Playing himself, Professor Henri Laborit expounds on his theories of evolutionary psychology using lab rats to illustrate his behavioral arguments. With clinical narration, he describes three fictional French characters who are born into vastly different environments: Rene (Depardieu) is a farmer’s son who rises above his milieu to become a middle manager; Janine (Garcia) rebels against her middle-class parents to become an actress in Paris, and Jean (Pierre) is a wealthy landowner who works his way up the corporate ladder. Their paths will cross and each will face life-altering challenges. Throughout, Resnais returns to Laborit to provide insight into the human condition.
Resnais, the director of “Hiroshima Mon Amour” and “Last Year at Marienbad” continues his foray into experimental formalism with this rigorous deconstruction of human conduct. Blending documentary with narrative storytelling, his film questions the very essence of man, and how the ability to choose and remember informs actions. Black and white clips of classic French movie idols (Jean Gabin, the proletarian, Jean Marais, the aristocrat and Danielle Darrieux, the damsel) are inserted into the narrative, suggesting that each character is an archetype, unable to escape his/her genetic past or future. As the actors cavort in giant lab rat costumes, absurdity merges with intellectualism to create a cinematic marvel that won the Grand Prix at Cannes in 1980.