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.