Tuesday, October 21, 2008

A Woman is a Woman

Jean-Luc Godard's 1961 feature A Woman is a Woman is an absolutely brilliant and playful takeoff of American musical/comedy. It takes all the stylistic signatures of the French New Wave movement-the use of actors from other films in the movement (or "family", as it could arguably be called), the reference of other films (specifically, again, those in the French New Wave movement), and a creative use of conventional film techniques or ideas (the biggest example here is the film's use of music), and coalesces them beautifully.

A Woman is a Woman is, then, a film that revels in the fact that it's a film. It makes no efforts to create an illusion of realism as many films do, yet with its use of vibrant color (used to a better effect here than even Le Bonheur) and scene enhancing music, it still manages to draw the viewer into its own world, albeit one that resembles a living cartoon. The actors are in on the gag, bowing towards the camera (and presumably, the audience) as they preform their charade.

So far, Godard's work doesn't take itself as seriously as some of the other New Wave directors do, particularly, from what I've seen, Bresson and Varda. Godard include elements of drama (wonderfully exaggerated by the film's great use of musical ques), but never forgets with the film really is-a film. He comes up with an experimental picture whose success lies in Godard's ability to take several different ideas out of their comfort zones and place them into something entirely fresh and new. Never too serious, never too goofy, A Woman is a Woman is fantastic.

Jules and Jim

Francois Truffaut's 1962 feature Jules and Jim centers around something of a love triangle, though that might be oversimplifying things a bit; it might be more of a love rectangle of pentagon. A love polygon, at the very least.

There seems to be an increasingly disturbing recurring motif among the films we've been watching in class-that of infidelity-and Jules and Jim revels in it. The character of Catherine is utterly frustrating to no end; the film starts out centering around Jules and Jim's friendship but later turns into a story of how their lives are both ruined by Catherine's cruel games and infidelity.
As Roger Ebert put it in his review of the film, "it's about three people who could not concede that their moment of perfect happiness was over, and perused it into dark and sad places."

Friday, October 10, 2008

Last Year at Marienbad

Did I see this film, or not?

Last Year at Marienbad is strange. Real strange. I'd put it somewhere between Tetsuo: The Iron Man and Inland Empire in terms of strange films I've seen. I liked it, but that's not really the point. When it comes to films like this, deciding whether or not you liked it is probably the easiest question to answer, which isn't saying much.

Alain Resnais' film about a mysterious mansion/hotel and the people staying in it is a dreamy tale of a dubious promise of infidelity. X, a man who claims he made a promise to A, a woman, that, at this mansion a year ago, she would leave her husband and run away with him.

The film tells the story by floating in and out of the past. The characters are stiff and formal, and their French is likewise. The entire film seems like a sort of stage production or board game, and the characters seem like merely actors or game pieces that serve only to get to curtain or the goal space. Characters that aren't part of the action (I use the term loosely) are completely still. This, coupled with the Carnival of Souls-like organ score and the beautiful yet eerie mansion create a gently disturbing and overall confusing atmosphere.

The strange behavior of the characters is, in my opinion, Resnais' take on the flashback. X cannot remember every detail of the events of last year, and so the characters in the flashback sequences (if they can be called that; 75% of the film seems to be a flashback) barely move. They simply inhabit the space because X remembers people playing cards or smoking or dancing, but he cannot remember anything further than that, so the bystanders pose with their partners in the middle of a forgotten dance step.

Some of my classmates may have found this confusing, but to me it actually made perfect sense. I found it to be a bit of a genius move by Resnais. He never makes it glaringly obvious, and so once you figure it out, it's very rewarding. If that's what he really means, of course.

And that's what's so wonderfully frustrating about the picture-there is little evidence to suggest that any event X relates to A actually happened, and even when he presents her with a photo he claims to have taken of her in the garden last year, we have to wonder:

What the hell just happened?

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Le Bonheur

Agnes Varda's Le Bonheur is a provocative story of infidelity and love covered in a swath of color and carried on by a piping Mozart score. Varda and the film received a generous amount of criticism for the film's take on infidelity and it's seeming ambivalent attitude towards it, and it's easy to see why even 40 years later.

The film offers many symbols and signs of the overall theme of infidelity, some glaringly obvious (close ups of various street signs emblazoned with the words "Temptation," "Mystery," or "Confidence"), while others work within the plot; the protaganist Francois' wife Therese is a seamstress that is working on a wedding gown early in the movie. When Francois meets an attractive postal worker, Emilie, and offers to install some shelves at her apartment, the viewer knows exactly where the story is going, even without prior knowledge of the film.

Except that when it comes, we're left with a strange emptiness. Mozart's strings keep piping along. The color remains bright and cheery. Francois comes home and plays with his children and makes love to his wife. He's smiling. No interior dialog. No sense of guilt, even privately.

What's wrong with this picture?

Indeed, the joyous score and vibrant color of the film almost seem disturbing after Francois' lovemaking sessions with Emilie. The color, which at first fit in perfectly with Francois and Therese's idealistic family life, now seem grossly out of place. The lack of any sense of remorse on Francois' part is near maddening.

Basically, it's all rather confusing.

Confusing, still, when Francois' wife meets a mysterious end by drowning. After Francois reveals the affair to her (complete with an excuse that makes about as much sense as the rest of the film, which in this case is actually perfect sense), she goes off on her own and disappears. Francois and the children look for her and find her dead. As Francois looks at the body of his wife, a quick clip replays over and over; the image of her struggling to escape. Was the death an accident or a suicide? Is the clip Francois trying to convince himself of on explanation? It is never explained, and, as is the case with some of the best films, is better off for it.

As I said, Varda came under fire for the way the film portrays these events, as it seems she is fulfilling a male fantasy of having the best of both worlds without consequence, but I wonder if that's her real intention. It almost seems as if Varda is trying to present these events in a different light to puzzle the audience. She offers very little in the way of visual cues of how we think we're supposed to feel about the story, and instead gives us a confounding story of unfaithfulness. In the end, we're left with a bittersweet, stale treat wrapped in a deceptively bright wrapper.