A nous la liberté (1931)

Finally found this (rather expensively) the other day after a hitherto fruitless search… René Clair’s third big early sound film. I was a bit unsure of this one, cos you may recall I wasn’t overly thrilled by his first one, Sous les toits de Paris, whereas I’d loved Le million (his second) when I saw it years ago… so I was wondering which side of that chasm I’d land on with this. And, as I perhaps should’ve expected, I landed somewhere in the middle, liking it more than the first though perhaps less than the second (which I really need to rewatch sometime and see how I find it now). I got the Criterion DVD, whose accompaying essay is a bit snide towards Chaplin (infamously accused, to Clair’s own horror, of having plagiarised this film in Modern Times), sniping at him for being afraid to make a real talkie. But Clair’s film is hardly a gabfest itself; indeed, although there are a number of dialogue scenes, I kept thinking that the film really could have been released as a silent (as much of the film seems to have been shot that way) with music & effects track like Modern Times, just cut intertitles into the bits with actual spoken dialogue… Anyway, unlike Sous les toits, this one had no evident tonal problems, it’s an unambiguous comedy, a bromance indeed; a tale of two convicts, one of whom escapes jail and becomes a successful industrialist, the other eventually becoming a worker at one of his factories. Through various incidents the two are reunited as the film progresses; by the end of the film both of them have become tramps, lost the women they loved (well, one of them loved anyway) and ultimately found their real true loves, i.e. each other, as they walk off down a rural road (looks like Chaplin “borrowed” that bit for Modern Times as well). A nous la liberté did feel kind of slight—I’m not sure I can easily dismiss the later criticisms about him being kind of lightweight—but also quite charming; there’s a lot of supposedly “weighty” films that I’d rather watch this again instead of any of them…

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