Tuesday, December 16, 2008
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
Communication between genders seems to be a major theme in Pierrot Le Fou, but I do not necessarily agree with Godard's assessments. The characters of Ferdinand/Pierrot and Marianne clash again and again through the movie. This is made blatant by Marianne's insistence on calling Ferdinand Pierrot. I think the most important quotation in describing this gender clash in the film is given by Marianne, where she says, "You speak to me in words, and I look at you with feelings." Which is very deceiving. The simplicity of the statement seems to vouch for its validity. Generally, it may appear that men are more logical and women more emotional, but this is not fair or accurate. Whether on purpose or not, making wide sweeping general assumptions about the opposite sex is exactly what causes the breakdown of communication.
Aside from this quote, there is a lot more content dealing with the breakdown of communication between sexes. When Ferdinand and Marianne settle down on the beach, Ferdinand is shown as being content with a life of literary and philosophical pursuit. Marianne, on the other hand, finds this anything but ideal. I do not think we can take these characters as representatives of their sexes, because doing so forces strong stereotypes, a barrier to communication.
Besides the gender content, I really enjoyed the film. There were extremely humorous as well as serious moments. The betrayal of Marianne seems to make sense when one looks back to her actions through the film. These movie is very similiar to Weekend in a lot of ways, but definitely easier to watch and little more conventional. The ending is both powerful and comical at the same time, reminiscent of fate's sense of humor. So much time is spent wrapping the dynamite, emphasizing the deliberateness of the suicide. Because of this action, however, Ferdinand is unable to extinguish the wick as his own ridiculous actions have prevented him from doing so.
One of the hardest, yet most interpretable scenes I have encountered in film is the, almost eight minute held, tracking shot from Weekend. It is a masterpiece, and an affront. There is so much symbology that can be read in this single scene I would almost compare it to a poem. This film clearly marks an end to an era in Godard's film making, as the form of his ambitions has clearly changed.
From the very onset of this traffic-jam scene, the audience is pelted with the sound of horns. Constant horns, shouting, and automotive noises incessantly pound away at a viewer's patience. Very tense and forced music appears and disappears. At one point, the sound of children singing can be just heard above the otherwise offensive soundtrack. As one keeps watching the scene, it almost seems that a subliminal rhythm is created by the honking, and the music picks up on this rhythm at times.
The sound is, of course, reflective of the visual. Although rhythmically changing, the sound is constant, just as the traffic is. Although there are times when it seems the car falls into a lull, it always drives forward. The scene of course, is clearly not what it seems to be visually. Many of the cars are simply pulled over on the side of the road, yet some are able to drive through the traffic. Godard is subtly hinting that if these people wanted to move, they probably could. Whether this represents the dissent between the rich and poor, is up for the viewer to decide, but seems probably giving the rest of the film's ideology. This is further supported by some of the vehicles parked on the road, as they suggest lower-class occupations. The people throwing beach balls or playing cards may represent the proletariat who do not care enough to rebel, or are ignorant of the change they could enact.
The chaos of the sound and visual elements present a negative view of society, something that also seems to coincide with Godard's radicalism. The one thing that seems to hold the entire scene together, is that the camera does not cut once. Ultimately, I believe it was Godard's purpose to offend the viewer, because while interesting the scene becomes very annoying. One cannot get used to the blasting of horns, and traffic is an uninteresting and frustrating part of life. It is in this offensive form, however, that Godard leaves open possibilites for interpretation and symbolism.
The most immediate and striking feature of this film, for me, was the clear influence derived from the French New Wave. The movie has some really well shot moments, and the film is generally less retricted than earlier Hollywood films. The gratuitous (relatively) violence of the movie is a clear precursor to many later action films. The themes dealt with in the movie are also very progressive, as Bonnie and Clyde presents its audience with characters that are both sympathetic and unrelatable.
The actual characters of Bonnie and Clyde are worth examining. Bonnie starts as a seemingly innocent, if premiscous, stereotypical southern waitress. The way she confronts the man trying to steal her mother's car, however, does not make sense right away. Slowly, the audience begins to realize that his woman clearly has a huge sexual attraction to violence. This is literally portrayed the first time Clyde brandishes his gun, as it may as well be his penis. Despite these intial character developments, one must look further and ask, does Bonnie develop as a character? While the exposition reveals an attraction to danger, this attraction remains pretty steady. The only sign of remorse shown in Bonnie is near the end of the movie, when she asks Clyde what he would do differently if they could do it all over again. At this point, her sexual needs are satisfied for the first time in the movie, and perhaps she has begun to rethink their wanton crime spree.
In my opinion, Clyde is less developed than Bonnie. At times, he is part savant, a possibly compassionate criminal, more interested in fun than murder. At other times, he seems the quintessential bully character, making others suffer to make himself feel good. While these make for an interesting character, Clyde is unyielding; he maintains this quality throughout the entire film. Even after he is able to have sex, presumably for the first time, he does not seem to have a carthasis, nor change in any noticeable way.
While the characters of Bonnie and Clyde are interesting, if static, the actual acting in the film is a point of conflict for me. At times, the acting seems very cheesey, and clearly a concious act. Warren Beatty's performance, while not terrible, lacks some consistency. Times of extreme emotion tend to ruin his performance for me. Faye Dunaway, while not lacking consistency, tends to overact during this film. Perhaps since this is the first film in English I have watched in a while, I tend to hold higher standards for the acting.
Sunday, November 30, 2008
The freeze frame showing Antoine standing in front of the sea at the end of The 400 Blows is a bit confusing and completely memorable. The entire movie seems to be moving towards this very last scene. One cannot help but feel delighted and frightened in Antoine at this point. Freedom is clearly present, at least for the moment, yet the future is uncertain. So uncertain, in fact, that a freeze frame is used to capture the present and avoid the future.
I am extremely interested in seeing the movies that follow The 400 Blows and keep Antoine Doinel as the main character. This film serves as a very good character study of the quintessential troubled youth. I am sure that as an adult, this childhood is reflected in Antoine as an adult. At some point I would imagine a conflict between Antoine's image and past habits, and a bright future.
Even when Antoine attempts to do well, it is his image that holds him back. It was not Antoine's desire to start a fire with a candle, or plagarize Balzac. While someone without the trouble-maker image might be able to convince others of their good intentions, no one is willing to believe Antoine. While we do not see too much of Antoine's life, it is made pretty clear why he feels the need to act out. No one has ever really loved Antoine, save perhaps his grandmother who was left to raise him. Maybe it is not that he is not loved, but never loved unconditionally. When things get tough, his mother simply doesn't want anything to do with him.
Other than an image Antoine cannot escape, fate and chance certainly don't seem to side with the youth. One of the most blatant examples of bad luck occurs when we see when the school children are passing around a pin-up. It is only through pure bad luck that Antoine gets blamed, and then feels the need to act out after being punished for something he could not control. Perhaps this is why the end is so satisfying and memorable, for once there are no outside influences ruining and corrupting Antoine's life.
This is an incredible film worthy of Truffaut's debut as a director, and a wonderful introduction to the French New Wave. Never having seen a piece the belongs to the New Wave, I think this short really speaks volumes for the direction style apparent in later works by Godard, Truffaut, Melville, etc... The use of the hand-camera and on-location filming really creates a completely different experience than the Hollywood studios of the same era.
The natural lighting in the forest scenes in this film is, by itself, beautiful. The hand-cam following via a reverse shot is a great introduction to the movie. The shadows of the trees on the ground contrast very strongly with the lighter elements of the location. One can understand the feeling the boys have for Bernadette almost solely through the mood set by the imagery and music in the scene; naivety, lust, and love.
As Gerard is introduced, very subtley, a negative portrait is painted for the character. Most obviously, the narrator is one of les mistons, so he does not say positive things about Gerard. Aside from narration, the location changes from the forest to the city, and lighting is a bit darker. The energetic joyful music is also replaced by background urban noise. The mood of the movie has completely changed, and the audience is inclined to sympathize with the kids, and not Gerard.
One of the best qualities of this short is what is chosen to be shown. The boys are shown playing soldiers, and tricking an old man, for example. Gerard and Bernadette play tennis, but even small scenes of movement through the city or country are shown. In a short film, it would seem strange to show such mundane activities and include so little dialogue, yet these are the things that are actually important to the film. It seems in Les Mistons, that actions take precedence over words, most likely because they are more visually interesting.
I did not really know what to make of this movie while I was watching it. The premise of following two hours in a day where a character waits for cancer-test results seems very interesting on paper. What I did not like about this movie was the performance and portrayal of Cleo by Corinne Marchand. While the movie supposedly has traces of existentialism and feminism raging through it, the performance and actions of the character do not seem to follow a realistic or coherent pattern.
Reading certain reviews of this movie, and listening to class discussion, one can understand that many view this film in a feminist light. I do not understand this connection. Cleo is a vain pop-star who buys a hat to make herself feel better. She looks in mirrors constantly and visits fortune tellers. A whole aura of superficiality emanates from both the actions of the character and the actor herself. I find nothing to confide in Cleo, and no trace of feminist values within her character or what her character does. If any lesson or effect is had, it is only due to the most dire of circumstance, not moral character.
The interactions between characters in this movie also seem odd at times, because Cleo is such a larger-than-life figure. She seems unapproachable, yet is often approached. The men in the movie seem to have a very fixed view of Cleo's place in the world, even if they do respect her. She is objectified, and seems to only care for objects. Whether this is a response to the society that objectifies her, or a cause for the objectification, is very open to interpretation. Without any clues on how to interpret this, however, the film loses much of its meaning. Not to say I would like to see a preachy feminist film, but if one is trying to make a point they may as well include evidence for their argument.
Tuesday, November 18, 2008
The setting of this film appears to be a regular modern society. There are vague references to fantastic elements, but these are not represented visually. The locations themselves are not that reminiscent to science fiction, modern or historical. Although this film was low budget and quickly made, it lacks science fiction imagery that one would associate in even older films in the genre. Instead, the most fictional aspect of this movie are the characters, both in their dialogue and actions.
The biggest fictional element in this film is Lemmy Caution. Compared to the society he is caught in, Lemmy is a singularity. Most obviously, Eddie Constantine is an American amidst French actors. Even in the context of the real-world, the character of Lemmy is just different than the average human being. For example, he kills without question or remorse. This is probably best shown in the scene in the telecommunication building. The audience is not sure how Lemmy is aware someone is spying on him. Despite this, Lemmy quickly dispatches the man occupying the booth next to him and runs out of the building. This is not typical or generally accepted behavior in any setting. The ending scenes of the movie where Lemmy shoots it out with the police also seem to bestow some supernatural luck into Lemmy and again separating him from the real of normal.
Thursday, November 6, 2008
As Bob is a shrewd and well put-together person outwardly, so is the film's style. The camera does not draw attention to itself as it does in many other New Wave productions. The use of the hand camera, natural lighting, and transition gives this film a very natural feel. The evidence of Melville being a precursor and huge influence to the new wave is very abundant throughout the film.
Although the film is shot in a tight and modest way, its main character is anything but modest. Bob simply lives in a different reality than the other characters. He holds morals uncommon of the pre-conceived gangster, and comes out on top despite everyone around him falling. His unnatural luck in the gambling scene at the end of the movie contrasts very starkly with the fate that befalls the other gangsters. Perhaps Melville is commenting on the importance of honor and manners by saving Bob from the pre-ordained failure of the heist. Bob is not a common criminal, and he does suffer the consequences of one.
Another comment worthy feature of the film is the lack of a real villain. Only Marcus is painted in any real negative light. Whether crime is glamorized in this film is open to interpretation, but Melville certainly follows the American style of gangsters one can sympathize with. At the same time, however, it is not through crime that Bob is able to prosper, although he would if he could get away with it. The reality of the movie, however, is that he cannot suceed. It is clear to the police from the beginning of the heist planning that Bob is up to something, and his reputation allows for nothing less.
The film uses these opening images as somewhat of a thesis. To further examine these questions, flashbacks of Elle's former relationship with a Nazi are displayed. A powerful love leading to loss clearly compels Elle to be afraid of any kind of future with Lui. At the same time, Elle is reminded of the good times spent with the German man. This dilemna seems to take on a greater role when compared to the Hiroshima bombing. If Elle is afraid of finding happiness because she lost one she loved, why is Lui so eager to find new happiness after witnessing the destruction of his city? Why is Lui willing to abandon his wife? Of course, this film is a glimpse into a small part of the characters lives, but one feels compelled to figure out exactly how these two tick. Judging the characters in different lights can completely change what one takes away from the film.
Hiroshima Mon Amour seems a movie of give and take. A movie of opposites, formalistically and in the characters. The idea that all things fade away is vivid and apparent in the film. Futility at times is a very strong mood established by the film, yet flashbacks are used as a powerful thematic device. Life is futile, but the human being is still motivated and influenced by memories held of the past.
Wednesday, November 5, 2008
Repetitiveness plays a major role in the film in two separate scenes. The first scene, in which the army officers visit Michel-Ange and Ulysses is extremely memorable. Item after item is promised to the seemingly naive farm-boys. The true genius of the scene is very subtle. It appears that only after the officers plant delusions of grandeur in Ulysses and Michel-Ange, that their viciousness and depravity come about. As the scene begins, the men are sitting around at a table, listing objects of wealth and desire. As Ulysses exits with one of the officers, he begins to list terrible actions off in a long sequence as well. No longer do Ulysses and Michel-Ange seem naive, but ready to undertake the most heinous actions.
The second important scene, containing incredible repetition, is the opening of the suitcase when Ulysses and Michel-Ange return home. The men seem to have wild mood changes regarding the outcome of their experience in the war. An incredible amount of photos drone on and on, most explicitly representing the disappointment of war. There is no reward for the characters, nor the audience, who are forced to watch picture after picture named.
The overall theme of Les Carabiniers almost seems too explicit and exaggerated to come from Godard, but is clear nonetheless. Outrageous plot and the two aforementioned scenes have subtle features that exemplify the corrupting power of war and greed. The two farm-boys are made allegorical in Godard's non-realistic portrayal of human atrocity.
Monday, September 22, 2008
Pickpocketing is a relatively minor crime, but Michel is never portrayed feeling any kind of guilt or conscience about what he steals. He hints at the idea that he is above the law, or "a superman". This is apparently the way that he escapes any kind of self-scrutiny, is with his 'superman theory'. The only thing that Michel expresses regret for is his careless attempted theft that landed him in jail. He even mentions making it as hard as he can for the police that have imprisoned him. If being imprisoned really bothers Michel he does little to show it in way of emotion. In fact, there seems to be little difference between Michel sitting in his room or his prison cell.
The thing that changes most for Michel, in prison, is his relationship with Jeanne. The scene where Michel is visited by Jeanne in prison is very awkward, and both characters seem to be more resigned to fate than anything else. Michel is oddly kissing Jeanne's forehead while she is slightly clinging to him. To me, it is unclear why Jeanne would have any interest in Michel, as he portrays no positive aspects other than providing her with some money at one point in the film. He seems so impersonal that as a viewer of the film, I cannot imagine him involved in any type of romance or attraction in his character.
Tuesday, September 16, 2008
While not incredibly overbearing, it is very clear that Michel idolizes the American gangster. The way this is portrayed in Breathless would seem to be in concert with the criticisms many bring to bear on modern art and media. Michel seems to switch very quickly and nonchalantly from normal to criminal. It is as though his criminal actions have no effect on him, or he has no conscience. It is not really explored in the film how much American film has influenced these actions, or what kind of person was in the past, but a case could certainly be made either way.
At the time that this film was made, I am not sure how much people really believed that film or any kind of art could be responsible for the actions of its audience. This probably has to do with the ultra violent entertainment that has since become such an integral part of our culture. It is also unclear to me whether or not Godard saw this idolization as pure fantasy, only used as a thematic device, or whether he really thought such was a real issue.
Speculation aside, Michel is certainly a very interesting character worthy of attention. He seemingly has no moral compass and literally lives for his primal pleasures and desires. It is simply much easier for him to commit a robbery than spend his time working at a nine to five job. Even his dealings with women have 'instant gratification' written all over them. He is the personification of a degenerate youth, yet you can't help but watch his every move.