The film begins very unusually for a war movie – with a slow and empty panorama of the Pacific Ocean seen through a wide empty area of the endless beaches. It takes some time before we start to see through a distance several tiny human figures on the horses, one of which is falling from the saddle for the reason of having been crippled by war. Such prelude to a war-film, emptied of action and crowds leads the viewers from the congested modernity to pre-history when primordial creatures hungry for a firm land appeared out of water to settle inside the air. Many eons passed since under the sunny banners of killing and procreation, until the beginning of the 20th century (A.D.) brought WWI, one of the most horrifying manmade disasters. It’s as if the very beginning of “Life and Nothing But” is meant to suggest, that this horrifying war is marking the end of a large period of life on Earth culminating in mass killing and huge destruction of enormous proportions. So, the film, as if, hints, that may be, it’s a time to reverse the evolution – to return from land to ocean, under the water and start all over again.

The rulers collect taxes and invest money into wars. The army cares about the young people in military uniforms in order to effectively use them for killing the enemies. Killing never goes without being killed, so, war is a giant grinder mixing alive – those who managed to killed others and those who are wounded and killed. So, the recruits have to learn the difficult task – how to kill as many enemy soldiers as possible and at the same time how to avoid getting killed. It comes to – you kill so as not to be killed. The first psychological support of successful killing is when you are moved by hate. But the second – more professional – when you kill with indifference, with pure technical perfection. When a person is trying to kill while at the same time avoid getting killed he/she is, as if, psychologically protected by the vicious emotions like self-aggrandizement and righteousness, without which war with its cruelties is impossible. To survive war you must feel that you are better than your enemies (that you deserve to live because you are better and have moral right to kill, while your enemies don’t). The opposite sides in conflict usually completely whitewash themselves and project their sins onto the enemies, who then are scapegoated and carry their own (and our sides’) immoralities and cruelties. It is at this logical point Tavernier‘s film really starts. The film shows the end of war as a sublimated and redeeming experience of grief. The main character of the film Major Dellaplane’s (Philippe Noiret) duties are to be in charge of identification of the bodies of the French soldiers missing in action.

Dellaplane who feels indebted to the victims of war is detested by the general for giving too much passion to grieving and a “fanatical” dedication to the dead and crippled instead of feeling proud for “our country” and “those who sacrificed themselves for its glory”. Dellaplane met Irene de Curtil (Sabine Azema) who looks for her husband missing in action. Dellaplane tries to awaken in her the understanding that war covers up the cynical profiteering by the profit makers on both sides of war, making business deals with the enemies, while soldiers die on the battle field. Dellaplane and Irene, this beyond-war couple, have a difficult time, but the film communicates hope, that they will be able to overcome the legacy of war inside their souls and be, in a sense, the progenitors of a new, beyond-war generations. The film is unconditionally recommended for all Americans living in the 21st century and can be considered as a film dedicated to the young people, their parents and their children.

Tavernier and Philippe Noiret in between takes

The first encounter between Irene de Curtil, hoping to find her husband missing in action, and Major Dellaplane, the officer in charge of finding and identifying those missing in action

Irene as she was before meeting the Major – a traditional beautiful woman who used to be happy and suffered without much understanding of either the first or the second condition and their socio-political contexts.

The first – awkward dance between Irene and Dellaplane at a party celebrating truce

Propaganda ritual is trying to transform the incredible burden weighing on soldiers’ hearts and minds regarding their dead friends and comrades – into megalomaniacal pride of winning the war (of being stronger and greater than the enemy).

The French army with the hope that the relatives and beloveds of the soldiers “missing in action” will be able to recognize the private belongings of their loved ones who were killed, created a kind of tragic expositions in various geographical locations. To the right we see Irene de Curtil (Sabine Azema).

Two women dedicated to continue to search for their loved ones missing in action, share their feelings where grief and hope are desperately embracing with each other.

Posted on April/23/’17 –   Bertrand Tavernier’s “Life And Nothing But/La vie at rien d’autre” (1989) – WWI As the Case Of Victimizing the Army’s Low Ranks By A Self-aggrandized Power-seekers And Profiteers Of The Same Countries by Acting-Out Politics