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The War Is Over


La Guerre est finie (Alain Resnais, 1966)
Art House Rating



Alain Resnais is obviously a political filmmaker. His films undoubtedly reflect the politics of the underdog, and more often than not, they also reflect a leftist leaning, but he already said that he's not an auteur, so maybe Spanish scripter Jorge Semprún (Z, Special Section) is truly responsible (don't count on it!) for the message of this film. Well, being a Resnais film, the message isn't really difficult to decipher, but the true meaning is often open to interpretation. Resnais focuses on Yves Montand's Diego, a Spaniard fighting against the Franco regime while supporting his Leninist allies. He has spent most of his life aiding and abetting what he sees as his people's chance for freedom, but having reached middle age and having to live six months of any year in France, he seems more concerned with his friends' survival than he does for broad political gestures which he knows from experience will accomplish very little.

Resnais' trademark editing techniques are mostly relegated to the first part of the film. We see what Diego either recalls or imagines of all the various times he has been put into a similar position; where he has to go through all the motions of covering himself and trying to help comrades, several of whom he doesn't even know. Interestingly enough, these early scenes seem to focus on the dozens of women he's either followed or witnessed, so yes, fighting the good Lenin fight apparently makes you something of a stud. After the suspenseful opening scene where Diego and his comrade are pulled over at the French border by the Authorities, the next important scene is his meeting of Nadine (Genevičve Bujold in her film debut). In what amounts to a surrealistic sex scene, Nadine seems to float around the room (while instantaneously undressing, with nothing but a solid white background under her). Predictably, the next scene seems to show her awaking in bed with night clothes on, so was it a dream or not?

The film's title seems to carry multiple meanings. Is the war against fascism over? Is Diego's specific attempt at war over? One of the interesting things about Nadine's character is that even though she's French, she and other twentysomething French revolutionaries want to carry on the war in a much more violent way than the oldtimers' concept of a "General Strike" in Spain on or about May Day. But the young are always gung ho and "impatient", as Diego calls them, and he should know since he's a "professional revolutionary". Actually, the deepest relationship which Diego has is with his "girl friend" Marianne (Ingrid Thulin), who has been together with him for nine years now, but she's starting to feel a bit shortchanged in both the honesty and the intimacy department. She wants to spend the rest of her life with Diego and have his children, but Diego has spent so much of his life using false names and false personas that he has a difficult time believing he can change or become tied down to something so petit bourgeois.

OK, I think I've been going on a bit too much about the politics involved in the film, and personally, I find that part to be pretty outdated. However, I still think the film works as a low-key political paranoid thriller. I find the best parts of the film to be those where you see somebody is following someone else, but you aren't really sure which of the characters they are following. Then, you take the veteran Diego, and once he realizes somebody is following someone, he decides to follow the "somebody". Diego spends most of the film either paranoid that somebody is after him or oblivious to the fact that his closest comrades no longer trust him. In fact, one of Resnais' most interesting conceits is that he has a narrator discuss to the audience what Diego is thinking and feeling, but the narrator is not Yves Montand! It's actually the screenwriter, Jorge Semprún. That's just another way in which Resnais seems to reinvent cinema, even in a film which a majority of people will have a difficult time diving into. Just remember, if you watch this film, that it's a thriller for people who feel paranoia whenever they leave the confines of their home, even though that's what the character does on a day-to-day basis. He seems attracted to the "mundane, outmoded fear of giving his life for a hopeless cause."