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The second half of the movie starts in 1989 and concentrates on the children Catherine and Yves produced in between goat-tending and chanting for rain: Boris, gay and, yes, beautiful, living in the Aids era, and Ludmilla, who marries a well-born (and handsome) Iranian. The Berlin Wall comes down, the internet makes a gradual appearance and the remaining characters watch as Sarkozy denounces them. They wonder what went wrong. 

What went wrong, at least as far as the film is concerned, was that move to the country. If the point was to link the characters to the great issues and events of the day, it seems odd to have taken them out of the maelstrom of events and put them in a position where all they can do is react to various news stories as they occasionally flicker across a TV screen. A cheer goes up around the rustic dinner table when François Mitterrand is elected. There are boos when Jacques Chirac eventually follows him. Now ensconced in a smart Paris apartment, Yves has a virtual nervous breakdown as he watches the news that Jean-Marie Le Pen has reached the presidential run-off. The onset of Aids allows Boris to become politically active, but he is a single issue protester and the demonstrations he joins are nothing like as resonant as the évènements which started the whole ball rolling decades earlier. 

What we're left with is something altogether more superficial, an everyday story of dissatisfied folk. Babies are born, people age convincingly and others die. Famous songs come and go. Like a good TV series, this all remains perfectly watchable. It would have worked perfectly adequately if there had been no political element at all. 

But one assumes from the chronological structure of the movie and its sense of self-importance that there was a desire to make certain bigger points. If this was the case, then it completely fails. There is a frustrating disconnection between the personal drama going on and the narrative of history bubbling away in the background. More importantly perhaps, there seems to be a lack of viewpoint. The older characters retain their knee-jerk sympathies in the face of massive events which should surely make them question them. The country might move from Left to Right, but our friends remain seemingly untouched. Are we to assume that the film-makers admire them for sticking through thick and thin to what passes for their principles? Or are we to see them as self-indulgent, self-regarding, stunted adolescents caught in some permanent rebellion against Mummy and Daddy? 

My guess is that the directors would proclaim it a virtue to be as impartial as possible — we should make up our own minds. The casting, however, gives them away. We're much less likely to cheer on nihilistic narcissists if they're fat and buck-toothed (Laetitia Casta, when she's not making films, is also a supermodel). Young, beautiful, revolting: it makes you sigh for the good old days.

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Bill Corr
October 6th, 2009
10:10 AM
It would be amusing to know how many of those who marched with Tariq Ali are now open or covert supporters of the British National Party.

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