The title Life Love Death (originally La Vie, L’amour, la Mort) pretty much runs the gamut of the subject matter which normally appeals to French filmmaker Claude Lelouch. Awaiting execution for murder, Souad Amidou reflects on the events leading up to this sorry contingency. It seems that Amidou can only cohabit with prostitutes, thus he seeks out satisfaction in all the side streets of Europe. Disturbed by a whore’s insults when he was unable to perform, Amidou goes completely off the deep end and begins cutting a swath of death from one end of Spain to another. Lelouch’s principal stylistic decision in Life Love and Death is to draw as many parallels as possible between sex and bullfighting. ~ Hal Erickson, All Movie Guide
Paris police keep a careful watch on the activities of François Toledo, a young married factory worker with a young child, Sophie. Toledo is observed with his co-worker and mistress, Caroline, and one night, as they make love in a hotel room, they are surprised by the police and brought to the Paris detective bureau for interrogation. Confronted by the evidence against him, Toledo confesses to murder, and Caroline, stunned and tearful, leaves. When Toledo is brought to trial and convicted, both the defense and public attorneys request leniency, but he is nevertheless condemned to death. In prison, fearing to learn of the denial of his appeal (which would mean imminent execution), Toledo recalls the circumstances that led him to the present: Despite a normal sexual relationship with his wife, Jeanne, his boredom with his home life is exaggerated by frequent quarrels with his mother-in-law, and he begins to seek out prostitutes. Unable to deal with the impotence he experiences in these situations, he grows violent. In Pigalle, he strangles a prostitute who insults him; in Nîmes, where he attends the bullfights, a frustrating encounter again leads him to murder. He meets Caroline, and through his relationship with her he overcomes his sexual problems. By this time, however, the police have published a composite drawing prepared with the help of a prostitute, and Toledo’s mother-in-law has reported his resemblance to the composite. The guillotine is assembled late one night in the prison courtyard. At dawn Toledo hears that his appeal has been denied, and he is led to execution.
Overview for Life Love Death (1969)
“Life, Love, Death” was made before the abolition of capital punishment in France. Its central message is the inhumanity of the guillotine. The film, which is shot somewhat in a cinema verite style, divides roughly into three acts. In Act One, there is a series of murders of prostitutes in Paris. An obviously deeply disturbed man is hiring these prostitutes and then strangling them. Suspicion falls on François (Amidou), a married man with a child. The police put him under surveillance. (Viewers will recognize the inspector in charge of the team as Marcel Bozzuffi, who would play Popeye Doyle’s nemesis in The French Connection a couple of years later.) Ironically, François is experiencing spiritual healing and renewal through the power of love—not with his wife, of course, this being a French film, but through an affair with a beautiful young woman he has met (not a prostitute). But just as this is happening and François seems to have lost the need to commit violent crimes, he is arrested. Act Two is the arraignment, trial and exposition of François’s life and history. His recent transformation, of course, makes no impression on the court, and he is sentenced to death by guillotine. Act Three is a documentary-style record of François’s last days in prison and his execution. The last scene in the film is an image of the guillotine’s blade beginning its descent; it slows and freezes and there is a fade to black, as a voiceover issues a passionate plea for abolition of the guillotine.
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