la vie et rien dautreThis evening we watched Bertrand Tavernier’s magnificent 1989 film La vie et rien d’autre (Life and nothing but). It is 1920. In a northern France still bearing the livid scars of war Commander Dellaplane (Philippe Noiret at his best) is in charge of attempts to rediscover the identities of both the dead and the living (former soldiers suffering from amnesia). It is a massive task – Dellaplane cites a figure of 350,000 ‘missing’. At the other extreme, Perrin is charged with finding a genuinely unknowable corpse for the monument to the unknown soldier at the Arc de Triomphe – a task Dellaplane had refused on deontological grounds.  Given the 350,000, it should be a relatively simple job, but ‘Paris’ has imposed conditions; in particular, the unknown soldier must be known sufficiently to be certain that the dead man is French. Into the desolate scenes of death and destruction wander a rich young Parisian, Irène (Sabine Azéma), looking for her husband, and a simple country girl, Alice (Pascal Vignal), looking for her lover. Irène and Alice are drawn together in their common quest, whilst Irène and Dellaplane become increasingly attracted to one another and Dellaplane gradually realises that the two women are almost certainly looking for the same man. The portraits of the three protagonists are beautifully drawn and the backdrop is poignantly portrayed. (A sculptor proclaims that never since the Greeks has there been such demand for public sculptures.) The film includes a historically faithful reconstruction of the ceremony to choose the unknown soldier – a private has to place a bunch of flowers on one of eight coffins. The government is represented by André Maginot, then the Minister of Pensions. This scene and Maginot’s presence remind the viewer that no matter how well the wounds may heal, they will be opened again less than two decades later: the protagonists’ pasts are also their futures. There is a good analysis of the film and its themes here.