26 February 2006 | dbdumonteil
"Les Thibault" has been my bedside book for so many years!I've read it so many times I can recite some of its lines by heart!And it's an eight-volume 2,000 pages work!
A first miniseries was made in 1972 where Charles Vanel ("Salaire de la Peur" "Diabolique" ) was an impressive Père Thibault.To people who have not read the book:you'd better see that version which is much closer to Martin du Gard's spirit.The 2003 one was freely adapted from the 1937 Noble PRIZE winner's work and they mean freely!
One should note that the actors are generally well chosen:despite all that has been said,the late Jean Yanne was not perhaps the right Père Thibault:his vulgarity which made wonders in Chabrol's great films ("le Boucher" "Que la Bête meure")is sometimes embarrassing for a man who was finally a bourgeois religious (just for show) man.On the other hand ,Jean-Pierre Lorit and above all Malik Zidi shine in their sons' parts.Zidi outshines François Dunoyer who played the part of Jacques in 1972.The rest of the cast is uniformly good with the exception of Julie Delarme:Jenny de Fontanin was a secret sexually repressed young girl (she could not stand being touched!).Her evolution was very slow from a childhood between a mother steeped in piety and a flighty father to a strange maturity made of her love for Jacques and a burgeoning activism.It was not the actress's fault but the writers' anyway.
One of the biggest flaw of the miniseries is some lines of the dialog.Jacques ,Daniel,Antoine and particularly Meynestrel do not speak like young men from the pre-WW1 days.They speak like today's youth ,they talk of sex like today's youth ,and even the father Thibault utters the word "baisable" (=f......able).Martin du Gard would turn in his grave!
EPISODE 1: it consists of the two first volumes "le Cahier Gris" and "Le Pénitencier" .By and large ,it's probably the most satisfying one for it does not wander too much from its model.Daniel's and Jacques's running away is tastefully rendered ,even if the script insists on the scene with the prostitute whereas Martin Du Gard treated it very quickly.The reform school scenes are generally good,but it was hard to make us feel Jacques' s humiliation and the director only partially succeeds.In spite of an occasional gaffe(Antoine asks Lisbeth to take away his brother's innocence),this episode is coherent and promises great things.
EPISODE 2: it consists of the third volume "la Belle Saison". Ruling out the Packmell nightclub scenes is a good thing for it's probably the worst moment of the whole novel.Instead,the director focuses on Maisons-Laffite where the two families (Thibault and Fontanin) are neighbors.The stand-out of this second episode is arguably Amira Casar as Rachel ,Antoine's one and only love.The actress is sensual ,free ,and beautiful and her portrayal is impressive even if ,in the novel,Rachel never asked Antoine to introduce her to his father.Amira Casar outshines all the other actresses and however there are plenty of them.Florence Pernell is physically Madame de Fontanin ,but it's a one-dimensional character, ;it's not the thespian's fault though: the lady was a strong believer,her faith was her way to cope with her husband's inconstancy .On the screen her motives do not make much sense. On the other hand ,Malik Zidi's rebellion against his father is pure Thibault spirit.The scene does not exist in the book (but told in Jacques's short story "la Sorellina" but the scenarists did a good job here.
EPISODE 3:although called "death of the father" ,the screenplay combines this volume with the beginning of "Summer 14" (Oscar Thibault actually died late 1913),while incorporating elements taken from volumes which were not treated ("la Consultation" "la Sorellina")It was not a bad idea either on account of the length of the book. Jean Yanne portrays a dying man with talent -sadly he was to die soon after,which makes these scenes even more moving-.One should note that the scenarists made Oscar Thibault more human (call me "papa" ,why not after all?).Jacques Thibault seems very close to historical character pacifist Jean Jaurès,which he was not in the book ,but it's not a big problem.
EPISODE 4:the weakest ,by far .There are two good things: Jacques and Jenny, in a Paris ready for war -although their adventures were more convincing in the 1972 version- and the exceptional ten-minute performance of Lorit as a terminally-ill Antoine.As for the rest... The script becomes melodramatic and drastically wanders from the book! Some characters turn up at the most awkward moments :Rachel (who has also a scene in episode 3) comes back for a three-minute scene which does not bring anything to the plot(s) .When she is importuned by soldiers while leaving the railway station,Jenny finds brother Daniel to help her get rid of them.But Jacques's death takes the biscuit:not only he did not want to sacrifice his life (at the end of "Summer 1914" ,the young brother Thibault is a broken disillusioned man who knows quite well that his desperate flight will be his last) but it's Meynestrel who causes his death by committing suicide!But the best is yet to come:as Jacques is dying,the nurse who finds him is none other than Lisbeth !(see episode 1)Enough is enough!
Only 12 minutes are given over to the admirable "epilogue" ,a 300 page volume,a strong meditation on life and death.Again,hats off to Jean-Pierre Lorit who manages to display every nuance of Antoine's desperation :he is to be commended,considering the limitations he is working under.A voice-over tells us about Jacques's son's "fate" .Martin du Gard wanted to write his story but he gave up his plan circa 1930,so Jean-Paul's "story" is the scenarists' invention.
It's certainly above-average TV stuff.But I strongly urge the users to read the books!