La Vie Et Rien D'Autre (Life And Nothing But) (1989)
Director: Bertrand Tavernier.
Starring: Philippe Noiret (Major Delaplane), Sabine Azéma (Irène de Courtil), Pascale Vignal (Alice), Maurice Barrier (Mercadot), François Perrot (Perrin), Jean-Pol Dubois (André), Daniel Russo (Lieutenant Trévise), Michel Duchaussoy (Général Villerieux), Arlette Gilbert (Valentine), Louis Lyonnet (Valentin), Charlotte Maury-Sentier (Cora Mabel), François Caron (Julien), Thierry Gimenez (L'adjudant du génie), Frédérique Meininger (Madame Lebègue), Pierre Trabaud (Eugene Dilatoire).
a year after WW I has ended, cynical Major Dellaplane has the difficult task of identifying and interring thousands of fallen French soldiers anonymously languishing in field hospitals and littering the vast Verdun battlefield
October 1920. A nun and a soldier with one leg missing ride horses on the beach. The poor soldier falls off his horse and it's not easy getting back up. A woman waits in a car on the beach. She has a driver. The car keeps pace with the riders and the driver calls out to the sister asking where is military hospital 45. The sister says it's up past the beached skiff.
In the military hospital Major Delaplane is taking photos of the patients. He even photographs dead bodies. He asks one of the aides if he knows what "missing in action" means? The Major says there are few people who do.
The rich woman from the car comes into the room while the Major is singing a song and moving his rear end back and forth while taking another photo. She interrupts the photo shoot and the Major speaks roughly to her. She gets miffed at him and leaves.
The woman's name is Irène de Courtil. A nurse comes by and says she will take the woman to Dr. Mortier. The nurse tells Irène that they have somebody who fits the description she gave them. She also tells Irène not to get her hopes up. Irène says she has been all over, including Vittel and Biarritrz. Irène looks at the possible match, but it's not her husband.
Irène looks at other patients, but still with no success. The doctor tells her that he will give her a note for his friend Favradanne at the Vetrille center for aphasia.
A superior officer berates Major Delaplane. Then he tells Delaplane that he needs an unknown soldier. Delaplane says he has done 20 missions with no unknowns. His job is to find the military dead or missing. "I won't pick a body to learn its name a week later." The superior officer, however, keeps demanding the job be done. Delaplane gives up and says he will search (rather find) an uknown soldier. The superior officer says that bodies from nine zones are due in Verdun at the latest, November 9, 1920. And today's the 4th. He wants the body signed, sealed and delivered tomorrow.
Miss Alice Vallier teaches school in the area where Irène and his driver are lost. Her boss tells her that Jacques Lecordier, licensed teacher, has come back from the war for his teaching post. Miss Vallier gets very upset and hurries off on her bicycle.
A local farmer is plowing his field behind a huge horse. The plow digs up a bomb that has not gone off. The farmer tells a boy nearby to go get the Mine Squad.
Miss Vallier goes to see Madame Valentin and asks for a job. She gets a job and that makes her very happy. In the village there are quite a few ruins of houses and other buildings.
Miss Vallier takes notice of the need for the Mine Squad. She goes to the restaurant and mentions this, but a customer says that the Mine Squad's in the Fartout woods. The boy takes Vallier's bike to ride out to Fartout woods. All of a sudden, a huge explosion goes off that everyone hears.
Alice works hard at the restaurant as a waitress. Delaplane is having a meal in the restaurant with a comrade. He's worried about getting the precise count of the coffins before it's too late. He talks to Alice and tells her she should forget about finding her fiancé. If by some miracle she should find him, she may wish she never had. He'll be missing half his body or half his face. This talk upsets Alice.
Delaplane comes out of the restaurant and sees Irène again. Alice brings hot tea out to the car for Irène.
The Germans built a tunnel during their retreat. A whole Red Cross train blew up inside the tunnel. They have tried digging out the tunnel but it continues to collapse on itself.
Delaplane tells the artist that 200,000 soldiers haven't been accounted for. And he finds more every day! 200,000 have been concealed? The artist decides on a place where the monument of the dead will be put. He will see the sculptor of the monument. The sculptor tells Delaplane that he is on the Fine Arts jury at Verdun, for the November 10th ceremony. It's the lottery for the "Unknown Soldier"!
Irène's driver finally finds the Chateau de Vetrille. The caretaker tells Irène that the old hospital that was here is now gone. The Baroness lives here now. Irène loses her patience because of the run-around she had to do just to find out that the hospital is gone. She complains bitterly to the people working in Delaplane's area. Delaplane hears her loud voice and comes over to ask her to come see him. She goes with him.
Delaplane tells Irène that he's in charge of these "brutes" and "imbeciles". He adds: "Your outburst is unjust. . . . You are unjust because our service does what it can." He goes on to say that they have information on her husband, an infantry sergeant, who was killed in the war. Irène says that a sergeant came to her one day to tell her that her husband had been picked up by the Germans and hospitalized near Buzancy. She says he has his name in her purse. Delaplane already has the name: Corporal Liebourg, farmer. He now asks for a photo of her husband. She has a small picture in her locket. Delaplane tells an assistant to make an enlarged pantograph of the small photo. He says the lists of the French wounded evacuated by train were destroyed by the bombardments.
He tells Irène that her father-in-law wanted to pull strings to concentrate on finding Irène's husband. There are 350,000 men missing. So Irène can tell her father-in-law that a 350-thousandth of his staggering incompetence is devoted to his personal case.
Irène is finished for the day. Delaplane asks her where can he reach her if he gets a lead on her husband? Through her father-in-law is her answer.
On her way back, the driver tells Irène about the convoy that hit a mine in the tunnel to Buzancy. Irène says she wants to go back to see the tunnel. Her father-in-law needs the car tomorrow. So Irène will stay overnight with a peasant family and then tomorrow will take a train ride and a truck ride to the tunnel she wants to see.
Alice is going to search for evidence about her fiancé under the direction of Delaplane. Delaplane says he has a job open for her. It entails writing letters to veterans' associations and town halls. Alice says that's fine.
The next morning Irène takes the train for part of her journey. A man yells out: "Passengers for Grezaucourt." The truck will leave in 40 minutes.
Delaplane, the sculptor and Alice are driven to Grezaucourt. They have to stop for the truck heading for Grezaucourt. They run into a road block because a soldier stepped on a mine. Delaplane and the sculptor decide to walk the rest of the way to the tunnel area. He stops and uses his binoculars to check on what's going on along different parts of the railway line. Through his binoculars, he sees Irène. A guard won't let her go through the check point because she doesn't have a pass. The Major goes down to the check point and signs a pass for Irène. She indicates her gratitude to the Major.
Today the crew has identified 40 bodies. The Major says to inform the families here today. The families are busy looking over various items discovered in the tunnel to see if they recognize any of the items. Alice looks over the items. Irène now comes over to the tables and acknowledges the presence of Alice.
One family identifies a certain goblet as belonging to their relative. They are taken into the tunnel to identify the body. They recognize the body.
At lunch time the Major has some food sent over to Irène on his own mess kit. Later, the Major starts to come over to Irène, but he is asked to come to the tunnel and he goes there. Inside the tunnel there is an explosion followed by still another explosion. The Major comes out of the tunnel carrying a man on his shoulders. The Major shuts down the tunnel until it is made safe. For those who want to stay in a local hotel, rooms are available. The Major accompanies Irène and a family to the hotel, which is located in an old factory. He asks her to have lunch with him, but she doesn't answer. The Major says he understands -- she's tired.
Alice comes to the hotel with an artist working with the sculptor. The couple seem to like each other.
The Major has to make a phone call. He needs to get supplies in for tomorrow's work. They say they will call him back. Irène comes and wants to use the phone. The Major says to go ahead, but he is waiting for an important call. Irène keeps talking to someone she calls Pony. This makes the Major jealous and he grabs the phone from her and hangs up. He says this is a matter of military requisition in times of emergency. Irène gets very angry and says he's extremely rude.
In the sculptor's studio the artist become very sexually aggressive with Alice and she leaves the studio. Alice goes over to Irène's little room with only a curtain for a front door and Irène invites her to stay in the empty bunk beside her. Alice laughs and says she was going to ask Irène to use the bunk. During the night the Major comes over to the curtain, pulls it back a little and checks on the two women. He then closes the curtain.
In the morning mass is held. Alice and Irène attend the mass. Part way through the mass Irène goes out for a walk. She wants to find the Major but a farmer tells her that at 2 a.m. all hell broke loose in the tunnel. So Irène accepts a ride to the tunnel on the farmer's wagon. She then starts walking to the tunnel entrance. Soon after the Major comes out of the tunnel, there is Irène waiting for him. The Major tells her that it will take weeks to clear the mess inside the tunnel. Irène says that it seems like the war is still going on. The Major tells her that the war is so much worse than this. He starts to describe some of the horrors of war that he has seen to back up his statement.
Then all of a sudden, the Major changes the conversation by wanting to know from Irène who this Pony person is? Irène refuses to say, scolding him for his rudeness last night on the phone. He keeps asking her and she finally says Pony is her father-in-law. He says the Senator is called a pony, a wee pony? Yes. He starts laughing about that.
A soldier tells the Major that two men are missing. The Major has to go. Irène follows him into the tunnel. He comes out with one of the men overcome by gas. The Major explains to Irène that glass capsules inside the shells shatter and release the gas. He then says to Irène: "I must be jealous!" That's why he acted as he did last night.
The Major suddenly realizes that both Alice and Irène had told him the story of their man having broken his hand while cranking a car and they were both at the hospital at Decize to see him. So they get out the photos of both the fiancé and the husband and realize that it is the same man! The Major tells his fellow officer not to say anything about this to anyone.
Irène and the Major take a ride on a cart pulled by a horse. She tells the Major about how she and her husband had drifted apart from each other.
Two representatives from a small village with no war dead come to the Major with an idea. In the neighboring village, they had 30 war dead. So they would like to have the village boundary changed to include the farm in the other village where the family had two war dead. That would give their village 2 war dead, while the other village still has 28 war dead. They want to build a war memorial in their village like the other villages.
The Major breaks the news to Alice that her fiancé was married. He even has the marriage ring of the man.
Irène is mad at the Major for telling Alice that her fiancé was married. He says it was best to tell her in one fell swoop and get it over with like a bad nightmare. He then tells her in one fell swoop that her Pony restored a German munitions ship and had it send back to Krupp in mid-war. Irène doesn't believe him. The Major asks her why is this factory here not touched by war? Everything else was hit by enemy fire, but not the factory. Why? He answers his own question: "Reciprocity." Now Irène tells him to stop meddling in her affairs.
Irène and the Major attend a dance with music by an American black band of army musicians. They dance, but for a very short time. The Major gets up to sing with the crowd a lively song. Irène leaves. The Major runs after her. She says she wants to leave, so he takes her. She tells the Major that with one patriotic song, the masses want to go to war again! She has the Major stop the car on the deserted, dirt road. She says she will be his if he will only say the three magic words [I love you]. He hesitates too much and she starts walking back along the road.
A formal ceremony is held. Monsieur Maginot, Minister of War and Pensions, attends. The Major comes in a little late. There are eight coffins laid out. A soldier is picked to place a bouquet of flowers on one of the coffins to be the one to represent the Unknown Soldier. The soldier places the bouquet on one of the coffins. That coffin is removed from the other coffins.
At the train station, Alice and Irène say goodbye to each other. Irène gives Alice a nice necklace for a souvenir. Then Alice goes with her boyfriend, the artist, walking away from the station.
Bedarieux, January 6, 1922. The Major writes a letter to Irène who currently is in New York preparing to leave for Wisconsin. "How will I find you if you disappear there?" He writes how deeply he regrets not saying those three little words. And now he writes that he does love her, forever. He is now out of the army and has returned to his childhood home where he has a few acres of rocks and vineyard. He says he offers her this little kingdom and will wait for her.
The Major is out walking in his vineyard.
Irène in New York City reads the letter with a subdued smile on her face.
Good movie. It emphasizes the terrible toll of war dead (1.5 million) in France as the hero, Major Delaplane, has the job of digging up and counting the war dead in one battlefield area of France. And there is a good love story in the film between the Major and Irène.
Philippe Noiret (as Major Delaplane) and Sabine Azéma (as Irène de Courtil) were both very good in the film.
Patrick Louis Cooney, Ph. D.
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