“Charlie Chaplin, the genius of freedom”, on France 5: Charlot, this modern-day visionary

The first surprise that Charlie Chaplin, the genius of freedom has in store is its format of almost two and a half hours

“Charlie Chaplin, the genius of freedom”, on France 5: Charlot, this modern-day visionary

The first surprise that Charlie Chaplin, the genius of freedom has in store is its format of almost two and a half hours. The second, the effect of which is reinforced by this exceptional duration, is the undeniable renewal of the subject while a plethora of films and books have already been filmed and written about the British actor and director.

François Aymé and Yves Jeuland – co-author and director – had already proposed a film of the same type with A Frenchman named Gabin (2016), which managed to take a fresh look at this myth of French cinema. In particular thanks to numerous private documents, unknown or unpublished, made available by the actor's family.

The Chaplin family, which manages most of the rights to the illustrious “Charlie” (Charles) Chaplin (1889-1977), also provided private films, and, according to Yves Jeuland, in an interview given with François Aymé for the press kit from France Télévisions, the field of documentary research has “extraordinarily broadened and refined, in particular thanks to the Internet, which brings to light photographs, press cuttings, even films, which had escaped investigations a long time ago ten, twenty, thirty years…”

Three years of work

This windfall has given rise to what the director calls “the Himalayan syndrome: the more we advance, the farther away the goal seems.” But, thanks to a long and patient work of three years, with the collaboration of the documentalist Aude Vassallo, these rare images were judiciously chosen and fit perfectly into the subject of the film.

So that Charlie Chaplin, the genius of freedom rises to the level of Peter Bogdanovitch's exceptional documentary dedicated to Buster Keaton, The Great Buster: A Celebration, with the difference that Aymé and Jeuland do not involve any witnesses or specialists and preferred the unfolding of an uninterrupted stitching of archives commented in voice-over by the actor Mathieu Amalric.

These come from television and film newsreels or have been taken, sometimes in generous extracts, from the films of and with Charlie Chaplin, from his first appearances for the Keystone studio, with which he signed a contract in 1913, to his last feature film, The Countess from Hong Kong (1967). We will note the extreme quality of these images to which a recent restoration gives a presence, a life – one would even dare to say, a modernity – breathtaking.

Charlie Chaplin, the Genius of Liberty takes the form of a chronological biographical narrative. The weaving and assembly of the filmed extracts, the accompaniment of the music – mainly by Charlie Chaplin himself, also a musician and composer –, the quality of the text and its analyzes contribute to a result of rare fluidity .

This very moving documentary should establish itself as a lasting reference, thanks to a fine portrait of Chaplin's extraordinary tenacity, his humanity, his empathy and his courage – and his antipathetic sides too. So many character traits which made him, in the field of politics and morals, a pariah and ultimately a reprobate, in the United States, a country to which, for forty years, he had given so much.