One of the first films I watched while studying the Nouvelle Vague (the French New Wave) was Un homme et une femme (A Man and a Woman), directed by Claude Lelouch. An underrated gem, this movie came out fifty-five years ago, in 1966, and starred the ever beautiful Anouk Aimée and the dashing Jean-Louis Trintignant. Being a new wave film, it had ample elements that characterise the movement, but what captivated my mind immediately was the soulful tune by Francis Lai.
It’s a simple story about a widowed man who fell in love with a widowed woman whose kids went to the same boarding school as his. The narrative cut between the past and the present, giving us glimpses about the background of the characters, but what kept me mesmerised was the beautiful music. It is often without lyrics, signifying how love and music can go beyond words. It’s characterised by a rhythmic yet lazy cascade of ‘la-ba-da-ba-da’ that keeps fading in and out (except for when the short song ‘Aujourd’hui c’est toi’ plays).
The music of the film is not only soulful and romantic, it also has a very captivating motion to it, and it gives a different dimension to the scenes when the man and the woman are in the car, driving around in the rain. Mainly instrumental, with the cascade of ‘la-ba-da-ba-da’ fading in from time to time, the masterstroke by Lai was to play it simple. It was his genius decision to not do anything more to it that made the soundtrack so enthralling.
It was the music in this film that made me take note of instrumentals and how, like cinema, music transcends words and language. The beauty of music can never be contained in the lyrics; it flaps its wings and reaches far beyond language and words. Like cinema, music is a language in itself.
I have often wondered, after watching the film, what it would look or feel like without the ‘la-ba-da-ba-da’ echoing in the background, but each time I failed to imagine the film without it. It is often said that music renders the emotion in a film, and this was the soundtrack that made me realise how hollow a film would feel without the background score. We generally tend to ignore the music that runs in the background without any lyrics, but more often than not, it is the background music that holds the emotions together, emphasises them and enhances them.
Whenever I replay the scenes of these two characters driving around in the rain while the tune plays in the background, I can’t help but be transported to a rainy evening. The lazy cascade rings in my ear like the beautiful sound of falling raindrops on a quiet evening. I’ve never been as fascinated with any music as I am with the entire soundtrack of A Man and a Woman. Without doubt or debate, those who have watched this beautiful film will agree that Francis Lai’s genius music is the backbone that holds the film together. It’s like a love letter to rainy evenings and chance meetings.
Disclaimer: This article has not been written by Film Companion’s editorial team.