ⓘ The Things of Life


ⓘ The Things of Life

The Things of Life is a 1970 French drama film directed by Claude Sautet. Based on the novel Les Choses de la vie by Paul Guimard, the film circles around a car accident experienced by the main character, and the events before and after it. The film won the Louis Delluc Prize, and had 2.959.682 admissions in France, making it the eighth highest earning film of the year.


1. Plot

The structure of the film involves frequent jumps in time - between the time of, and after, the car crash, and before the crash. The opening sequence jumps between the period immediately after the crash, and the crash itself.

In the French countryside on a summer morning, a lorry full of pigs stalls at a crossroads. An Alfa Romeo Giulietta Sprint swerves to avoid it and crashes into an orchard, hurling the driver Michel Piccoli onto the grass. As he drifts in and out of consciousness, he revisits the essential things which make up his life.

A Paris architect in his forties driving to a meeting at Rennes, he had quarrelled with his lover Helene Romy Schneider the previous night. They were due to leave together for a job he was offered in Tunis but he hadnt signed the documents. But he had agreed to take his teenage son Bertrand, who lived with his estranged wife Catherine, for a holiday in the familys holiday home on the Ile de Re. Stopping at a cafe, he wrote to Helene calling everything off, but did not post the letter. Driving past a wedding, he decides that the letter was quite wrong and he should marry Helene.

Rushed to hospital in Le Mans, he does not recover. As his widow, Catherine is given his effects, including the unsent letter to Helene. Catherine is reading it when she sees Helene arriving. She tears it to pieces, and Helene is told by a nurse that she is too late.


2. Production and release

The idea of making a film from the Paul Guimards novel was originally turned down by multiple financiers in France. It was the fourth feature directed by Claude Sautet, and his first to become a major success. Sautet would work with actress Romy Schneider again on a number of further projects, including Sautets next feature Max and the Junkmen. Sautet also hired young composer Philippe Sarde to write the score. That initiated a long partnership between the two, spanning twenty-five years and eleven films. The car crash scene was shot on a crossroads specifically created for the purpose, and took three weeks to shoot.

The film was released by Compagnie Française de Distribution Cinematographique in France and Columbia Pictures in the United States.


3. Cast

  • Betty Beckers as the female hitchhiker
  • Dominique Zardi as the male hitchhiker
  • Herve Sand as the lorry driver
  • Lea Massari as Catherine Berard
  • Jean Bouise as François
  • Michel Piccoli as Pierre Berard
  • Gerard Lartigau as Bertrand Berard
  • Boby Lapointe as the driver of the animal transporter
  • Jacques Richard as the nurse
  • Romy Schneider as Helene Haltig

4. Reception

The film won the 1969 Louis Delluc Prize, and had 2.959.682 admissions in France, making it the eighth highest earning film of 1970.

Variety said that "directorial tact and visual solidity, fine, sensitive playing and observant characterization give an engrossing tang to this familiar tale", and added that the film "builds interest without resort to flashy sentiments or intellectual palaver." Time Out remarked that while its "difficult to make a film about banality without being boring in the process, but Sautet all but pulls it off, thanks to a beautifully understated performance from Piccoli." The New York Times reviewer was more critical, saying "I should mind this syrup less if Sautet showed more of a conscience in serving it - if the relationships seemed to have been felt rather than merely displayed" but added "Piccoli is the only reasonable point of interest" in the film.


5. Remake

The Things of Life was remade by American director Mark Rydell in 1994 as Intersection with Richard Gere, Lolita Davidovich as the girlfriend and Sharon Stone as the ex-partner. The remake was poorly received.