A Nous la Liberte Review

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Emile escapes from prison and takes a job at the phonography factory founded by fellow fugitive Louis. However, both come to recognise that neither love nor fortune matters as much as friendship and being true to oneself.


Originally entitled Liberté Chérie, this scathing musical satire on the dehumanising effect of industrialisation was inspired by some wallflowers that René Clair saw growing in a factory-pocked Parisian suburb. His hero, Emile, was based on that universal everyman, Charlie Chaplin (who returned the compliment in Modern Times, 1936), while the tycoon who exploits him, Louis, was modelled on another cinematic titan, Charles Pathé, who had first conceived of producing films on a conveyor belt principle in the early 1900s.

Although he was keen to rescue Talking Pictures from becoming animated radio by restoring the fluidity of silent cinema, Clair's primary purpose was to acknowledge the importance of labour, while championing the cause of the worker's dignity. Consequently, he emphasised the similarities between the employees at Louis's mechanised dystopia and the inmates at the prison where the boss had first encountered Emile. As in Clair's previous outing, Le Million (1931), Lazare Meerson's sets were crucial to his design and they garnered the first Academy Award nomination ever accorded a French film.  

Clair was also determined to lampoon the greed, corruption and pomposity of the capitalist élite and, thus, he presents nearly everyone not involved on the shop floor as a grasping schemer willing to scramble in the dust for a free franc - hence the unedifying cash scramble at the grand re-opening of the now fully automated phonograph plant that affords Louis and Emile the opportunity to quit the rat race and return to nature.

 Managing to enrage sensitive souls on either side of the class divide, A Nous la Liberté disappointed at the box-office. Indeed, it was even banned in Hungary as `an instrument of dangerous propaganda for the social order and peace among the classes'. Yet it now stands as a monument to cinematic humanism and represents the musical's first masterpiece.

René Clair's scathing parable has lost none of its wit, novelty or social insight.