Director: René Clair
Production: Tobis (Paris) and Filmsonor; black and white, 35mm, musical soundtrack with sound effects; running time: 97 minutes. Released 31 December 1931. Filmed 1931 in Tobis studios and around Paris.
Producer: Frank Clifford; screenplay: René Clair; photography: Georges Périnal; editor: René le Hénaff; sound: Hermann Storr; art director: Lazare Meerson; music: Georges Auric; musical director: Armand Bernard; costume designer: René Hubert; assistant director: Albert Valentin.
Henri Marchand (
); Raymond Cordy (
); Rolla France (
); Paul Ollivier (
Paul Imaque, Jeanne's uncle
); Jacques Shelly (
); André Michaud (
); Germaine Aussey (
Maud, Louis's mistress
); Alexandre d'Arcy (
); William Burke (
Leader of the gangsters
); Vincent Hyspa (
); Léon Lorin (
Clair, René, A nous la liberté in L'Avant-Scène du Cinéma (Paris), November 1968.
A Nous La Liberté and Entr'Acte: Films by René Clair , New York, 1970.
Viazzi, G., René Clair , Milan, 1946.
Bourgeois, J., René Clair , Geneva, 1949.
Charensol, Georges, and Roger Régent, Un Maître du cinéma: René Clair , Paris, 1952.
Solmi, A., Tre maestri del cinema , Milan, 1956.
De La Roche, Catherine, René Clair: An Index , London, 1958.
Amengual, Barthélemy, René Clair , Paris, 1963; revised edition, 1969.
Mitry, Jean, René Clair , Paris, 1969.
Samuels, Charles, Encountering Directors , New York, 1972.
McGerr, Celia, René Clair , Boston, 1980.
Barrot, Olivier, René Clair; ou, Le Temps mesuré , Renens, Switzerland, 1985.
Greene, Naomi, René Clair: A Guide to References and Resources , Boston, 1985.
Dale, R. C., The Films of René Clair , Metuchen, New Jersey, 2 vols., 1986.
Potamkin, Harry, "René Clair and Film Humor," in Hound and Horn (New York), October-December 1932.
Causton, Bernard, "A Conversation with René Clair," in Sight and Sound (London), Winter 1932–33.
Jacobs, Lewis, "The Films of René Clair," in New Theatre (New York), February 1936.
"Clair Issue" of Bianco e Nero (Rome), August-September 1951.
Connor, Edward, and Edward Jablonski, in Films in Review (New York), November 1954.
Tallmer, Jerry, in Village Voice (New York), 16 November 1955.
Ford, Charles, "Cinema's First Immortal," in Films in Review (New York), November 1960.
Berti, V., "L'arte del comico in René Clair," in Bianco e Nero (Rome), March-April 1968.
Baxter, John, "A Conversation with René Clair," in Focus on Film (London), Winter 1972.
Pym, John, in Monthly Film Bulletin (London), October 1977.
Kramer, S. P., "René Clair: Situation and Sensibility in A nous la liberté ," in Literature/Film Quarterly (Salisbury, Maryland), vol. 12, no. 2, 1984.
* * *
The fear of a static theatrical cinema resulting from the invention of the sound film was very soon dissipated by liberators such as Ernst Lubitsch and René Clair. With a concentration on music and movement while maintaining strict control over dialogue the cinema began to move again. Clair, with his first two films, had already established a style, and the cycle of development from which this style emerged is curious in itself. The French comedian Max Linder was a direct influence on Chaplin and the whole slapstick school which in turn inspired the young René Clair. And, as if the process of interchange of ideas seemed determined to go on, Chaplin in Modern Times drew inspiration from the assembly line sequence in Clair's A nous la liberté. In this film Clair satirizes the industrial malaise which reduces man to the level of a machine. That satire may seem to weaken the human element but fun and joy take over as Clair falls so much in love with his characters that he passes that affection to the audience. One cannot even harbor a grudge against the villains because they too are ridiculously human. It is not difficult to see how the film failed to measure up to the demands of socially committed critics like Georges Sadoul.
Two companions of a jail-break are the protagonists of this musical comedy. One, played with eccentric sympathy by Raymond Cordy, is clever and successful and quickly rises in the world of industry. The other, played by Henri Marchand, wanders innocently throughout the film, willing to accept the unexpected. Even the joy of his escape from prison arises from a potentially tragic situation. His courtship is as artless as everything else he does.
Employing the talents of the brilliant art director Lazare Meerson, Clair uses the vast industrial complex to its fullest until it becomes a fun palace with plenty of room for chases and horseplay. Even the building is deflated. The joyful and carefree music of Georges Auric carries the film along, while Georges Périnal's camera exploits the large white surfaces of the super-factory and the brightness of the walls.
But it is not the technical excellence of the film which remains in one's mind. It is the puncturing of pomposity, the rejection of dehumanizing technical processes, the statement of essential human values and an appreciation of the incongruities of human existence. It is a far cry from the world of Le Chapeau de paille d'Italie , but the child-like delight in the demolition of the pretentious in Clair is common to both films. Not for him the sighs of high romance or the exaggerations of grand opera. His heart is always with ordinary people and their simple predicaments. He sees the world through the eyes of the characters Louis and Emile. Maybe his idea of Utopia is naive and impractical but it is an ideal which has been thought of by many people. In an age of mass regimentation and super-states it remains a recurring vision.