Claude Lelouch’s previous A Man and a Woman copped first prize at the Cannes film festival, won Oscars for best foreign-language film and original screenplay, and earned a phenomenal $3 million in US rentals. Live for Life is very similar in subject matter and style but lacks the lyric sweep and charm of its predecessor, and even falters technically despite a sizable budget.
The hero (Yves Montand), a married man whose ritualized adulteries unexpectedly culminate in a serious love affair, is self-absorbed and emotionally sterile. The young American girl (Candice Bergen) whom he loves is equally immature, much given to pouting and aimless tear-ridden sessions in which she berates him for not leaving his spouse.
Montand’s acting generally consists of who-cares shrugs, downturned mouth, eyebrows raised in a perpetual state of boredom, and tired line readings. Bergen has seemingly been asked to improvise many of her scenes, but she lacks the spontaneity and experienced self-confidence. Much better is Annie Girardot in the hazily defined role of Montand’s long-suffering wife.
Hero is a TV reporter whose job takes him to Africa, Vietnam, and other inflamed sections of the world. Trouble is that these sidetrips don’t connect to the narrative or develop the main theme but seem entirely gratuitous.
Most debatable, insofar as taste is concerned, is a sequence near the film’s end: Montand in a realistically bloody Vietnam battle, Girardot watching TV, and Bergen walking through wintry Central Park are crosscut to the accompaniment of a vapid love ballad.