Based on Jean-Paul Sartre’s original script, to which Jacques-Laurent Bost contributed, Jean Delannoy’s postwar Les jeux sont faits (The Chips Are Down) preceded Sartre’s novel. Its fantasy of a bureaucratic afterlife that provides a possible route back to Earth for a couple who never met when alive, but who now feel they were always destined for one another and can be mutually absolutely committed, tests romantic primacy, self-determination and free will. Can two dead souls who have been restored to the world of the living, strangers to each other in life, overcome disparate socioeconomic backgrounds to thus prove themselves, within 24 hours, worthy of retaining their “second chance” at life?
From the outset, Sartre and Delannoy suggest that Pierre Dumaine and Eva Charlier are meant for one another. Pierre, poor, belongs to an underground cell of communist activists modeled on Resistance fighters. Embodying their target is the civilian head of the fascist militia, André Charlier, who lives in a luxury apartment with Eva, his wife, and Eva’s younger sister, Lucette. André, Eva believes, married her for her dowry and is working now to secure Lucette’s dowry. In the meantime, he is poisoning Eva. At the same time as he kills her, down in the streets Pierre is being knocked off his bicycle by a fatal bullet fired by a traitor in their organization. The use of crosscutting between the two cold-blooded murders is what initially draws a connection between Pierre and Eva. Afterwards, the realization by each that he or she is now dead is delayed; but, outdoors, both begin to walk, without knowledge of the destination, to the official check-in anteroom of the afterlife. As one walks, Delannoy cuts to the other, strengthening the tie between them in relation to their possibly predetermined romance. The pair do indeed meet, fall in love, and dance together, each longing to feel the other. Soon after, they are told of the possibility of returning to Earth—the dimension of touch.
Although they consummate their relationship within the alotted day’s time, the two fail to “come together” in mutual absoiute commitment and perfect trust; each remains entwined in what had been his or her life before they met: Eva must pry Lucette away from André; Pierre cannot abandon his comrades, whom he now knows have been denounced by a traitor in their ranks—the traitor they suspect him of being because of his attachment to Eva. When Pierre is fatally shot in the back by the traitor, Eva instantaneously falls down dead as well. That close, they are zapped back into the afterlife, where they have forfeited each other’s intimate company forever.
Indeed, they have earned their separation—but not, perhaps, because they fell short of the impossible rules defining their task. Their failure to evaluate and protest these rules—as morally dubious a “choice” as André’s greed or the traitor’s desire to feel he belongs somewhere—may be said to demonstrate complacency in the face of love.
This, despite Delannoy’s uninspired direction, is a shattering film, a keen suggestion of France’s postwar moral lethargy emanating from the deep shadows of wartime shame—and Micheline Presles’ brilliant performance as Eva is unnerving and unshakable.
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