What War May Bring is Claude Lelouch's 43rd film as a director. I know this because Lelouch himself announces it in a curious pre-film statement, and from there the film continues to take one unusual step after another. It opens on a modern-day orchestra recording the film's musical score, and then it shifts abruptly into a silent-movie sequence, complete with intertitles. The scene shows us a man and woman falling in love over an early movie camera, but before we know where we are, Lelouch takes us into the trenches of the First World War. Another silent sequence follows, depicting a bawdy comic scene of a near-naked nun chasing a priest around a confessional. Just what the hell is this film?
It almost feels as if Lelouch, perhaps believing that this will be his last major feature, is determined to throw every idea he's ever had about war, life, death, love and (above all) cinema into the mix. The result is a rather overstuffed pudding, but the sheer unpredictability of the thing keeps it thoroughly engaging for most of its running time. You're never quite sure whether sex or death is going to be next on the menu, as Lelouch skips capriciously between the many affairs conducted by Ilva (the fantastic Audrey Dana) and the global conflict that takes place largely in the background. In his opening statement, Lelouch calls his film What Love May Bring (a closer translation of the original title Ces amours-là), which is a much better fit for the movie, as romance rather than war is clearly the veteran director's chief concern.
We first meet Ilva as she stands in the dock, accused of murder, and her lawyer begins detailing the events that led her to this point, which then unfold in flashback. Ilva is described as a woman whose only crime is that she "loves too fast," and during the course of the movie we see her in bed with a Nazi officer (who, in a remarkable scene, plays La Marseillaise on a mouth organ), the heir to the Singer fortune, two American soldiers (at the same time!) and the aforementioned lawyer. Lelouch is in his element with this narrative, indulging in moments of gorgeous, sweeping romanticism...which admittedly causes an awkward fit with the sudden detours to Auschwitz. Even if it remains wilfully unbalanced, however, What War May Bring keeps driving forward with the same spirit and energy; in fact, the film often comes across as the work of a young filmmaker full of vim and big ideas, not a director in the twilight of his career.
That feeling changes in the film's more lugubrious latter section, when What War May Bring grows increasingly reflective before it unexpectedly develops into a meditation on Lelouch's own cinematic past. In a lovely sequence, the director allows the whole cast to break into song and then inserts himself into his own story, introducing a breathless montage of his oeuvre. If this is indeed Claude Lelouch's last film, he's determined to go out swinging for the fences. What War May Bring is occasionally silly, sometimes tasteless and often self-indulgent; but it's also a fascinating and singular piece of filmmaking, and you have to admire the chutzpah of the man who has made it.
A 15-minute making-of feature mixes interviews with on-set footage, and it's great to see Lelouch at work, directing the actors and orchestrating scenes with such enthusiasm. The actors are fulsome in their praise for the director, marvelling at his energy and referring to him with an affection and respect that feels genuine.
Watch the trailer for What War May Bring here
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