Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Night and Fog

Alan Resnais' holocaust documentary is very powerful, and puts documentary makes like Michael Moore to shame. The short work is filmed wonderfully, from beginning to end, whether this beautiful form is fitting for the subject matter or not. The camera smoothly pans through the opening scenes, cutting abruptly when necessary, and juxtaposing negative (barbed wire, for example) with the positive (the lush green landscape).

The real footage used is narrated in a haunting matter, and the selection of WWII footage seems relevant and well-placed. Another of my favorite shots in this movie is the way in which the camera pans down and slowly up on a set of railroad tracks. As the movement is finished, a building is presented in the distance. This same building is then featured in footage from WWII, and this formal transition is really incredible.

The last moment of documentary I would like to examine occurs toward the end of the film, as the stream of images becomes really intense. Images of human corpses are cut in between a pan over a countryside. This countryside is not ordinary, as it displays man-made constructs wrought with destruction. The image of the sundered road, especially, seems to argue that humans create destruction, and of course self destruction.

My Night at Maud's

I believe something was perhaps lost in translation for me in My Night at Maud's, because I did not find it on par with other films I have seen in the New Wave. Perhaps the blame rests with auteur Eric Rohmer, one of the older members of the French New Wave. This dialogue driven piece did not appeal formally to me. Unlike other, more enjoyable films, I am not struck with a memorable scene, although some of the dialogue is tolerable.

The characters in the film, while quirky, did not strike any chords with me. The acting seemed standard, but what should have been complexities in the characters did not force me to evaluate anything. Dialogue to progress a plot is okay, but it is the dialogue and visual content that makes one think upon greater subjects that is truly interesting. I am willing to blame my lack of French linguistic skill for this fact, but that does not change that I rate this film considerably under pretty much anything by more prominent New Wave directors.

The religious reading of the film also seems to be very simplistic, irrelevant, and unenlightening. Again, more general religious concerns or conflicts seem to slip away from holding relation to this film. While it may entertain some, I do not think of this movie's thematic elements as moving, nor can I view the visual direction as interesting.

Vivre sa Vie

In Vivre sa Vie, Anna Karina plays Nana, a shop girl who suddenly decides to become a prostitute, and sensitive to unpredictable emotion. Nana is intimate, much like the act of prostitution itself, and surprising. The audience is not given a reason as to why Nana abandoned Paul or her child for a life of prostitution.

While Nana thinks that it was her choice to become a prostitute, this is not the truth Godard is poking at. The form of the movie makes subtle hints that personal confidence and perseverance is not enough. The American Dream asserts that anyone with motivation can achieve wealth and status, and Vivre sa Vie represents the realistic limitations, at least in France during this time, of such success.

Anna Karina's performance in this film is probably my favorite from her. Her piercing eyes and intelligent readings of others are portrayed flawlessly. She really makes the audience understand that Nana's burden is her own to carry, even if it arose from poor circumstance or fate.

The dark form and congested sound of the film seem to portray a starkly modernist point of view. The anonymity and swallowing nature of urban society seems responsible for creating an indiscriminate atmosphere that Nana becomes enveloped in. It is a surprsing effect of form, and one of the accomplishments of the movie.

Masculin Feminin

One of the first non-genre intensive films I have seen by Godard, Masculin Feminin was very well sculpted. The youth culture presented in the movie, and the influence of pop-culture seems an ever-relevant topic. The dialogue of the film seems carefully constructed, both in form and content, and precise meaning of language seems to be a topic of interest. The general life and structure of 60's era France also pervades the film.

The romance in Masculin Feminin seems very complex, funny, and interesting at the same time. The pairing of an idealist revolutionary, at least in thought, and a pop-star seems the most unlikely of match ups. The actors do a great job, despite their roles, although Chantal Goya was an actual pop star, at least to some extent. The children of marx and coca-cola seems to sum up the film incredibly well.

Godard's interest in youth culture can be seen budding in this film. It is clear that the left-wing views of French youth had an incredible influence on Godard's film and personal life. The social rift apparent in the difference between Marx and Coca-Cola, is one that Godard is still likely trying to close, through negativity and rejection if nothing else.


Contempt is a somewhat interesting work involving a couple comprised of a writer and a typist. The very occupations of these two seem to speak to one another, but not necessarily in a gender reflective way. The argument would seem to be that men are creative, possible of generating words, while women merely bring such words into the physical plane. This argument, however, does not seem relevant, or something that Godard would want to convey to the audience. What I do believe Godard is trying to say, however, may be the same as in Pierrot Le Fou.

One problem I had with the gender commentary in Pierrot Le Fou was that men are shown to be rational, while women are emotional. This appears on the surface in Contempt, in both the occupations of the characters and their portrayal. I think that both films give a simplistic view on the nature of gender, possibly due to the time period they were created in. As the conflict between rationalization and emotion creates communicational rifts, so does the assumed role of the gender. Possibly because the light of present times, I can say that I know plenty of women that are much more rational than I am.

The explicit gender categorizing in Contempt seems to stem from the generality apparent in the movie. As stated before, the occupations of the characters are good evidence in the case that Godard is making sweeping generalizations about differences in sex. The stereotypical predator role of Jerry in the movie seems to speak to the everyman quality plight of Paul. He is not willing to acknowledge that Jerry exists, and this creates an impassable rift in the relationship. Aside from gender issues, the film seems somewhat stale compared to Godard's other works. The plot and form really didn't appeal to me, but it was still minorly enjoyable.

The Umbrellas of Cherbourg

As a young French soldier returns from Algeria, the girl he loved is gone, and her umbrella shop replaced by a washing machine shop. While certainly outrageous, the plot of The Umbrellas of Cherbourg is realistic, and filled with formally artistic elements. One such, is the symbolic replacement of umbrellas with washing machines. The umbrellas presented in the film are colored, and visually interesting, a symbol of Genevieve's beauty, and youthful love. Washing machines are heavy, uninteresting, and domestic: a foreshadow of Genevieve's consequence in marrying Roland.

The film is very realistic in plot, for the most part, but certainly not in form. I say for the most part because a crucial part of the plot does not seem realistic, or consistent with what is given before it in the film. Genevieve's choice to succumb to loneliness and marry Roland just seems forced, and is very surprising. The fact that her and Guy have a child together, and seem hopelessly in love in the beginning of the film, sharply conflicts with her choice. Even the idea that her mother is pushing this man upon her would seem to make the choice even harder, as it is often a display of youthful rebellion and romance to disobey one's parents in matters of love.

As for the form in the movie, it clearly contrasts with the plot at points. As every line is sung, real dialogue does not occur in any traditional sense. The intense color coordination of the movie, and overall use of color also adds an element of fantasy to the movie. The overbearing pleasantness of the movie makes the tragedy sweeter, and more bitter at the same time. There is no reconciliation between Genevieve and Guy, but rather an incredibly awkward and sad scene which takes place at Guy's gas station. The snow outside is, for the most part, a complete change in setting for the movie, and accurately expresses the amount of longing seemingly pouring from the two former lovers. The audience is given some relief, however, when Guy's new family returns home, showing Guy and his son playing in the snow. Still one cannot help but feel that Madeleine is second best.

This movie is understood much more powerfully in the context of director Jacques Demy's real life. While he was married and had children with his wife Agnes Varda, he was a homosexual. The relationship between Guy and Madeleine is perhaps reflective of Demy and Varda, happy but not ideal. The youthful love between Guy and Genevieve that does not, and cannot pan out, is reflective of Demy's homosexual desires.

Shoot the Piano Player

This film really impressed me, as it both embraces strong comedic and dramatic elements. Truffaut, always interested in form, seems at the top of his game in terms of style in Shoot the Piano Player. Sudden jump cuts, oddly sequenced shots and plenty of narration through voice-over. In many ways, this film embraces many qualities that compose high literature, that is to say how the form, plot, and different genre elements work together to build a highly reflective and complex work.

Throughout the film, there is a conflict between chance and inevitability. The criminal, film noir reminiscent, elements of the movie present a strong case towards the existence of fate. Eduard cannot escape a criminal lifestyle, no matter how reformed he appears. Happiness is always fading, but its small presences make life bearable, just as comedy and drama work in the film. Sometimes chance creates happiness, and other times the inevitably of sorrow is clear and direct.

The crafting power of the auteur is present throughout the movie which successfully gives the characters both likability and depth. One great example of this is the scene in the hall way, when Eduard is auditioning with a master pianist. He waits for a female violinist to exit, and afterward the camera focuses on her emotionless face. As the piano starts playing, the audience never sees the actual audition, but rather sees the reaction of the violinist. Truffaut has the ability to make a single appearance character with no dialogue seem real, and sympathetic. It is an incredible combination of music, acting, and the way the shot is set up in the hallway.

Aside from formal and thematic elements, the plot and music of the movie is enjoyable as well. Truffaut seems to have created the complete package in this film, tying together many interesting and classical elements. The actors all do a remarkable job as well, portraying realistic and sympathetic characters. This is definitely one of my favorite New Wave films.