#54. Freedom for Us (1931)

The heart of Freedom for Us is a beautiful bromance between Luis (Raymond Cordy) and Emile (Henri Marchand) that employs what I think is one of the great bromance fantasies. It’s the scenario where you and your best friend go through some awful hardship together, you get each other through it, but then the two of you get separated by circumstances. A long time passes. Both bros are sculpted (damaged?) by those hardships shared but one of you, by merit of good fortune and timing, hits it big. Some huge enterprise. You’re a millionaire. Then here comes your friend, hobbling out of the fog. You see how easily it could have been you in his shoes. But you made it, bro. You’ve got more money than you can spend, and your friend is legitimately happy to see your success. The two of you pick up where you left off. You’ve got so much moeny to spare, you’re able to help him get on his feet, and then some. A job a social network — the two of you bask together in the highlife, just as you struggled together in the low.

There were lots of drunken conversations among male friends in college where they (we) would say to each other, when sentimentality had taken over, “If you ever need anything once I’ve got my studio set up…” — promises would be made about the provision of resources nobody had yet. The guys (myself included) would take their great future success for granted and offer their services in advance (didn’t Einstein promise to give his ex-wife all the money of the Nobel prize like ten years before he won it?). Is this just a guy thing? Maybe the great friendship fantasy among women is more about offering emotional support (“If you ever need to talk…”) whereas for guys it’s about offering some service unique to their skillset (“If you ever want me to have a look at your car…”). Something flattering to oneself. Acknowledging your talents as a hot commodity, and then offering them without charge. Certainly sounds like a guy thing.

freedom for us pic.jpg

Anyway. Freedom for Us begins with two cellmates who conspire to escape from prison. One of them gets away (Emile) while the other is captured and held back. Emile, adopting a new identity out in the world, builds an empire for himself over the next few years, manufacturing turntables, and when, finally, his old cellmate gets out of prison they meet up. The aforementioned bromance fantasy is realized. A troublesome bit: Emile takes serious steps toward purchasing his friend a wife in the young woman, Maud (Germaine Aussey), who works at the factory and would really rather marry somebody else. It’s a pretty smarmy setup. Otherwise this is just a really delightful comedy, simple and pleasant. It’s a modest project, nothing profound, but it lives up to its premise, the tone is pitch perfect, and it makes the audience feel good. This kind of work really interests me — where greatness is achieved by merit of the artist’s devotion to a simple story and by the subsequent cohesion of smart writing, skilled directing, and solid acting. It’s a confluence that probably has as much to do with chance as it does with foresight and planning

While watching the movie I got to wondering about the close friends from my past with whom, if I ever made it big, nothing would change. Friends who’d see through any pretense and still just wanna fuck around at a bar and go to the movies. (Sidenote: I’m reading Jay Parini’s delightful biography of Gore Vidal at the moment, Empire of Self, and he mentions how he — Parini — and his wife would go with Vidal, and his partner Howard, to these extravagant meals in Italy and, as Parini puts it, there was never any question about who would pay for everything. Vidal would take the check without any pretense as Parini reached for his wallet and say, in a perfectly matter-of-fact way, “I’m very rich”). I can think of a few people, most of them from college, but I think that ultimately my brother is the guy.

rudy and me
Left to right: me, him.

We’re super different, and we fight a lot if left alone for too long, but mostly we just watch YouTube and laugh. Like if I was an overnight billionaire I’m sure he’d come over and act really uncharacteristically courteous for a while, ask me a lot of questions about how writing’s going, stuff like that. But before the end of the night we’d be watching YouTube and arguing and then laughing at the thought of like how flustered would dad get if we lit firecrackers in his car. I wouldn’t wanna share a house with him or anything, we’re too different for that, and I don’t think I’d give him a million dollars cash-in-hand, nothing so extravagant. But I’d be more than happy to take him to dinner someplace really fancy, snatch up the check, wave away his wallet and say, “No. Please. I’m very rich.”

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