Film Review: ‘Les Plus Belles Années d’une Vie’ is a Nostalgic and Sweet Delight

Les Plus Belles Années d’une Vie translates to The Best Years of a Life. That message of nostalgia and longing for the past is a thread that continues throughout all of this beautiful story. There is much to appreciate thanks to a very curious story structure displayed in this film. Being a narrative that constantly talks about the past and the consequences it brings to the present, it leaves open to interpretation if these consequences are for the better or not. The main characters are easy to fall in love with, which makes more relevant the argument to determine if they should’ve stayed together or not.

The plot of the film deals with a pair of senior citizens. Jean-Louis Duroc (Jean-Louis Trintignant) is a former sports car racer who is now in a retirement home, suffering with a condition that affects his memory. Anne Gauthier (Anouk Aimeé) is a former screenwriter who spends her days managing a store to “keep her involved in life”. They were a couple fifty years before their reencounter, splitting up due to Jean-Louis not wanting to commit to a single woman and Anne not being able to move on from the death of her husband.

Constant flashbacks to the pair’s relationship during the seventies (taken from Lelouch’s 1966 Un homme et une femme, starring these same actors) are extremely effective because they make the love story feel tangible, heartwarming and real. The fact that the relationship shown is not made of new scenes made to look like they were shot years ago, but instead it being real footage of these actors from the sixties gives off complete credibility and nostalgia when the older counterparts of the characters discuss the whole affair. To find this balance between the flashbacks and the present day conversations was vital to make the reminiscing from the couple resonant, and the movie delivers in that aspect.

This film is not only romantic and dreamy. There is also plenty of fun to be had. Jean-Louis’ memory issue is dealt in a comedic and sweet way, given how it isn’t extremely serious as to make him forget absolutely everything about his life, but it is enough to make him ask Anne the same thing about three times during one single conversation.

Director Claude Lelouch takes his time in telling the bittersweet story he created. There isn’t a sense of rush to the pacing of the movie, and the unpleasantness of the character’s spending half a century away from each other is by far the biggest bummer of the story. It is a beautifully shot afternoon stroll, with plenty of space to daydream about what could’ve been between Jean-Louis and Anne. Lelouch uses plenty of shots from the point of view of cars going through breezy roads and rainy cities in France, gracefully setting the mood for this love story, fifty years in the making.

It is rare to see a story told in this way. A sequel to the 1966 original was released in 1986, appropriately titled Un homme et une femme: Vingt ans déjà (A man and a woman: Twenty years later) and also featuring Trintignant and Aimeé. Lelouch captures not only these characters, but also these people growing up and living, an amazing feature that only the medium of cinema is able to provide.

For now, The Best Years of a Life is a beautiful story by itself. There is no need to watch the previous two films to understand this one, though it would certainly enhance the experience. It is a very sweet and lovely film, where the only thing left to do is to enjoy the ride and feel the bittersweet charm of lost love and nostalgia.

SCORE: ★★★★


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Written by Diego Peralta

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