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LELOUCH BACK WITH A SEQUEL : LELOUCH’S ‘MAN, WOMAN’ REDUX: 20 YEARS LATER

The number of really great reviews given Claude Lelouch’s films over the years would hardly cover the top of his agent’s coffee table. Shallow and pretentious seem to be the critics’ favorite words for his work. Even his own children say they prefer the movies of Steven Spielberg.

So why is everyone so excited now that he’s about to make a sequel to “A Man and a Woman,” the 1965 movie starring Anouk Aimee and Jean-Louis Trintignant that won Oscar and earned him an international reputation?

People who make a study of such things claim that “A Man and a Woman” is among the most stolen-from movies of all time. All of Lelouch’s camera tricks--windscreen wipers clicking, shots of the sky through the trees from a speeding car, people eating, cutting across each other’s words--such scenes crop up again and again in other films.

Somebody must like his movies.

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The 47-year-old French director was in Los Angeles briefly the other day on his way back to Paris from the Tokyo Film Festival and took time to relax in his Beverly Wilshire room to talk about his new project, “Twenty Years Later.”

“I always planned to do a sequel,” he said. “Always. When I finished making ‘A Man and a Woman’ in 1965, I said to Anouk Aimee: ‘If we are both around in 20 years time, I’m going to do a follow-up, to see what happened to everyone.’ Well, now it’s time.”

“A Man and a Woman” was the story of a widowed racing driver with a child who meets a widowed script girl with a child. They have a romance. That was the slim scenario and, as one producer remarked at the time: ‘It’s no wonder Lelouch had difficulty raising the $100,000 to make the movie. Imagine an unknown director trying to explain that story to a studio.”

But Lelouch raised the money and the film worked. The tender tale, shot in three weeks and soaked in Francis Lai’s music, struck a chord with all ages.

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And however much the critics called it “shallow” and “superficial” and “sentimental"--people went to see it. And Lelouch’s reputation, after half a dozen unremarkable features and several shorts, was made.

Now comes the sequel.

“In ‘Twenty Years Later,’ ” Lelouch said, “Anouk is a producer, divorced, with a 25-year-old daughter. She wants to produce a love story and she thinks back to the romance she had with Trintignant all those years before. Perhaps she can make a story about what happened to the two of them--for they parted one week after that last scene. So she gets in touch with Trintignant for his permission--and that’s how my film starts. She produces the romance with two young artists who are the same age she and Trintignant were during a ‘A Man and a Woman.’ And for her and Trintignant, a new relationship blossoms.”

Lelouch has already shot some scenes of Trintignant, who is an expert race driver, taking part in a motor race in Turin. However, principal photography will not start until October.

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“I am excited about it,” he said. “And people seem to be interested. It’s always intriguing to see what has happened to people, I think. Particularly those two.”

What Lelouch does do--well or superficially, take your pick--is make movies about people. “I am not interested in things,” he says. “Only people. I want to know about them.” And he makes his stories inexpensively. Indeed, his most costly venture to date was “Les Uns et Les Autres” (released here as “Bolero”) that cost $5 million.

“Hollywood budgets baffle me,” he said. “I just cannot imagine a film costing $40 million (like, say, ‘The Cotton Club’). My 27 films put together haven’t cost that. “In France, we cannot make films like that because our small budgets make special effects out of the question. In any event, we make very different pictures in France; ours are still geared towards an adult market. Here, everything seems aimed at children.”

Lelouch has his favorite stars--people like Trintignant and Annie Girardot, who have worked with him many times. They recently completed a new film for him, “Partir, Revenir,” which will open here later this summer. Lelouch has high hopes for this for it has opened in France to some good notices.

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Lelouch’s method of working--a total refusal to give his actors anything but the sketchiest idea of the story--would hardly seem to endear him to established actors. But it does. Actors love working with him and return to his films again and again.

“With Claude,” says Trintignant, “you do not feel you are acting in front of a camera. You feel you are behaving normally and his camera is eavesdropping on you. . . .”

This is the technique he has always used.

“I like to put people in situations where they are most comfortable,” he said. “In France, everything happens over food. People relax, become garrulous, laugh a lot. So I give my actors a good meal and just observe them with the camera.”

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But without a proper script?

“With part of a script. I do not like them to know ahead of time what will happen. I have a script, of course, but all I tell them is the basis of the story--and their own lines. If they do not know what the other person is going to say, then they will really listen. If an actor is going to have his face slapped but does not know it, his surprise will be real. Both ways, I achieve reality.

And although his method of working has been derided by some critics, who talk of his “slalom direction” and “fussy mosaic editing,” he is unperturbed.

He has shown, too, that he can laugh at himself.

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The opening scene of “La Bonne Annee” (“Happy New Year,” 1973), about a jewelry store raid in Cannes with its interwoven love story, opens inside a prison with the inmates watching a movie. The film is “A Man and a Woman.” The prisoners are booing it.

Lelouch enjoyed shooting that scene.


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