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.

Le Bonheur

Francois the carpenter is an extremely hard character to like. Subconcious elements throughout the film, queue the viewer to suspect Francois. Although he is a carpenter, it seems that he never finishes what he starts. He marries a wonderful girl and has a child, yet he does not stay committed to them. In the same way, he starts projects and is never shown finishing, he only gives promises that he will in the future.

The display of the country areas in the film are beautiful, and starkly contrast what actually occurs there. Francois' revealment of his extramarital affair causes his wife to commit suicide, while he is napping. The absolute devotion of Therese seems to be made quite apparent in her cool acceptance of Francois love for another woman. She is still devoted to Francois, but his total abasement of her love is irreparable, and she must die. At times, it seems like Francois is only physically attracted to women, and perhaps good at convincing them, and himself, that he is true love. This appearance of love is emphasized well by the beauty of the country landscape.

While it is believable that Francois did not want to kill his wife, his reaction to her death seems deplorable. He has no problem making the cause of Therese's death, Emily, the new mother to his children. There doesn't seem to be any kind of punishment for Francois' selfish actions, leaving a taste of injustice in the mouths of the audience. There is no fairy tale ending, even if Emily and Francois seem happy at the end of the movie. The hint of unhappiness is shown in the scenes where Emily takes the children alone, almost forced by Francois.

Pierrot Le Fou

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.

Bonnie and Clyde

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.