Sunday, November 30, 2008

The 400 Blows

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. 


Les Mistons

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.


Cleo from 5 to 7

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


Science fiction takes on a different role in Alphaville than in other conventions of the genre. The visual relation to science fiction in this film is almost solely depicted by very odd scenes of flashing lights, or other ambiguous images. These images are blatant, yet hard to decipher.  The general idea is to set up a negative image for the computer that essentially controls society. It may also be a tool used by Godard to purposefully shock or confuse the audience leading into the following scenes.

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

Bob Le Flambeur

Bob Le Flambeur was almost perfectly summed up by Melville himself when he called it a "comedy of manners" ( Although there are certainly some comedic elements in the movie, comedy in this case more accurately means a contradiction. The appearance and the reality of Bob's life are at odds, both in the context of the movie and the eyes of the viewers.

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.

Hiroshima Mon Amour

The most striking aspects of Hiroshima must be imagery, juxtaposition, and the way these factors serve to create symbolism . Of course, film is itself imagery, but Resnais constantly assembles metaphorically ambiguous and captivating shots. The most impressive of these is the opening of the movie. The ambiguity of the two lovers intertwined juxtaposed against the explicitness of the atomic bomb dropping on Hiroshima has the power to invoke serious emotion. For myself, there was a powerful contradiction. How can something be so beautiful and something so terrible? How can some find love and happiness while others find torture and death?

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

Les Carabiniers

Les Carabiniers is completely over-the-top in both form and storyline. Incredibly long, held shots and the repetition of the dialogue are the main methods employed to establish the ridiculous. Godard uses extreme hyperbole in this film to show how baser desires lead to terrible atrocities committed in the name of government, or "The King."

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.