René Clair Philippe Soupault - Essay

Philippe Soupault

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

[In order to judge fairly "A Nous la Liberté"] we must consider it from two different points of view. We must look at both its technique and its ideas. Technically this film is distinguished for its great freshness, novelty and interesting cinematic suggestions. On the other hand, the director might perhaps be reproached for having tied a string of gags together, which weakened the general effect and unity of his picture. However, the details have been carefully chosen, and the gags are rather ingenious. The most remarkable thing about the film is the way in which René Clair has employed the sound effects of the movietone. In the matter of sound there are possibilities shown here which forecast a completely new technique. Sound does not merely record the voices of human beings or the song of birds; it also serves to create an atmosphere.

From this point of view we can only praise René Clair for his "A Nous la Liberté." From the technical point of view this production will undoubtedly have a great influence on the future of the movietone. But if it is considered from another angle, we are forced to make a great many reservations. The scenario which René Clair has devised is highly ingenuous, simpliste and, we might even say, a little silly. (p. 74)

It is obvious that René Clair has not forgotten the lessons he learned from Charlie Chaplin, but he is not so great a poet as the director of "City Lights." His scenario seems at times to have been created for twelve-year-old children. In the end we are a little irritated by the constant reminders of prison life, by these elementary comparisons and phraseology. To tell the truth, René Clair believes the public to be more stupid than it really is. Besides, since the subject he attacked was the great one of human liberty and mechanization, he owed it to himself to treat it with the seriousness which such tormenting issues demand, and not by repeating the same old saws, not by tying together the same old commonplaces about love, work and liberty. (pp. 74-5)

Philippe Soupault, "'A nous la liberté'," in The New Republic, Vol. LXXI, No. 913, June 1, 1932, pp. 74-5.