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.