Winner of "Best Film Not in the English Language" at the 1990 BAFTA Film Awards.
Deemed a "masterpiece" by critic David Thomson, LIFE AND NOTHING BUT is one of director Bertrand Tavernier's most ambitious films. With this gorgeously photographed anti-war epic, Tavernier examines the emotional hurdles that separate rich from poor, men from women, history from truth and regret from hope. A year after WWI has ended, cynical Major Dellaplane (Philippe Noiret) has the difficult task of identifying and interring thousands of fallen French soldiers anonymously languishing in field hospitals and littering the vast Verdun battlefield. Dellaplane has also become reluctant shepherd to an ad hoc society grown around the legions of widowed wives and mothers combing the French countryside for word of their loved ones. When a buried hospital train yields a fresh source of possibly recognizable bodies, Irene, a haughty Parisian aristocrat and Alice, a hopeful young schoolteacher, form an unlikely alliance with the Major. As the train's surprising cargo is revealed, the three searchers must choose between life in a post-war world stripped of illusions or the seductive self-imprisonment of bitterness and mourning for days, lives and loves gone by. Tavernier regular Noiret won a French César for his performance opposite the (according to the Washington Post) "ravishingly gifted actress" Sabine Azéma as Irène. In courageously and gracefully celebrating inexhaustible human resilience and burgeoning romance amidst unspeakably appalling loss, LIFE AND NOTHING BUT "conveys both the fragile and the indestructible" (New York Times).
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Reviews(see the best reviews)
I thought it was a pretty good tale of trying to locate soldiers lost after the first world war. It certainly goes to show--once again--the idiocy and tragedy of war.
I saw this movie when it first came out years ago and it still haunts me with its solemn beauty. We owe so much to so many!
France after the Great War: Three main characters, Irène, Alice and the Major support the recount of how the regiments, and those left in search of the remains of their loved ones, bring resolution to their loss and recover the tattered mine filled land. We get a good historical and technical review of how they collected artifacts, belongings, matched identities with descriptions ... but the characters and their personal stories don't hold up on their own. Only near the end does Irène give a good anti-war, pro-feminist monologue. Alas, her stance remains only a thin point of view, not rising to a level of theme, among the political and historical narrative of the aftermath of the events.
Simply put, this is a great film, full of nuance and wonderful performances, and profound on many levels.
Tavernier took a very interesting subject: the missing in France's war and the travesty of looking for an 'unknown soldier', but let it get off the tracks a bit, in a love story between Noiret and a tiresome Sabine Azema.