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.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

La Jetee

La Jetee is the story of the world in the aftermath of a worldwide nuclear war. Paris has been completely destroyed, and the story revolves around a group of scientists living underground, experimenting with time travel, for the only possibility of the continuation of existence lies in the ability to utilize the things necessary to life which now exist only in the past. It is a haunting and compelling story of the influence of memory and love, the self-destructiveness inherent in humanity contrasted with the power of the human will and imagination. However, what interests me most about the film is its brilliant use of still images, which has been the object of much critical analysis. Beyond what the film may be expressing in any thematic sense with regard to the ideas already mentioned, La Jetee deftly expresses the nature and potential of film. Composed almost entirely of still images, the film becomes something which is in direct contrast to the typical nature of the cinema. In one scene, we are presented with a series of images of a sleeping woman, which are indeed still images, but with the final image we see the flutter her eyelids, and she opens her eyes. This one, almost imperceptible movement, becomes utterly powerful amidst the panoply of still images preceding and proceeding it. The nature of the power of the cinema is manifested in this one, pointed, focused moment in the film. The film, with these still images, is also doing much toward its theme, with the one man on whom the scientists are experimenting being obsessed with one image from his past, and this obsession standing as the reason for the choice in using this man. The film revels in ideas of past imagery and memory, and in this sense is playing with these ideas through the still imagery. More interesting to me, however, are notions on film itself which these still images convey.

Pierrot le Fou

Pierrot le Fou is the story of, as Godard put it, “the last romantic couple.” The couple, Ferdinand and Marianne, after Marianne spends an evening babysitting Ferdinand’s children and is getting a ride home from him, decide to run away together. It becomes apparent that Marianne has some connection in a gun-running scheme involving her brother. When they find a dead body in her apartment, the two flee. What ensues is a stream of careless and often violent crimes of theft and even murder. The two eventually find themselves living on the shores of the Mediterranean, doing essentially nothing—Ferdinand reading his books and writing in his journal, Marianne complaining about his constant and complacent reading and writing. They put on little plays for tourists for money, commit little crimes, and are basically homeless. The love between the two seems palpable in the beginning, but soon decays, and a shift begins to occur. A divide between to two becomes apparent, and may have always existed (e.g. Marianne insists upon calling Ferdinand Pierrot throughout the film, much to his disgust). She eventually betrays him, returning to the gun-runners, and as a result Ferdinand straps dynamite to his head and lights a short fuse, which he vainly attempts to extinguish in the very last moments. The film ends with this almost glorified explosion.

Like most Godard films, Pierrot le Fou is fractured in plot (though not to the degree of his later films) intellectualized, and inventive. Also, as with most Godard films, it is an attack—on consumerism and materialism, on war and American imperialism, and on idealisms of love and, more specifically, love in cinema and even the state of cinema itself. He has taken the oft used premise of lovers on the run and contorted it to befit the consistent notions apparent in every film we have seen by him, notions which are often abstract and at times not wholly accessible, but are nonetheless discernibly consistent throughout. It seems that to analyze based on plot is to marginalize, and the crux is in the language and the imagery with respect to the plot. In the end, I find myself feeling the same way toward every Godard film I see, despite the consistent inventiveness and experimentation—each film is an exercise in existentialism and ultimately an attack on something like the bourgeois and consumerism, war, or perceived American idealism, or government imperialism in general. Though the content does not, by my perception, vary greatly from one film to the next, the films themselves do to a great degree, and cinema as an art is better for it, and this is why I love Godard films, and why I enjoyed this one.

Thursday, December 4, 2008


Weekend is, as was stated in class, Godard’s farewell to, and obliteration of, his personal cinematic persona and tendencies which preceded it. It is brutal and outrageous, almost apocalyptic in nature—surely in imagery. With the relentless motif of mangled and burning cars and bodies apparent in nearly every scene, the world of the bourgeois is imploding, self-destructing. Catalyzing, and (literally) feeding on this destruction is a group of strange, hippie terrorists, who capture, rape, kill, and cannibalize members of bourgeois society. The film is composed largely of many long, continuous, uncut shots.

One in particular is an excruciatingly long tracking shot of a traffic jam, in which we follow the couple (the main characters) as they slowly make their way through it by simply driving on the wrong side of the road. This shot seems to take us through the heart of bourgeois society, with the endless stream of motionless cars standing discernibly for the breadth and consuming nature of commercialism, and their stagnation for the anti-progress thereof, all of this leading to ultimate demise, for the cause, as we eventually find, is a brutal car accident which has left dead bodies strewn about, with one woman literally cut in half. Also, as a cinematic construction this scene works well—it becomes a sort of miniature version of the film itself, with the main characters encountering a number of different people along the path of their trip.

If not enjoyable in the conventional sense, this film was nonetheless visually affecting and often quite shocking—causing me for the first time in ages to actually cover my eyes in viewing during the shot of the slaughter of the pig and chicken. Because I am nowhere near as passionately anti-bourgeois or politically engaged or activated as Godard, it is hard for me to say I enjoyed the film. Cinematically, however, the experimental nature and filmic constructs did interest me, and the images did indeed repulse me to a certain degree, and if that was his intention, the film seems to be a success.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Masculin Feminin

Masculin Feminin is at its heart a rather sad and bitter film, but it is not faithless. Love, as in most every film we have seen thus far, is indecipherable and based on wavering and confounded human tendencies, and is also largely the focus thematically, together with politics, war, and the youth culture in France at the time. It is a film which seems to posit ideas concerning certain inherent qualities of man versus those of woman, while also posing larger questions on love and life itself, with the war in Vietnam standing as a sort of reference point for these questions.

Most blatantly, the film does this through a series of scenes in which male characters are interviewing female characters. These “interviews,” some actual and some social, from a cinematic stand-point, are shot almost exactly the same from one to the next, with the camera often holding on the girl for an extended amount of time while the guy questions her, sometimes relentlessly, from off camera. Questions on love, world politics, war, and relationships dominate the content of these interviews, but it can be said, of course, that nothing is ever answered, either because the interviewee does not know the answer (e.g. Miss 19, who has no interest in or knowledge on politics or war), or because she simply chooses not to offer it. Through this series of interviews, personal if awkward at times, the film indeed becomes something like a documentary of the social and political climate as perceived and experienced by the youth culture. However, and to return to my initial statement, juxtaposed with this reoccurrence of interview-like situations, is the reoccurrence of random and absurd scenes of violence—a woman shoots her husband dead in the street (in front of their child) after an argument in a restaurant; a woman is held at gun point on a train by two black men—the scene cuts away with the sound of a gunshot; a man stabs himself in the stomach in an arcade; man, after stealing Paul’s matches and saying, “Let this poor Christ by,” soaks himself in gasoline and lights himself on fire, leaving a note which reads “Peace in Vietnam”; Paul dies, whether by suicide, accident, or something else, by falling over a balcony railing in a high rise apartment building.

These scenes of violence seem arbitrary and ridiculous, and leave behind them a tone of utter misery and bitterness. But what I feel must be taken into account in this regard is the film’s palpable stance against war and violence as seen through the eyes of the young culture. In this sense, despite Paul’s death and the ambivalence surrounding it (which I may be ignoring in order to make the following statement) the film becomes something, if not faithful, at least partially optimistic.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

La Nuit américaine

Being very much interested in the process and nuance and technical elements of filmmaking, I found this film to be fascinating. Although it is not an exhaustive account of the technical processes necessary to make a film (which, I’m sure, would prove to be tedious and indeed uninteresting in a narrative format), Truffaut captures the essence of what it is to be involved in the filmmaking process—what it is to be on set, dealing with the dramas and comedies which inevitably (and possibly necessarily) take place. It is a film about both the process of creation and the passion for art and storytelling (contrastingly, the film within the film seems to be overly melodramatic and artless; however, it works humorously when seen relative to the overly dramatic lives and personas of the actors who fill the roles).

An interesting thing, too, and something we touched on in class, is that the drama and conflict is all centered around and created by the actors. While standing as a sort of humorous shot at the unstable and overly dramatic nature of the actor persona, it also seems to reflect something of the exaggerative and unrealistic nature of human interaction and emotion in film. While good film indeed elicits true emotional responses in the viewer, it seems often to accomplish this by presenting situations and characters that do not truly reflect “reality”. That is, the dialogue is often exceedingly dense, the situations meticulously concocted, and the human interaction (and I’m speaking now of the New Wave especially) sort of inaccessible or imperceptible. However, as I see it, this amplified and sometimes impenetrable nature of characters and situations in film is necessary in eliciting said responses and creating the themes, moods, and meaning a particular film is aiming for—the beauty and intuitiveness of film can be largely attributed to this heightened and distorted quality, when it is done well. La Nuit Americaine brings attention to this idea by juxtaposing the melodramatic actors with the ordinariness of the crew which surrounds them.

Friday, November 14, 2008


Alphaville is a science fiction film which seems almost to parody the genre itself more than revel in it. Although the film is set, as most science fiction films are, in the distant future, the mise-en-scene seems almost deliberately modern (that is, modern for the time in which it was made)—the cars are unaltered, the hotel room is much like any other we have seen in films from this era, the architecture is that of the era and is in no way made to emulate the typical futuristic vision often presented in such films, and even the computers shown are those which existed during that time. There are, of course, certain futuristic elements as far as props and the mise-en-scene go, such as the strange communicating device on the bed stand in the hotel room, or the control room for the dictatorial supercomputer, but these elements are (ironically) extremely underplayed and underdone.

It may be said that the film is made this way to allow the viewer to afford more attention to the film itself, and what is actually being presented. That is, less focus on trivialities and fantasies of future technology and more focus on the implications and possible effects thereof. The film has created a situation in which the public has grown to emulate the technology it has created. This emulation is based in the logic the computer generates, which seems to be undeniable due to the computer’s advanced mathematical and informational processing power, which far exceeds the capabilities of the human mind; however, it is also based on the fear of disobeying this logic and therefore being killed. The result is a society almost entirely devoid of human emotion and in direct opposition to human nature. Interestingly, the only human element left is lust (which I half interpret as a joke)—‘seductresses’ are stamped with an identifying numeral tattoo and assigned to men as objects to be used. Ultimately, it can be said that the film is much less about the danger of technology (although quite intuitive in that respect) but rather making a strong statement about embracing human nature rather than denying it due to external forces.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Cleo from 5 to 7

Vanity and the absurd nature of voyeurism and spectacle find themselves at the center of this film, though it becomes apparent in the end to be making very strongly a statement on the process of personal transition and growth. The beautiful yet vain and self-pitying jazz singer Cleo anxiously awaits biopsy results, and we follow her through the two hours preceding her reception of these results. At first, we are presented with a character who is self-absorbed and vain, but also anxious. As we follow her through the city in the initial stages of the film, we see her admiring herself in the mirror, being the object of men’s glances in the street, and shopping for clothes. Eventually, she returns to her apartment, where her boyfriend visits her. This visit is strange, and furthers the notion of Cleo as an object of beauty to be uplifted and beheld, rather than a human being—the conversation between the two consists mainly of him speaking in superlatives of her beauty and her status as a woman, and her happily accepting them, almost as a reinforcement to her self-perceived perfection, which seems to be dwindling as the results of the biopsy draw nearer. Once he has left, Cleo’s songwriters arrive, and a very impacting and affecting scene takes place, both for the viewer and for Cleo. The piano player begins to play a sort of dark melody, and Cleo sings a melancholy song which seems to be inextricably connected to her present state and situation. Once the song is over, she rushes to change her clothes. Her outfit is now one of a mourner dressed in black, and she leaves the apartment. This moment, beyond any other in the film, is the crux of the film. She has transformed—humility and humanity and, ironically, life have become her. She goes back to wandering the city, meets her friend, who is a nude model for a sculpting class and who is very comfortable with herself and her body, but is not vain, and who thus becomes a sort of counterpart to Cleo’s vain self. Cleo, from there wanders to a park and meets a soldier on leave. The two form quite quickly a close connection, and he accompanies her to the hospital to get her results. As it turns out, Cleo in fact does have cancer, and this, like so many other things in this film, stands ironically in contradiction to the character with whom we are presented at the beginning of the film—the perfect beauty. This kind of irony and contradiction was prevalent throughout the film and was fantastic: a number of times, the beautiful figure of Cleo walking the street is set against the image of street performers making of spectacle of themselves doing bizarre and even disgusting things for the crowd surrounding them, and also, of course, the cancer itself is terribly ironic. However, the strangest and most effective of them all is Cleo’s expression of happiness after she has received the news of her cancer.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Umbrellas of Cherbourg

Cinematographically, I thought this film was fantastic. The use of bold, bright colors worked well to create a visually and aesthetically stimulating and engaging experience, while also emulating, in a sense, the relentless but beautiful soundtrack—both of which, that is, the vivid colors and the music, serve as the backdrop and the foundation (especially, of course, the music) for the entire story. It was daunting at first to hear that not one word of dialogue is spoken throughout the entire film, but rather every line is sung—it seemed that it would more distracting and frustrating than anything else, and to be honest, at times I found myself wishing for some spoken dialogue, for some break in the unrelenting unreality created by the constant singing. However, I did not find it to be distracting or even that frustrating, but rather interesting and even sort of charming. Unlike a typical musical, which has musical and often choreographed and autonomous sequences arising out of scenes which occur within ‘reality’ –that is, a musical scene of a sort of unrealistic nature arises out of a scene of a sort of realistic nature, with spoken dialogue, etc. – this film is elevated in its entirety to this position of strange non-reality, though from scene to scene, if the volume were down, it would be quite hard to pick up on because the characters flow through the story as if it were nothing out of the ordinary.

The story itself was endearing but very undemanding; had it not been for the soundtrack and the singing, I feel I may have lost interest. It is truly the experimental aspect of the soundtrack and the overall creation of a musical that is, at least relative to my experience with musicals, incongruous with certain conventions, that makes this film interesting from a critical point of view. Making beautiful the every-day, spoken, conversational word through singing, as I have stated, elevates the film to a certain idealistic non-reality. When posing this idea with the thematic content of the film, love or love not decayed but lost (as I have interpreted it), a certain anti-idealistic statement seems to be made about the nature of love and human relationships, for though the love between Genevieve and Guy has not decayed it is nonetheless lost, and they are left separated and searching, and even finding, love in someone else.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Last Year at Marienbad

It is hard to speak of this film without using as my foundation the frustration it evoked in me. Whether it is something as simple as the husband (or presumed husband) winning every time he plays his proposed game, or something of a more cinematographic nature such as the strange use of time and setting jumps between shots during single conversations between characters, the frustration builds from one scene to the next. To be honest, in the initial stages of viewing the film I had all but written it off as excessively inaccessible and pretentious high-art – the kind of film that denies the viewer any solid or discernibly explicit information in order to create something whose meaning is ultimately lost, thus producing something nebulous and different altogether. For me, with obscure and abstract films like this, it is hit or miss – it is either pretentious or something pure and legitimate that has taken an obscure form for a reason. And that is the main thing I focus on – whether the abstraction or obscurity makes sense with respect to what it seems the film is tackling and not abstract simply because anything can be made abstract, and also whether it is done well.

With Last Year at Marienbad, despite my initial repulsion, I feel that the obscurity in fact works well in creating an accurate representation of the often distorted and selective nature of memory, which is an issue we spoke of in class, and one which I feel the film is predominantly focused on. It is intellectually abstracted, leaving hints here and there that there may be some linear plane upon which to place the events in order to create some sense of unity, but ultimately there is nothing concrete enough on which to base such an organization – much the same as the trouble one has in ordering every event and memory one’s own brain. A thing that interested me in this same vein was the manikin-like posture and behavior of the many minor characters filling the halls and rooms of the gigantic hotel – they often seem as if they have been suspended motionless outside of time, while the characters on whom we are focused move about freely. Again, this reflects an aspect of the nature of human memory – selectivity. We focus on the action on screen taking place between the major players of the story, while everything and everyone around them remains motionless and seemingly insignificant, at least as far as the characters are concerned. The interesting thing about this, however, is that, unlike in our memory, these motionless figures are not lost to invisibility or insignificance, but rather conspicuous and attention grabbing, which thus seems to place certain emphasis on the selectivity of human memory and the unreliability and imperfection it may imply –either unreliability and imperfection or certain self-absorption.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Happiness - Agnes Varda

It is hard for me to escape the notion, despite reservations expressed thereof by Prof. Shaviro and certain students in class, that this film presents the viewer with a sort of utopia. The nearly complete lack of true human emotion and personal conflict – Francois’ admission to adultery is easily accepted by his wife, and in fact, as she says, may have even made her happier – is absurd and works in creating a strange idealism. Anger, melancholy, and sadness are almost entirely nonexistent in each of the characters, save the brief moment of Therese’s death and the even briefer period of mourning. In fact, as it seems, the only emotion any character displays is happiness, and not even the death of a wife and mother has any adverse effect on that happiness. With no typical drama or contention, and with such pervasive and encompassing happiness, it is hard not to perceive the hyperbole of utopia.

Although, it is difficult too, to make that distinction with complete certainty, for the film in many parts and in a very large way, is quite ambiguous. The ambivalence surrounding Therese’s death, for example, offers an idea contrary to the notion of utopian happiness – if it were indeed suicide, it would imply utter despair on the part of Therese, thus fracturing the established and encompassing utopia and creating, rather, an idea of personal utopia through self-satisfaction and denial in the character of Francois. This, however, seems not to fit, for the children remain happy throughout as well, despite the loss of their mother – through an easy and undeniably absurd process of assimilation, they take their father’s new lover as their new mother as if no transition has taken place at all. We are left at the end of the film with essentially the same shot with which we are presented at the beginning of the film – a happy family holding hands, walking in a natural setting. Though in the end they walk away from the camera, and the mother has been replaced – no happiness seems to be lost, however.

The visual style is also worth noting. The bold colors and natural motifs work in creating a film that is, first of all, visually stimulating and interesting. Thematically, however, it is a bit ambiguous. It seems too easy or too simple to say that the cinematographic beauty is used to further the representation of a utopia in order to make a contrary point, but that interpretation seems to me to be the only one that can be made with respect to the content of the film. However, that implies that I have a firm grasp on the thematic content and message of the film, and I am not confident I do - in fact, I am not sure that Varda intended there to be much thematic attainability here.

Thursday, September 25, 2008


In my analysis of Pickpocket, I feel that it may help to approach it from a different theoretical angle - that of the Russian Formalists. As asserted by the Russian Formalists, and in alignment with their theories on literature, film is not a true reflection of reality, but is a complex system of intertwining, interdependent signs. Due to the nature of film itself - the planar quality of the screen, the single perspective of the camera, the boundaries of the image displayed, etc. - it is rendered abstract and very much dissimilar to reality. I find it inarguably fitting to analyze Bresson's Pickpocket with this basic idea in mind - the idea that film is a distortion, rather than a reflection, of reality.

The thing that strikes me most significantly concerning this distortive quality in the film Pickpocket is the extreme and unrealistic subtlety of motion and speech with which each character drifts through the story. The acting styles are quite monotone and emotionless - or, rather, of one chief emotion - a sort of sober, tempered, and reticent introversion. Their motions are subtle, yet swift and determined. Conversation among characters is limited and brief. In scenes that one may argue, if speaking in terms of natural reality, demand a specific and possibly even intense display of emotion, the specific emotion is indeed displayed, yet it is dominantly pervaded by this moderate and tempered aura. Thematically speaking, this works to reflect the physical nature and presence of a pickpocket. However, and more importantly, it is a means of ‘defamiliarizing’ the world presented by the film to the viewer, perhaps to imply or posit larger philosophical questions. The film seems to accomplish this by drawing the viewer away from a typical display of human emotion and engaging them in world which seems, in many ways, to reflect the natural world, but in many more ways is quite incongruous with it.

Also, as I interpret it, the film, while distorting reality, also diverges from certain and expected story telling conventions. An example of this divergance comes near the end of the film when Michel is close to being arrested. He decides to run. The narration explains that he ran for two years, thieving and then wasting his money on booze and women. After these two years, he returns home, insolvent. Though these two years have passed, and are indeed part of the story, the plot presents relatively nothing of them. In a brief narrative explanation, the two years come and pass rather insignificantly in a matter of seconds. Aside from tone and character demeanor, which remains consistent throughout the film, the world to which Michel returns has changed. Jeanne is found, abandoned by her father and Jacques, with a child. We as the viewers are left a bit perplexed by this sudden temporal jump - it seems as though what would have been a significant portion of the story was by accident left on the cutting room floor, which thus furthers the film's status as a strange distortion of reality.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Bob le Flambeur

In terms of mere viewer engagement, Bob le Flambeur succeeds. Its plot is thorough and meticulously conceived and constructed, and is thus an interesting and enjoyable film. However, and this may be my opinion alone, the film seems to lack in substance thematically (the ideas of fate and luck prove to be rather underdeveloped in the film). Most every element in the film that may be considered in thematic analysis seems to exist more to serve the plot and the progression of the story than to make any kind of an artistic or thematic statement. For example, Yvonne’s character is, in reality, minimal and unsubstantial thematically – her main purpose serves in revealing the plan to Marc, which inevitably leads to the police disruption of the planned casino heist.

However, Bob’s sort of paternal care of Yvonne, a naïve and essentially homeless young woman, does point to one thing of thematic interest – Bob’s morality. Bob’s moral awareness, obviously yet still interestingly, works in contrast to his persona as a gambler and a criminal, and adds certain color and nuance to his character, while still serving the plot – his disapproval of the poor treatment of women, prostitute or otherwise, sets the stage for his ultimate downfall.

Shot largely at night, with an evident tone resembling film noir, the film proved to be aesthetically pleasing and on level with the subject matter and genre - ganster. The use of contrasting shadow and light, gangsters and gamblers roaming about in the darkness and corners of the city, rain, and a jumpy (fast to slow, slow to fast)and jazzy soundtrack all work well in creating a satisfying aesthetic experience for the viewer.