Friday, June 25, 2010

The Two of Us

Claude Berri, France, 1967, bw (9.4*)

aka Le vieil homme et l'enfant
Originally: The Old Man and the Boy

One of my favorite French films by my favorite French director, Claude Berri (Jean de Florette/Manon of the Spring), this is a joyous black-and-white classic. In occupied WW2 Paris, a Jewish couple are afraid for their young son's (Alain Cohen) safety so they send him off to the countryside to live with an elderly couple who become surrogate grandparents. Apparently they are unaware of his background, for the old man, Pepe, voices anti-Semitism during radio broadcasts of war news, repeating the propaganda he hears on the radio.
Pepe is wonderfully played by veteran actor Michel Simon, whom Berri coaxed out of retirement for this part (he looks like a French W.C. Fields with the red nose, just look at the dvd cover!), warms up quickly to the lad and becomes his partner in play as its obvious that having the kid around has given him a rejuvenation after a quiet retirement and slow country living.
Berri never makes this a sad or bitter war film, but a happy, joyful celebration of a child with a grandparent. The war, if it exists, is in another realm altogether, without the radio no one would know it was even occurring. Berri's first film is a beautifully shot b&w classic, instantly heartwarming without sentimentality or banality, one of those rare subtle masterpieces.
If you include it in the war or holocaust genres, which is really a stretch, it would be one of the more memorable of either. It's really a children's film, and a film for parents of all ages who love kids, yet children won't understand the reason that Claude is sent away nor for the mystery surrounding his background. All-in-all, this is a must-see treat for all cinephiles. Berri's epic two-parter, Jean de Florette and Manon of the Spring, is my favorite French film and one of my fave epics of all-time.


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These are the individual film reviews of what I'm considering the best 1000 dvds available, whether they are films, miniseries, or live concerts. Rather than rush out all 1000 at once, I'm doing them over time to allow inclusion of new releases - in fact, 2008 has the most of any year so far, 30 titles in all; that was a very good year for films, one of the best ever.

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