsuit).
Although Clair was experimenting and succeeded with sound films years
before Chaplin decided to try his first talkie, one can still sense the
inspiration in the characters and their slapstick, their open and endearing
humanity, and even in their message, though Clair waters his down quite a bit
for the sake of charm.
film tells a simple tale of two prison inmates, Emile (Marchand) and Louis (Cordy),
who stage a daring escape near the beginning.
Emile eventually becomes the head of a phonograph factory (how?
I’m not sure, but I guess if Jean Valjean can go from escaped convict
to mayor, Emile can become a successful industrialist).
His path crosses again with Louis, who has been a factory employee in the
same time period. Scenes of factory
work suggest that such degrading labor isn’t that much different from being in
begins to help Louis realize his dreams, including his distracting love for
Jeanne (France), whose presence caused some mishaps in the factory.
But Emile’s secret is always in danger of exposure…he’s always one
step away from losing it all and returning to prison!
re-read my last paragraphs and realize I’ve made the film sound too serious.
It’s anything but. Clair’s
stylistic touches include characters bursting into song at amusing moments, lots
of slapstick, action choreographed humorously, and so on.
The presence of the two leading men is also comical…they never let any
potential seriousness derail the delight of the film.
makes a statement about dehumanization, but in a rather subtle way…it’s
almost as if he’d rather the message be lost than to have his audience not
enjoy the goings on in the movie. Chaplin,
with Modern Times, wasn’t at all timid about his message. He did all but stand on a soapbox and openly declare it for
all to hear.
Clair lacked the pure genius of Chaplin, although his work shows some of the
same intuition for comedy and humanity. A
Nous la Liberte is a picture content to be nothing more than an entertaining
lark. It succeeds at
that…you’ll have a smile on your face from start to finish when you watch.
succeeds yet again in bringing a classic film to DVD and making it look better
than ever. Seventy years old?
Surprisingly, it doesn’t look it.
The black and white photography renders cleanly and crisply, with sharp
images and strong detail. The print
is in remarkable shape as well…only a very few minor instances of dirt or
splotches on the film. Compared
with other films from the early 30s, this offering is practically immaculate,
and one film fans will greatly appreciate.
mono soundtrack comes across with cleanness and clarity…very little noise
despite the fact that the original sound was recorded on record, with dialogue
and music seemingly clear throughout. The
film is too old to merit a reference quality soundtrack, but given its age, this
is still a more than suitable effort.
disc contains two deleted scenes that were excised by Clair himself…one takes
place at a party, and the other more famous one involves a singing flower
(silly, but charming). There is
also the aforementioned audio essay by film historian David Robinson concerning
the plagiarism lawsuit against Chaplin, and a 1998 interview with Madame Bronja
Clair, wife of Rene. It’s an
intimate look at both her and Clair, told through her memories and items Clair
collected over the years. Best of
all is the 20 minute silent short Entr’acte, made by Clair and artist
Francis Picabia. It’s an
energetic, surreal short that is pure cinematic delight…it alone is worth the
purchase of the disc!