The Things of Life: Behind the Scenes of the Accident Scene
For “The Things of Life”, Claude Sautet staged a complex sequence, that of the accident, which is distilled throughout the film. Return on the conception of this memorable moment of the film with Michel Piccoli and Romy Schneider.
If the performances of Romy Schneider and Michel Piccoli made Things of Life a timeless classic, one of the film’s striking scenes does not involve either of the two actors – at least directly, it is that of the accident. . But how was it orchestrated?
This scene of the car accident is the opening of the film, an element that had marked Claude Sautet from the reading of the scenario, as he confided in the book of Michel boujut :
The idea that appealed to me in this construction problem was to start from the accident.
To find oneself right away in a news item on the road: a car on fire, an inert body in a meadow, the crowd of curious people, comments, first aid … And all of a sudden , we were going to see how it was before.
This scenario which struck Claude Sautet so much is signed by Jean-Loup Dabadie, who also provides the dialogues, and it is he who has the idea of starting the story in this way, with a story backwards, which the director immediately kisses:
“The credits are (…) an upside down projection of the accident, in slow motion first and then very quickly. The flames are extinguished, the headlight trim will come back on, the car rolls back. The beginning is slow for us to grasp this movement in reverse, which must have been what we have just seen blazing. After that, I am happy to accelerate by going back in time until the night before. “
Indeed, this detail sometimes goes unnoticed, but the whole beginning of the film is turned backwards, starting with children contemplating the accident then going back to the questioning of witnesses, the arrival of the police, the accident itself, and what preceded it.
The filming of the accident alone took 18 days, according to Claude Sautet’s wife, Graziella. During this long period, the trees are systematically repainted every morning in order to appear “like new” for the needs of the action.
Several cameras are used simultaneously, each with 400mm focal lengths (very long) and the emphasis in the image is on colors. We can thus spot the orange shirt of the driver of the blue truck, the poppies in the field, the flames of the car, the greenery of the grass, and the sun bathing the scene in light.
This sequence, of capital importance for the history of the two main characters, is beautifully staged and perhaps one of the most memorable in the film, which earned Claude Sautet his first Louis-Delluc prize before Nelly and Monsieur Arnaud in 1995.
More info: The car used for the accident was a 1962 Alfa Romeo Giulietta – Sprint Veloce, of which only 3,058 were built. One of these rarities ended up in a field, for the purposes of the film!