Sog., Scen: Jean-Paul Le Chanois, Jean Renoir, Pierre Unik; F.: Henri Alekan, Jean-Paul Alphen, Jean-Serge Bourgoin, Alain Douarinou, Jean Isnard, Louis Page, Claude Renoir; Mo.: Jacques-Bernard Brunius, Marguerite Renoir; Mu.: Hanns Eisler; Su.: Marcel Tesseire; Int.: Jean Dasté (l’insegnante), Jacques-Bernard Brunius (il presidente del consiglio d’amministrazione), Pierre Unik (il segretario di Cachin), Max Dalban (Brochard), Fabin Loris (un lavoratore), Teddy Michaux (un fascista), Charles Blavette (Tonin), Émile Drain (Gustave Bertin), Jean Renoir (il padrone del bistrot), Sylvain Itkine (il contabile), Roger Blin (un operaio metallurgico), Georges Spanelly (il direttore), Fernand Bercher (un segretario), Eddy Debray (l’usciere), Gaston Modot (il nipote Philippe), Henri Pons (signor Lecoq), Léon Larive (un cliente), Pierre Ferval (secondo cliente), Julien Bertheau (René, l’ingegnere disoccupato), Marcel Lesieur (padrone del garage) Marcel Duhamel (signor Moutet), O’Brady (Mohamed), Tristan Sevère (disoccupato), Guy Favières (vecchio disoccupato), Jacques Becker (giovane disoccupato), Jean-Paul Le Chanois (Louis), Charles Charras, Francis Lemarque, Marcel Marceau (cantanti del caffé all’aperto), Simone Guisin (donna del casinò), Madeleine Sologne (un’operaia in fabbrica), Madeleine Dax (una segretaria di seduta), Nadia Sibirskaia (Ninette); Prod.: Parti Communiste Français; Pri. pro.: 7 aprile 1936. 35mm. L.: 1767 m. D.: 64’. Bn
Jean Renoir’s Thirties’ output might be the highest achievement of any director within one decade. The beauty of the period relates to constant renewal, as if each film would create a new genre, as well as dedication to collective creation. Here La Vie est à nous is a very special film: precisely in its creative method that matches the times absolutely. There were other quintessential Renoir films of the Popular Front period: Le Crime de M. Lange most obviously, Une Partie de campagne in its subtle way, then the glorious summary, La Marseillaise – La Vie est à nous complements them by fulfilling the dream of a team working in full equality. There is a synchrony between directorial touches, and happy, inspired teamwork by enormously talented individuals: Jacques Becker, Henri Cartier-Bresson, Jacques Brunius and Pierre Unik. The resulting unity has none of the hopeless unevenness of most episode films we know.
The film has a very modern feel in the way that documentary and fiction are blended: facts, short fictions, documentation about the 200 richest families, the editorial in L’Humanité, documentation about fascism (the Croix de feu) and – how else in a film produced by the French Communist Party – political clichés: big photos of Lenin, Stalin, Thälmann and Dimitrov, plus the slogans about the French Soviet republic. The impressively multi-faceted dramaturgy starts with an ironic schoolroom lesson about the glories of France’s riches, proceeds to a Lehrstück about the unjust division of those riches, and ends with a utopian vision of those riches that have become real in the hands of their real owners, the people. While the acted episodes tend to be presented as Lehrstücken, they have enough subtlety to give human content to the film’s party-lined structures, especially in the remarkable story about an unemployed couple (Julien Bertheau – Nadia Sibirskaïa). These episodes never lapse into the superficiality (very common in newer cinema) of presenting fiction scenes as documentary. There is a blessed dialectical suspense among the elements.
Renoir regarded himself as “a producer in the American sense”. Some years later he had the opportunity to encounter such creatures, especially Darryl F. Zanuck, who appreciated Renoir but stated – this comes from Renoir’s autobiography – “he is not one of us”. Who could put it better?
Peter von Bagh