Jean Labib’s lengthy docu on entertainer Yves Montand (1921-91) is virtually an autobiography, because the narration, culled from various interviews, is spoken by Montand himself. Footage of Montand as singer and actor is somewhat randomly selected, with key omissions, and, despite the length of the film, Montand fans will be left wanting even more. It looms as a TV special, which should rate well in Europe and deserves airtime everywhere. Fest outings also are indicated.
Montand was born Ivo Livito a poor family of Italian Communists in a Tuscan village. He observes that, whenever he hears Italian spoken, he melts. As a teenager he was a hairdresser, and ogled his lady customers, but his family left for Marseilles to escape fascism, and he gradually became an impersonator, then a singer, in the music hall.
Montand was described as a “swing singer,” and early footage of him is reminiscent of the young Sinatra: A skinny young man with boundless energy and a unique singing style. He drifted to Paris during the war and found work on the music hall stage in a bill that included Edith Piaf, with whom he had an affair.
Gradually, he established himself as a serious actor, though one of his most famous early roles, in “The Wages of Fear,” is not excerpted here. At about the same time, he fell in love with and married Simone Signoret.
He muses on his foray into Hollywood, including his appearance with Marilyn Monroe in George Cukor’s “Let’s Make Love,” describing his affair with the actress (“What happened, happened”) and Signoret’s forgiving reaction.
He talks frankly about his Communist Party membership, and there’s extensive footage of a tour he and Signoret made to Russia in the ’50s: a concert attended by 15,000, visits to a factory and a collective farm. But he broke with communism in 1968 with the invasion of Czechoslovakia, which, he says, made him “shriek with sadness.”
The film concentrates more on Montand the singer than on Montand the actor. There are scenes from a number of films, but some, like the trailblazing “Z,” mysteriously are unmentioned. Other Costa-Gavras films, such as “The Confession, ” are included, as is the film of which Montand claims to be most proud, Alain Resnais’ “The War Is Over.”
A scene from “Manon of the Spring” is used to depict a lonely Montand after Signoret’s death, and there’s also a sad clip from his final film, Jean-Jacques Beineix’s “IP5,” in which the actor looks terribly ill.
Despite omissions and the limitations placed on director Jean Labib by the decision to use only Montand’s own narration, the film is most impressive.
Technically, the clips are almost all good, with the exception of a sequence from the actor’s penultimate film, Jacques Demy’s underrated musical “Three Places for the 26th,” on which the color is quite muddy.