Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Day for Night

Francois Truffaut's Day for Night is an interesting, often funny, look into the inner workings of the cinema world. Almost a film within a film, Truffaut surrounds himself in his own picture. Thus, Day for Night plays like Truffaut's love letter to cinema; the film is a tribute to the art of making a movie and everything that comes with it, as well as a nod to Truffaut's influences. There is a great reoccurring dream sequence where a young Truffaut steals Citizen Kane promo stills from a movie theater, pointing towards both the huge critical acclaim the film enjoyed in France as well as its effects on the New Wave scene and its players.

Another knowing wink towards Truffaut's influences and contemporaries occurs during a scene where Truffaut's character gets a package of books, filled with volumes on Hitchcock, Godard, and others. I'm also almost positive I saw a reference to Jean Cocteau.

Someone in class mentioned that Truffaut is almost a masochist in that he seems to enjoy, or is at least ambivalent about, surrounding himself with his cast and crew, many of whom have their own shortcomings and issues; the lead actress demands a tub of butter before she'll see anybody in her dressing room, and the lead actor is a lovesick drama queen whose acting is most intense off the set and in a bedroom.

All in all, Day for Night is a great film that manages to capture everything, for better and for worse, that Truffaut loves about film.

Thursday, November 13, 2008


Alphaville, Jean-Luc Godard's 1965 science fiction film featuring British pulp character Lemmy Caution, is a strange, noir-like picture that takes place in the titular city. It utilizes some elements of typical dystopian science fiction-a central body or entity controlling the population (the supercompuer, Alpha 60), the loss and suppressing of emotions by the ruling body-but never relies on any elaborate sets, props, or effects usually seen in science-fiction films.

As is usual of Godard's genre films, he pushes the film into near parody territory. He makes use of some of the usual cliches while ignoring others. It almost seemed intentionally convoluted and murky, at least to me, but the story itself is actually quite simple.

I found Alpha 60 comparable to the character IT in Madeleine L'Engle's 1962 novel A Wrinkle in Time. IT is a brain that controls the entire planet of Camazotz, forcing ITs citizens into a role of utter and complete conformity, both in actions and emotions. Much as Strange defeats Alpha 60 by reciting poetry to it, Wrinkle's hero, teenager Meg Murray, confronts and incapacitates IT by showing an intense feeling of love for her mentally imprisoned brother. Both characters escape.

I personally found the ending perfectly suitable. I can understand how some might find it a bit cliche, but I think that the fact it ends on a simple "I love you" makes it all the better. There's no cheesy monologue or elaboration needed; less is more here and the film ends on a stronger note because of it. In a film about the loss of human emotion, the simple recitation of the most emotional of statements-"I love you," is more than enough.

Thursday, November 6, 2008


Organic chemistry, quantum physics, and Jean-Luc Godard's Contempt all have the distinct honors of making me feel both depressed and stupid at the same time.

Despite being an adaptation of a novel, Godard manages to craft the film in a way that paralleled his own life at the time, and the characters of Camille and Prokosch obviously correspond to his then wife Ana Karina and a bossy producer. That said, I felt I was missing something; was this going to be one of those "French people talking" movies? I felt that Paul and Camille's conflict was a bit too drawn out to be as effective as it could have been (in particular the extended scene in their apartment; perhaps arguing with your lover is more exciting than watching it), though I still found the movie depressing.

That said, I thought the running parallels between the events of the film, the film being shot within the film, and the story of Homer's Odyssey were quite well done, particularly the bit about Ulysses killing Penelope's suitors in order for her to fall in love with him again. Paul carries a gun, and it made me recall that age old rule of not introducing a gun unless you plan on using it. I had figured that after this foreshadowing, he'd surely be forced to confront Camille's lover in some sort of passionate face off on an Italian cliff, but no deal. Instead, both Camille and her lover die in a car accident. It bothered me, but then again, I suppose that's a talent of Godard's.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

The Carabineers

The Carabineers, Jean-Luc Godard's 1963 feature film, deals with two poor men living in squalor who are called to serve the king of France by fighting in a war. Unaware that France hasn't had a king for hundreds of years and lured by false promises of plunder and property, the men leave their wives for a tour of duty. They return injured and as poor as ever, and are shot by the CO at the end of the film, presumably for war crimes.

The film is a sometimes puzzling mix of comedy in tragedy, though given Godard's previous work I can't say I'm too surprised. He uses elements of both in The Carabineers with mixed success. The film never tells its audience if it wants to be a comedy with a touch of tragedy or vice versa, so it's probably best to accept that Godard perhaps couldn't decide either and instead opted for both. It's an interesting mix that offers up some complex, jet black humor; the characters are so hopelessly stupid and their views on war and the world in general so incredibly backward that the film would be very depressing if it wasn't as funny as it is. The characters eagerly ask their recruiters if they'll be allowed to kill innocent bystanders, harass women and children and pillage from their enemies, to all of which the recruiters answer that the men can do as they wish. "It's war," after all. Our antiheroes are hapless to the end, even after seeing the brutality of battle and being wounded in the fight. They never learn a thing.

Some in the class feel that the film was incredibly insensitive given that it followed the Algerian conflict so soon, saying that the film could be saying that these are the kinds of people who fight in wars; namely, ignorant, poverty striken hillbillies. I don't think I agree, though at the moment I can't quite put my finger on what Godard was really trying to say. Is it the means at which the French government will go to recruit fodder for conflicts only they truly have interest in? The dangers of ignorance in an increasingly violent world? Perhaps if Godard had been a little more clear in his mixing of moods, its meaning would be more apparent.

Saturday, November 1, 2008

The Umbrellas of Cherbourg

Jacques Demy's second feature film, The Umbrellas of Cherbourg is a unique one, to put it lightly. Entirely sung, with no spoken dialog, it seems like the kind of film that immediately splits viewers into two camps before it even starts; those who hate musicals and everybody else.

I tend to dislike musicals. I can't help it. I wasn't looking forward to this at all; with no dialog as respite, I would have to sit through 90 minutes of nonstop singing. And yet, I loved every minute of it. I'm still eating my words.

Umbrellas is more than a musical, if it could ever have been called that in the first place. A bittersweet tale of young love, war, and faith, the film is one of the few musically based films (it's the best I can do) I've ever seen that really took me in. I found myself hoping Guy and Genevieve would end up together in the end, even though I knew it couldn't possibly work out that way.

One student in class remarked that the film seemed too "fake," but in defense of the genre, musicals are "fake" by nature. The audience must go into the film knowing it isn't normal to break out into song and dance in order to ever enjoy it. Questions of the films "realness" are invalid because the about complaint goes without saying. It is the viewer's responsibility to suspend belief in order to fairly assess the film for what it is.

Again, as I've mentioned about Le Bonheur
and A Woman is a Woman, the color in Umbrellas enhances the film tenfold; instead of merely being a film in color, it is a feature that uses color as another means to express itself artistically, using vibrant hues and tints to convey mood and bring the streets of Cherbourg to life.

In the end, I was pleasantly surprised by The Umbrellas of Cherbourg. Completely unconventional and vibrantly colorful, it's unlike anything I've ever seen.