I saw this film on the big screen on a print. It was showing at my school and I figured... foreign film (french), B&W, made in '44... I'm game. It's also apparently ranked no.5 or something among the greatest french films ever made.
Being recently interested in French cinema, I decided to check it out. Afterwards I found out it was three hours long. I figured... well alright. I've seen movies pour over the normal time limit and do fine. Seven Samurai and Kingdom of Heaven to name a couple.
Apparently it was separated into two movies because the Nazis would not allow commercial films go over 90 minutes. I tend to agree on the Nazis on this one. But not completely. So what the director decided to do was to end the first film suddenly, and then release a second film with the same title subsequently.
The first half of the film is mostly a disconnected plot line with shitloads of people irrationally falling in love with one another. There are several characters that are rather easy to keep up with, but I found that I didn't identify with a single one of them (except probably for one character who I found to be the saving grace of the film).
The film is mainly about a mime (funambul) who has a beautiful girl in love with him who he has no real feelings for. But he falls in love at first sight with this not-so-pretty woman who he has a passing moment with and she smiles at him and gives him a flower or some shit. This is the main plot out of several characters who get intertwined in an intense plot that has everything to do with irrational feelings of love (we're talking maybe three minutes after they met and confessing love for one another).
I found myself frustrated throughout the first half of the film with the illogical actions of the characters. It had it's moments of awesome, but was mostly disjointed and the characters kept getting out of character. Not to mention it ends suddenly on a very random note that has nothing to do with the rest of the plot.
The second film, or second part rather (damn Nazis) was much more satisfying. I was thrown aback by the introduction when it summed up the first part of the film up to the completely random ending and then said SEVERAL YEARS LATER.
The ending was so random, I had expected it to jump right back into the story, but no.
I won't give any spoilers about the rest of the movie because it's probably worth checking out for the sake of knowing your French Cinema. And the characters actually stay true to themselves throughout the second part of the film. But there was one awesome character who hates all of society that does some pretty amazing stuff in the second part of the film. Of the entire film I found that character to be the only saving grace of the whole thing.
Overall, I walked out of the theater feeling like I had wasted three hours of my life, but having another classic under my belt and feeling ultimately satisfied with the few minutes of film that mattered. If I had been the editor of this film, I would have cut it down to about 90 minutes and made the Nazis happy as well as future viewers.