A Man and a Woman (1966)

When a woman sends a telegram that says, ‘I Love you’

You go see her…

From the beaches at Deauville, France, to the drivers racing to their cars on the track at Le Mans, to the haunting melody written by Francis Lai – the film A Man and a Woman still is impactful today, almost fifty years after it won the Grand Prix at Cannes, and then snared two Oscars – for Best Screenplay and for the Best Foreign Film

It is a simple story – two widowed parents meet at their children’s boarding school in Deauville. It was mere happenstance – she had missed her train back to Paris, and he was late in dropping his son off at the school. So they drive back to Paris together.

For him, Jean-Louis Duroc played by Jean-Louis Trintignant, the attraction to her came quickly and swiftly. She, Anne Gauthier, played by Anouk Aimée, was reserved and elegant – beautiful with her shy smiles, her long nose and her lustrous dark hair.

She seems to have leapt from the pages of a fashion magazine or a tv commercial. But this is a trick of the mind. It was this film that bled into the consciousness of untold commercial art directors who then were influenced to make similar artistic choices for their own aesthetics in commercials and print ads.

I mean check out the image above of the Jean-Louis and Anne on the beach with their children. There’s no dialogue – just the images and the sounds of the surf and the sea-gulls. Change the season, and the ocean, and American Painter Steve Hanks created a similar image below.


This painting is called Holding the Family Together.

The movie is notable for the distance of many of its shots. In the filmed beach scene above, you will note how long it takes for the children to run directly towards the sea.  The camera will get in real close when intimacy is required …

… but in the main, Claude Lelouch employed many shots utilizing a long lens that compressed the distances.

This of course was the result of making the film for an incredibly small amount of money. Reports claim that the original amount of cash raised to shoot A Man and a Woman was barely $100,000 which was small even by 1960’s standards. Because of the limited amount of funds, Lelouch did not use any studio sets. While the film did get a influx of about 40K from another source later on, the production still suffered fiscally. Everything was shot on location. Including the seaside beach scene, this one (above) on the Champs Elysees in Paris. and then this other beach scene that came much later.

Why on location? The crew was very small. In fact the whole crew traveled from location to location in just two cars. Lelouch shot from a distance because he didn’t have the manpower or the time to drag his cameras around. Anouk Aimée would say in interview afterward that she often had to assist with the placements of the lighting . In fact, it was also said, that the reason some of the film is in color, and some isn’t, was because Lelouch ran out money and had to buy the cheaper black and white film stock.

In case you were wondering, the preproduction took a month, then they wrapped the principal photography in about three weeks. The final editing took a month.

From this meager start, the film would win the Grand Prix at Cannes, and then captivate millions of Americans. It wasn’t much of story – man and a woman meet, and as night follows day, things happen.

But it resonated with the American movie going public. In fact it ran for two years at one Los Angeles theater. The box office total for its initial US theatrical run was about $3,000,000.

By today’s standards that would be like loose change on a plate. But in 1966 movie tickets probable went for a tad over $1 on average. So a three million return on an investment of 100K was huge.

The film was also aided considerably when ABC broadcast it on Sunday Night prime time.

Just so you don’t think that this was just a flimsy feel good film, things weren’t all wonderful. The two principal characters lived in the shadows of personal tragedies. Each was guarded and unsure about how to proceed, or even if they should proceed. The back stories of each are revealed as in shown rather than told. Anne worked as a director’s right hand – a film script girl and much more. Her husband – a stunt man.  Jean-Louis was a race car driver. In fact some actual footage from the 24 Hours of Le Mans as well as the 1966 Monte Carlo Rally, is used in the film.

The emotional impact for us comes as Anne and Jean-Louis grow closer, and they discover that separating the past from this present is no easy task. By the same token, you will see in this film many style choices which may now be considered film clichés like the beach hug with the revolving swirling cameras, or a man in  a car driving through a storm to find his lover. However, when Lelouch presented them to us along with many scenes shot with a handheld camera – in those days they were considered cutting edge.

Despite this film being 47 years old, it has been called the quintessential date movie. Take note of the 1st sentence of this review. In those days, unlike today, people had no cell phones, no emails, and had no way to text you an instant message. While today we have DVDs, and Video on Demand, this was not the case in 1966. So, even without the instant gratification that we have, watching these two people getting to where they want be involved hardship over time and distance which made their reward ever so sweet.  Today, I am calling this film a classic love story; and you should revisit it, or see it for the 1st time via Netflix or buy the DVD.


2 thoughts on “A Man and a Woman (1966)

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s