Repertory Picks

An Early Sound-Era Comedy in Miami

Next Wednesday, as part of the retrospective Highlights of World Cinema: French Comedy & the Avant-Garde, René Clair’s 1931 À nous la liberté will grace the big screen at the Miami Beach Cinematheque. In Clair’s masterpiece—which will be accompanied next week by his kinetic surrealist short Entr’acte—escaped prisoner Louis (Raymond Cordy) improbably rises to become a titan of industry, displaying a very modern mania for efficiency and productivity as the head of a record-player factory—though eventually his former cellmate Émile (Henri Marchand) turns up and throws a wrench into the works. Boasting an irresistibly buoyant visual wit and making wildly innovative use of the then-novel tool of film sound, the satire deftly dismantles a world hell-bent on industrial “progress,” no matter the cost to the individual. As critic Michael Atkinson writes in his liner essay for our edition, À nous la liberté is the criminally underappreciated Clair’s “loveliest and most lyrical film,” a “collision between irreverent freedom and the will of commerce” that to this day remains a “definitively radical” work.

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