Life and Nothing But (1989)

Genres - Drama  |   Sub-Genres - Period Film, Romantic Drama  |   Release Date - Sep 14, 1990 (USA)  |   Run Time - 130 min.  |   Countries - France   |   MPAA Rating - PG
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Review by Mike Cummings

World War I not only killed and crippled, it also stole, robbing untold thousands of soldiers of their identities. This 1989 Bertrand Tavernier film tells the story of a French army officer, Major Dellaplane, charged with restoring the identities of 350,000 dead or shell-shocked Frenchmen. As Dellaplane toils, Tavernier holds a mirror to postwar France. And what the viewer sees is revolting. Profiteering sculptors offer to immortalize soldiers in stone. Quick-find merchants promise to ferret out rotting corpses. Worst of all, bigwig bureaucrats promote national glory by ordering Dellaplane to certify a soldier -- any soldier -- as "unknown" to meet the deadline for enshrining a nameless warrior in France's tomb of the unknown soldier, the Arc de Triomphe. Dellaplane must deliver an unidentified corpse even if he and his staff have the wherewithal to eventually identify the soldier. Philippe Noiret portrays Dellaplane brilliantly. Outwardly, he is dispassionate, abrupt, and cold. Inwardly, he is fiercely dedicated to his task. Men who fell in battle for their country deserve at least a name, he believes. While probing for information, Dellaplane meets two women -- Alice (Pascale Vignal), who is searching for her husband, and Irène (Sabine Azéma), who is searching for her fiancé. When Dellaplane tells Irène the fate of her beloved -- and who he really was -- the shock devastates her. As for Alice, Dellaplane falls in love with her, but does not reveal his feelings until his job is done and she is more than 4,000 miles away. La Vie et Rien d'Autre succeeds as an antiwar film, one that calls attention to a rarely chronicled part of war -- the aftermath.