The director, Laurent Jaoui, produced this movie based on Oliver Todd’s biography entitled “Albert Camus – A Life.” The movie was released in 2010. A former fellow Amazon reviewer posted a review of the biography almost a decade ago. Overall, he gave a favorable rating but complained about the choppy translation, and the accompanying abridgement. I checked the unabridged French version. It is 855 pages… perhaps a bit too much information as I said in my review of George Sand’s thousand plus page autobiography.
“Le Premier Homme” (The First Man) serves as useful bookends for this visually striking movie. The opening scene is young boys playing in the sun and the surf of the Mediterranean, as Camus related in his semi-autobiographical novel. The last scene are the pages of this still unfinished novel scattered on the ground after the car wreck that killed him in 1960.
I’ve read the majority of Camus’ works, about half of them in English, the other half in French, with “Le Premier Homme” being in the latter category. He was born in 1913. He never knew his father, who was killed in the Battle of the Marne, in 1914. His mother a poor illiterate woman. Camus grew up in the poor Belcourt section of Algiers. The movie shows Camus providing a copy of one of his books with the inscription that acknowledges that she could not read it. In the movie he says that when I think of my mother, I know that I am in a noble race: those who covet nothing. He had a long-term personal relationship with the French publisher, the Gallimard’s. Michel Gallimard was driving the car that crashed, and he also died.
It may have been the actress who played his daughter that said that his books were divided into three “cycles.” The first being “the absurd”; the second, “the revolt.” When asked what his third cycle will be about, he says: “amour.” His wife laughs outload and proclaims that “you’ve never been able to love.” His “loves” and his philandering are a major sub-theme in the movie, reflecting his life. I get very uneasy trying to evaluate a man who is attracted to much younger women, as Camus was. Sure, they might have the “gymnastics” right, as was depicted in the movie, but cannot an older woman more properly massage the “A-spot” in your brain? I thought all the acting was excellent, in particular that of Anouk Grinberg, who played his wife, Francine, literally driven to despair and the craziness that required shock therapy by his philandering. Yet he could proclaim, as he did in the movie, that “I was able to love simultaneously, women and justice.” Hum.
Once “my mouth was stuffed full of Sartre,” as I was famously told. Yes, I’ve unstuffed it, though I still favorably view his first novel, “The Reprieve,” of his trilogy, “Roads to Freedom,” on the beginning of World War II. I was impressed by the scene in which Camus and Sartre are walking in the urban park, with the latter denouncing him for denouncing the Soviet labor camps, in his “L’Homme Revolte,” (The Rebel), which was published in 1951. Sartre would later denounce Camus in “Les Temps Moderne.” Sadly, Camus was bothered by Sartre’s rejection.
Camus would be awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1957, at the age of 44, the second youngest person to obtain the award. In his acceptance speech, he says: “A writer cannot put himself at the service of those who make history; he puts himself at the service of those who suffer it.” He also said that the award should have gone to Andre Malraux. Later, at the press conference, an Arab Algerian denounces him for his silence and his stance on the Algerian War. His famous quote about preferring his mother over justice is placed in the proper context – the “justice” that he felt his mother had priority over was that of terrorism. There are also some good scenes of Camus in Algiers, lecturing for reconciliation and not war.
Inexplicably, the movie depicts Camus boarding the train in Mayrargues, in the (beloved) Departement of the Bouches du Rhone. At his wife’s urging, he disembarks, and rides with the Gallimard’s, to the fatal crash, going NORTH. Yet, in reality, he was going SOUTH, from Paris, when they hit a plane tree, one of the many that lined N6, near the village of Villeblevin. The English subtitles said that he died in 1965, but in the French narration, it correctly identified the date as 1960.
Despite that one glaring flaw, this is an excellent movie, well-photographed and acted, that hit many of the important points in the life of this seminal writer and thinker. 5-stars, plus.