Things of Life, The (French: Les Choses de la vie) (1970): Claude Sautet Melodrama, Starring Michel Piccoli and Romy Schneider

Claude Sautet directed The Things of Life (French: Les Choses de la vie), a romantic drama based on Paul Guimard’s 1967 novel, Intersection.

The tale centers on a car accident involving Pierre (Michel Piccoli), an architect around 40, and the events before and after it.

The structure of the film involves jumps in time, revolving a car crash.

The opening sequence jumps between the time immediately after the crash and the crash itself.

In the French countryside a lorry full of pigs stalls at  crossroads. An Alfa Romeo Giulietta Sprint swerves to avoid it and crashes into an orchard, hurling the driver Pierre (Michel Piccoli) onto the grass. Drifting in and out of consciousness, he revisits the essential things which have made up his life.

A Paris architect in his forties driving to a meeting at Rennes, Pierre had quarreled with lover Hélène (Romy Schneider) the previous night. They were due to leave together for a job he was offered in Tunis but he hadn’t signed the documents. But he had agreed to take his teenage son Bertrand, who lived with his estranged wife Catherine, for a holiday in the family’s holiday home on the Île de Ré. Stopping at a café, he wrote to Hélène calling everything off, but did not post the letter. Driving past a wedding, he decides that the letter was quite wrong and he should marry Hélène.

Rushed to hospital in Le Mans, he does not recover. His widow Catherine is given his effects, including the unsent letter to Hélène.

Reading it when she sees Hélène arriving, Catherine tears it to pieces, and Hélène is told by a nurse that she is too late.

The film won the 1969 Louis Delluc Prize.

Commercially successful, it had 2,959,682 admissions in France, making it the eighth highest earning film of 1970.


Michel Piccoli as Pierre Bérard
Romy Schneider as Hélène Haltig
Gérard Lartigau as Bertrand Bérard
Lea Massari as Catherine Bérard
Jean Bouise as François
Boby Lapointe as the driver of the animal transporter
Hervé Sand as the lorry driver
Jacques Richard as the nurse
Betty Beckers as the female hitchhiker
Dominique Zardi as the male hitchhiker

Based on Paul Guimard’s novel, it was the fourth feature by Claude Sautet, and his first major success.

Sautet would work with actress Romy Schneider again on further projects, including his next feature Max and the Junkmen.

Sautet also hired composer Philippe Sarde to write the score, launching long partnership that spanned 25 years and 11 films.

The car crash scene was shot on a crossroads created for the purpose, taking two weeks to shoot.

The film was released by Columbia Pictures in the U.S.

Variety said that “directorial tact and visual solidity, fine, sensitive playing and observant characterization give an engrossing tang to this familiar tale”, and added that the film “builds interest without resort to flashy sentiments or intellectual palaver.”[5] Time Out remarked that while it’s “difficult to make a film about banality without being boring in the process, but Sautet all but pulls it off, thanks to a beautifully understated performance from Piccoli.”[6] The New York Times reviewer was more critical, saying, “I should mind this syrup less if Sautet showed more of a conscience in serving it—if the relationships seemed to have been felt rather than merely displayed” but added “Piccoli is the only reasonable point of interest” in the film.

One of Piccoli’s “gravest performances”.

lean, confident, and manly, removing his cigarette only to speak his lines, yet profoundly pained by the sense of a life that has veered off course”.

The Things of Life was remade by US director Mark Rydell in 1994 as Intersection with Richard Gere, Lolita Davidovich (as the girlfriend) and Sharon Stone (as the ex-partner).

The remake was poorly received.