Les plus belles années d’une vie, an interview with Claude Lelouch

Picture of the movie Les Plus Belles Années d'une Vie © Valérie Perrin

Les plus belles années d’une vie is a film about the power of the present. Neither an epilogue, not a sequel – the eternal lover of life that is Claude Lelouch prefers the idea of a new beginning. In an elan tinged with grace, Jean-Louis Trintignant and Anouk Aimée find themselves once again in front of the great master's camera and Out of Competition at the Festival, 53 years after the 1966 Palme d’Or he picked up aged just 27. An interview with an eternal adolescent.

How did you first come up with the idea of Les plus belles années d’une vie?
It's a miracle this film happened. First of all you have to go through life's ups and downs for 53 years. And curiously you notice that young people can't get enough of this film, as if it answered their very own questions. So it's magic. I've made nearly 50 films and this is the one that scared me the most because I didn't want to play around with Un Homme et une Femme (A Man and a Woman), and what it represents. We took lots of risks, shooting the film like an amateur project, telling ourselves that only our friends would see it. Now here we are at Cannes, 53 years later. It's a film that's completely beyond me, as if I was the intern of a great director. We've seen an incredible number of miracles, and I think we should never try to explain miracles.

What were your emotions on the first day of the shoot?
That day we said – will there be more? But yes, it all worked out and we filmed for ten days, as if we were in a bubble. We didn't make a film, we experienced a story. Jean-Louis Trintignant and Anouk Aimée were amazed that the passing of time showed they were right. You know, the only critic that counts s the passing of time, and that day that particular critic seemed to be on our side, so we wanted to enjoy that a little.

Chabadabada…, and the music 53 years later?
Francis Lai had the time to make that music before he died. He composed what were maybe his two best pieces for us "Les plus belles années d’une vie" and "Mon amour" (My Love) in homage to that love. And Francis, Didier Barbelivien and I entrusted the arrangement to Calogero. I absolutely wanted the song to go from Nicole Croisille (in Un Homme et une Femme (A Man and a Woman)) to Calogero, so that it was sung by both.

“It’s a miracle this film happened”.

The love story in Un Homme et une Femme (A Man and a Woman) is still cited as one of the most beautiful in the history of cinema. How do you explain that? 
Luckily it can't be explained. They were just one of those magic couples who went down in cinema history. Love is ageless, as we see in the film. As long as our hearts keep beating, everything is possible, and above all an instant or two of happiness…

Speaking of you, Jean-Louis Trintignant described 'a gift for childhood and the freshness of the natural'. How have you held on to these? 
I think that we stay the same age all our lives and I've been an adolescent throughout mine. I discover life every day. I've always thought that life is a game, a dangerous, terrible game, where we have to umask cheats, as in all games. If we spot them, these cheats who screw it all up, life can be magic. I've tried to make films that don't cheat, that rejoice in their spontaneity.