One of the all-time comedy classics, René Clair’s À nous la liberté tells the story of Louis, an escaped convict who becomes a wealthy industrialist. Unfortunately, his past returns (in the form of old jail pal Emile) to upset his carefully laid plans.
“À nous la liberté is a landmark in the history of film comedy because it’s funny, yet it is too satirical for farce, too farcical for satire. And it is a landmark in the history of sound film. Back in 1931 when almost all film directors in every country were cautiously using the new technology as a recording medium, Clair was exploring it as a creative medium. This was in addition to his use of Auric’s music. The composition of film music and the sensitivity of its application to the narrative are different arts, not always in harmony (!). À nous la liberté set a new standard for them in the formative years of sound film. [...]
The exact nature of Clair’s humour is problematic. He doesn’t treat his characters as puppets, and part of his charm is that he bestows idiosyncrasy on characters who are little more than stereotypes. But he doesn’t convey that affection for his characters which we relish in the films of another comic writer-director, Preston Sturges. At the risk of oxymoron, Clair’s comedy has great exuberance but not a lot of joy. That doesn’t make them less funny, just colder – what John Russell Taylor called ‘demented clockwork.’”