In Toute une vie Claude Lelouch covered the whole 20th century with a foray into the future to boot. He did it in two and a half hours. Here he covers only 45 years and it drags on for over three hours. This surface album of criss-crossed destinies is heavy-footed, innocent, syrupy thumbnail history.
There is a couple in Russia, one in Germany, one in France, with a few other characters, and one in the US. It begins in 1936 and they all have something in common, music, which allows for wholesale working in of ballet numbers, Folies Bergeres extracts, the Lido, big bands, and later rock shows or film musical scenes.
The time is 1936, and soon comes the war and all are, of course, embroiled. The Russian couple has the man die but she has a son; the German (Daniel Olbrychski), a conductor, loses his son; the French couple (Robert Hossein, Nicole Garcia) are deported to a concentration camp but leave their son along the railroad with a note; and the Yank couple are patterned on Glenn Miller.
James Caan comes through the war after bringing swing to liberated Paris but his wife (Geraldine Chaplin) dies in an accident. Chaplin soon remerges, playing the grown daughter who becomes a singer though beset by drugs, drink, tobacco and cancer. The German conductor meanwhile finds himself giving a concert in NY, where the house is empty. The Russian boy turns out to be Nureyev. The French Vietnam and Algerian Wars are passed over, as is the US Vietnam debacle. Film is reportedly part of a French TV miniseries. That may explain many holes in the lives and growth of the many characters.
[Original showings of the film featured an intermission at 115 mins, following the defection of the Russian dancer.]