Monday, December 15, 2008

My Night at Maud’s

My Night at Maud’s, a film by Eric Rohmer released in 1969, is interesting by virtue alone of the existential, intellectual, and enticing nature of the conversation concerning Marxism, religion, and sex between our Catholic boy protagonist Jean-Louis and the sophisticated and seductive woman, Maud, whom he has met for the first time. The film on the whole works to challenge, piece by piece, every facet of Jean-Louis’ religious and sexual ideals by posing Maud, the deft intellectual seductress, against these ideals. It is quite engaging in its picture of the night the two share, throwing philosophies and ideas back and forth at each other, tempting each other, and eventually going to bed together, though not sleeping together, which proves to be against what both of the characters actually desired. Jean-Louis decides not to because he is love with another woman, and because he has written off random sexual flings, but eventually, after he had rejected her, attempts to give in to his desire, but to no avail, for now Maud has written him off. The film is intellectually engaging and very legitimate in its creation and portrayal of its characters, and I very much enjoyed it.

Bonnie and Clyde

Bonnie and Clyde find themselves in the distant yet utterly connected realm of the couple on the run. Taken in reference to the New Wave, I can see the connection in the sort of futility of their situation, and (at least relative to Godard’s films) in the materialism at the root of it all. But for them, it is about fame above all else. Fame is their commodity and the thing which drives them to continue the brigade. Fame may not justify to them the murder and the thieving, but is surely reason enough. In fact, it is all there is. They make little money through robbery, but continue partly because they can do nothing else, but mostly because they have become celebrities of a sort, and are working to sustain and further this status. The image created of the two is highly romanticized and almost iconic. The two revel in reading stories in the papers depicting their latest jobs. They thrive on all of this, and apparently love each other, though for the majority of the film Clyde’s impotence stands (comically) as a frustration for Bonnie, though she pretends to accept it. Thus, Clyde seems to be less of some rebelling, tough, fearless criminal and more of an underdeveloped, overgrown child, compensating for this ineptitude with the phallic power of his gun and his “indifference,” while Bonnie is actually, in contrast to her iconic image in the papers, weak and scared. The crime spree enables them both to be something their not.
A Woman is a Woman is one the most inviting of Godard’s films we have seen this semester. It is empathetic and quite intuitive in its portrayal of gender roles, sexual politics, and the natural sort of divide that seems to exist between men and women. It is genuine and entertaining in its humor, accessible because relatable, and strangely, in a Godard way, seems in many ways to be much unlike a Godard film, perhaps due to the fact that it was made early in his career—there is more than a mere semblance of a plot, it is playful and refreshingly devoid of the typical nihilistic tone which pervades most of his later films, and has compassion for its characters (especially, of course, Anna Karina). If nothing else, in fact, and if I am searching for something with which to marginalize this film, it may be said that the film was made merely to showcase Karina (Godard’s wife at the time), rather than being just another of his films in which she was acting. However, from a cinematic and technical standpoint, the film is doing many interesting things concerning genre deconstructions and filmic self-reflexivity, and is very much indicative of what would later become typical Godard. Also, and in the same vein, I enjoyed this film more the second time I saw it because it allowed me to see Godard’s career in a different light, to more clearly see his cinematic evolution and dynamism. In fact, this film seems almost to be a precursor to his later film Maculin Feminin, which is a much more abstracted, fractured, and nihilistic look at gender and sexual politics, among other things.
The plot centers around a couple, Angela (Karina) and Emile (Jean-Claude Brialy). Angela, an endearing and free-spirited, if slightly naïve, stripper wants desperately to have a child with Emile as soon as possible—“within 24 hours”. Emile, however, is tentative and unrelenting (until the final scene) in his refusal. Instead, and at the base of much of the comedy, Emile solicits other men with whom Angela may procreate, mainly his best friend, who is in love with Angela, Alfred Lubitsch. The plot is itself relatively uninteresting and improbable, and the content and tone of the film, as I have already stated, seem to be polar opposites of the anti-capitlistic and nihilistic films which Godard would later envision and create. The film has an overall tone of optimism, it is endearing and accessible, which may, in many people’s eyes, be reason for its dismissal when taken relative to the ambitious, fervent, and ultra-artistic and inaccessible auteur films of Godard’s later career. However, I feel that this dismissal is truly unfounded and that to disregard this film due to its discernible “cuteness” or tangibility is to marginalize something which is indeed artistic and expressive in many other ways. Though cute and optimistic, it is nonetheless a film which Godard decided to write and create, and by virtue of this fact alone, it seems to call, and be suited, for some critical analysis.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Two or Three Things I Know About Her

Two or Three Things I Know About Her is another Godard film focused on Godard issues. It is relentless in its assault on consumerism and war (specifically Vietnam), and tackles issues concerning sexual politics and gender roles. It is typical Godard. A fractured, almost undetectable plot concerning a woman’s decent into prostitution, dense, philosophical dialogue, and beautiful cinematography. It also, and once again interestingly, delves into ideas about the nature of language, much like the scene of which I spoke in Vivre sa Vie.

I must admit that, having now viewed a number of Godard films, though continuously inventive and experimental in a cinematographic sense, I have come to the feeling that Godard indeed is not very dynamic in any other sense. It seems as though he has found a million ways to say a few things. While it may be said that any filmmaker does the same thing, that an artist acts and creates by personal, inescapable perceptions and ideas, manifesting these things consistently in his or her work, and that it is in fact the mark of a good artist if he can continuously find news ways in doing this, I have nonetheless grown away from my initial attraction to Godard because of these constant reiterations. However, I have the pervading feeling that this dismissal is some sort of sin against cinema, and that Godard demands more specific and careful attention, which is impossible to do with the one viewing I have of each of the films we have seen. I feel and hope that, with further viewings, as people have stated in class, these films will begin to reveal themselves to me.

The Story of Adele H.

The Story of Adele H. is an engaging film, one which is much less dense and abstractly intellectualized as most of the films we have viewed are, and was enjoyable and easily moving in this sense. It is, as well, the fictional recreation of an actual person and actual events, which Truffaut did not attempt to skew in any way. It therefore dons the ever-affecting element of reality (that is, interesting reality). And in this sense, and in a cinematic sense, the film itself felt distant from New Wave tendencies. It was a character study more than it seemed to be a study of film itself, or the practice in experimentation and the evolution of the cinema. It was nonetheless quite well done, and interesting in its approach to its subject matter. Adele’s tormented past and current obsession are effectively juxtaposed through vague yet revealing dream sequences and moments of utter lonesomeness and pitiful and spiteful displays of affection. The obsession becomes something which seems to replace the misery of her past, a thing to which she can attach herself and move away, both physically and emotionally, from the death of her sister. When, Lt. Pinson rejects her, it throws her more deeply into her past and ultimately results in another obsession from which she never truly frees herself. In the end, she is so far gone that the sight of Lt. Pinson, who is now following her, is nothing to her—she appears as though she is sleepwalking (though not literally, of course) and shows him no regard, as if he were invisible; it was never him to begin with that she was obsessed with, rather, it was the idea of some kind of escape.

Les Carabiniers

Les Carabiniers is Godard’s most explicit and concentrated attack on war. More than that, however, it seems to be an attack on humanity in general, and the trivial and senseless justifications behind the decision to go to war. Per usual with Godard, especially in his later works, it is nihilistic and disgusted. Ulysses and Michelangelo, interestingly named, are two buffoons drawn into serving for their country by the promise of the riches of the world, which they will have at their fingertips, and which they may take by any means, exempt from any punishment. The two, without any sense of intelligence, humanity, or compassion, and in fact taking pleasure in it, thieve, murder, pillage, run rampant across the countrysides and cities. It is a pitiful depiction of human desire and compassion. Ultimately, the two are left with nothing but photographs and postcards of places they have been, but without any physical thing in their possession. Thus, commodities are truly nothing.

I enjoyed this film for the mere fact that it works well in what I believe it is trying to do. It may sound simplistic and I may in fact be marginalizing or missing the point here, but, to put it plainly and without any Godard-like intellectualizations, it is against war. And, as Godard is apparently expressing, war is based fundamentally on the acquisition of commodities, more than it is anything else. And, interestingly, Ulysses and Michelangelo are commodities themselves, objects of the state to be used to further the status of the state. And it is exactly this objective, inhumane, and materialistic idealism that is at the root of the decay of society.

Vivre sa vie

Being very much interested in the nature of language, notions of which this film tackles to a large degree (among many other things), I thoroughly enjoyed this film. To speak of one scene in particular (chapter 11), Nana (Anna Karina), encounters an older gentleman, somewhat of a philosopher or philosophizer, with whom she becomes engaged in a conversation concerning language and thought and love. He tells her the story of Porthos from The Three Musketeers, in which Porthos dies due to thinking for the first time, a sort of attack of the conscience after placing a bomb in a cellar—the bomb explodes and Porthos is left holing the cellar up with his shoulders. The building eventually collapses on him. This story came about after Nana expressed that she suddenly had nothing to say, and that this often happens to her because she can’t decide whether the words that have come to her are truly expressive of what it is that she is thinking. Naïve and interested, Nana begins asking this man questions concerning the necessity of language and the meaninglessness that begins to pervade the overuse of it. What is interesting here is that Nana, seemingly repelled and admittedly inept concerning language and conversation, must use conversation to get at the root of her ideas about language. Another interesting thing is the idea of detachment, which ultimately results in the ability to express oneself adeptly, to be objective and unaffected by one’s own situation, which is what the film is in fact doing to a certain degree. Thus, beyond working for and within the diagesis, the scene is working on a meta-level, self-reflexively tackling the “language” of the cinema, and its potential as an utterly expressive art. Also, cinematically and in a narrative sense, this scene works metaphorically, for this seems to the moment when Nana begins for the first time to truly think, much like Porthos, and in the following and final scene, Nana is shot and killed—in a sense, prostitution was to Nana what the bomb was to Porthos.