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La Guerre Est Finie

Directed by Alain Resnais, with Yves Montand, Ingrid Thulin, Genevieve Bujold and Michel Piccoli black & white, 121 minutes, 1966

Passionate Honor


Cover of DVD edition of "La Guerre Est Finie"

Cover of DVD edition of "La Guerre Est Finie"

By Carter B. Horsley

This film, whose title means "The War Is Over," is about a cautious, anti-Franco revolutionary who is based in Paris but makes forays into Spain. He is a mature man of considerable experience and multiple identities.

As the movie begins, he and a companion are pulled over at a border checkpoint for interrogation. The revolutionary, who is known as either Carlos or Diego and is played by Yves Montand, has someone else's legitimate passport into which his photograph has been put and when the interrogator, played by Michel Piccoli, checks out his home telephone a woman confirms his story to the revolutionary's great relief and incredulity.

After learning that many of his revolutionary colleagues have been arrested, Montaud returns to Paris to warn his other colleagues and also to return the passport to its owner who was unaware that it had been taken and to check out why the woman who answered the phone covered up for him.

The woman, played by Genevieve Bujold, is the daughter of the owner of the passport, whose picture Montand has had carefully put back in place in the passport, and she is also an anti-Franco revolutionary but one who believes that more dramatic and violent acts of terrorism are needed than the general strikes called for by the man's group. This was Bujold's first major film and she is exquisitely lovely and the perfect French gamine and it is not surprisingly that the man, who is much older and tells her his name is Domingo, has an affair with her.

When Carlos/Diego/Domingo checks in with his Parisian cohorts, he learns that one of his old allies who has set out for Spain is in great danger of being trapped and arrested and he decides that he must try to stop him. It is clear from the meeting that Carlos/Diego is not the leader of this revolutionary group, and there is friction in the group as some accuse him of having jeopardized their colleagues.

He returns to his home where he is warmly greeted by his lover, played by Ingrid Thulin, who wants to have his baby. After getting rid of some visiting friends, they make love. Both love-making scenes are exquisitely photographed and are full of great sensuality and passion and a little nudity.

As he prepares to go back towards Spain and head off his colleague from a trap, he sees a woman walking by. He sees a similar, but different, woman walking by and another and another. Are his eyes playing tricks? Is he remembering past lovers? It happens quickly and the movie's director, Alain Resnais, is best known for his provocative films such as "Hiroshima Mon Amour" (1959) and "Last Year at Marienbad" (1966) (see The City Review article) that are about memory, provides no clues.

The screenplay by Jorge Semprún gives a very fine sense of the common fears of those involved in clandestine operations and the fine photography by Sacha Vierny provides an excellent feel for Paris.

Although the movie has some flashbacks and some enigmatic sections in which future events are shown and/or imagined, this is one of Resnais's more accessible and linear works. It has great tension and the acting is superb. Montand, who was one of France's most famous singers, would play another revolutionary in "Z," a 1969 film by director Costa-Gavras that won an Academy Award for Best Foreign Film.

In "La Guerre Est Finie," the protagonist returns to Spain to try to save his comrade and the woman played by Thulin learns that he may be entering a trap and chases after him. The movie ends with him driving towards Spain and her following him.

The movie is suspenseful, taut and superbly paced and edited. Danger abounds. Passion abounds. The film is extremely sophisticated. The protagonist's idealism and dedication to his cause isolates him from his lovers and he struggles with his patriotism and exile. He is a man of principle and Montaud's performance is wonderful, ranging from maudlin to enraged, bemused to enraptured, resolute to desperate.

The settings are not glamorous but the black-and-white photography and tracking shots make otherwise drab scenes fascinating and fluid.

Low-key, but brilliant, "La Guerre Est Finie" captures the fervor of political outrage and offense but avoids the clichés of showing brutality and oppression and concentrates on the operative's fearsome world. While not as spectacular as "The Battle of Algiers" (see The City Review article), or as colorful as "Z," it captures much of the same visual and intellectual poetry of "Odd Man Out" and is immensely compelling.

Injustices are not spelled out, but very deeply felt. The movie makes no pretense to portray the Franco regime as other than evil, although the interrogator's role is quite fascinating especially as portrayed by Piccoli, who would become a major French leading man of the movies. He is intelligent and intimidating, but wily interesting.

Thulin, one of director Ingmar Bergman's great stars, is luminous in her role as Montaud's consort and the nuances of her performance are bittersweet and one of the finest revelations of the depths and complexities of mature love in film history.

Montand feels that his comrades are naïve in believing that the time was ripe for a revolution and in his gut sensed that much more work needed to be accomplished. That his gut had been wrenched many times in the past in no way diminished his courage and his honor, his despair and frustrations, his ability to love not just individuals but also a nationality. Montaud's stature, his bearing, his visage, his persona reek with the authority of experience, passion, and determination and these qualities are what raise the film up to a very high level.

The title of the movie is ambigous. Which war is over? That against the Franco regime, or just Montaud's efforts? Resnais shows considerable restraint and political diatribes are held in check. Unlike "The Battle of Algiers" or "Z" that set out to sensationalize and inflame and convert, "La Guerre Est Finie" is a psychological drama that is astonishingly devoid of demonizing, a moral tale of romance, salvation, dreams, hope and the independent spirit of man and the power of love.

This movie is rated 144th on Carter B. Horsley's Top 500 Sound Films list.

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