Vivre Sa Vie (To Live My Life)

Vivre sa vie

Image via Wikipedia

 

My fourth entry in my odyssey that is the french new wave and Jean-Luc Godard is Vivre Sa Vie. The film stars the beautiful Anna Karina and is about a woman who descends into prostitution in order to earn enough money to stay alive.

I have seen many films that deal with prostitution, but this film is unique. Nana (Anna Karina) you get the sense that she has always had many dates, many men that are attracted to her, and has always been verging on prostitution in one form or another most of her adult life. It seems to be a natural projection for her and she falls into it almost without thinking. Once she gets into it, you can see the subtle changes that happen to her personality. On the surface she has become more outwardly sexual, sporting a posh fur coat and dancing like a showgirl around a room, but in other ways you can tell she has become more detached. She no longer looks innocent, like she did before. Godard shoots her very different in the second half of the film. There are more shots of her smoking, more of her moping, more of her quietly going about her day-to-day tasks. Before she became a prostitute, there seemed to be more fluidity to the way she walked and talked. Although she was burdened by the lack of money, she seemed better off before.

Paris of Godard’s lens is something that morphs and changes with his subject matter. In Breathless, it was a place of intrigue, in A Woman is A Woman, it maintained the myth of old grandiose beauty, and in Vivre sa Vie, it is a place of grim, of gray hues, very flat and oppressive. Paris so many things to different kinds of directors. I think that is why I love it when a film is set in Paris. It is so versatile, as is evidenced by Godard himself.

The way that Godard places his camera is very important here. When we first meet Nana, she is having a conversation with her ex. However you only see her back and hear her words. Every once in a while you can catch a glimpse of her in the mirror, but that is about it. This couple has a whole conversation not facing the audience. It reminds me of a painting that I love by Manet. It is entitled “A Bar at the Folies-Bergere.” In this painting, the mirror tricks you into seeing the woman’s face and the back of her head at the same time by employing a mirror. You also see the artist’s profile in the mirror, showing where his perspective has come from. Trying to figure out what is going on at this bar distances you and yet pulls you in at the same time. I think that Godard wanted to achieve the same thing. You are frustrated that you can’t see her face, but at the same time you want to see her face and therefore you keep watching.

The sequence where Nana is showing her daily tasks at prostitution is executed very well. There are no words, just the same music that has been playing the whole time throughout the entire film. She enters hotel room, strange men embrace her, you see her over the shoulder of a man with a cigarette staring at the viewer, she is bent over in pain o the bed, she washes her face with the towel, money is exchanged hands but you can tell she wants more than she gets, and it sort of loops like this for several minutes. She is  getting tired of the game. There is no mystery anymore for her and she doesn’t enjoy it.

After it is established that she is sick of prostituting, she meets an old man at a cafe. They spark up a conversation. It starts with her saying that she doesn’t know what to say. He responds very philosophically and she engages in this conversation about words. She wants to live her life in silence, but we think in words and eventually we will want to express our thoughts and it will come out as words. The unhappiness of her words sort makes the old man melt and the viewer melt as well. She is so profoundly lost and disconnected with other humans, that this scene is one where she can truly be herself and it has to be with a non-threatening older man.

Tarantino (one of my favorite directors) loves this film and modeled Mia Wallace from Pulp Fiction off of Nana. He even copies a scene in this film in Pulp Fiction (the one of Nana dancing in the pool hall). Usually Tarantino has amazing taste in films and this film is no different. Although it didn’t move me emotionally, it was interesting to watch intellectually. I would definitely rent it again.

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I Am Love

It is hard sometimes to rush into love. One doesn’t know what one is truly getting into when one dives into a committed relationship. This of course includes family, finances, and personality differences. In I Am Love, Emma (Kitesh) feels like she has rushed into a relationship that she cannot get out of even twenty years later.

When she was a young woman in Russia, she met a handsome young Italian, who loved and collected art. She fell in love with him and he married her. She naturally went with him to Italy and from then on she was Italian. She gave up her real name, submitted to the customs and produced heirs for her husband to carry on their financial dynasty. However she seems to never be truly a part of the family.

The film opens up on preparations for a birthday party for the head of the family, grandfather. At this dinner, he announces that he will be retiring and will be leaving the dynasty to the hands of his son (Emma’s husband) and to the shock of everyone, their son (Edo). Although Edo had just lost a race to a chef that day, he seems to be still have a head for making the business everything that it needs to be.

The chef who interrupts the party to give a gift to Edo for being a good opponent, becomes friends with Edo. Antonio (chef) has a passion for food that seems to go unnoticed in the current place he is working. He wants to open a restaurant in the hills of Italy full of natural ingredients that are cultivated on the grounds. Edo thinks it is a marvelous idea and wants to invest in the restaurant. This is how Antonio and Emma meet. He cooks for several parties that they throw at the mansion. Emma enjoys to cook also and in fact that is the only time in the beginning half of the film that she seems to be happy.

After Emma finds out that her daughter has left her boyfriend and has become involved with a woman, she becomes curious. Maybe she could possibly break from convention and be able to love again. She starts this passionate affair with Antonio. She reveals her past life before she was married and that she cooks when she is homesick. She carries on this affair with him in secret from her son that she loves dearly.

Edo’s father, Tancredi, decides that he wants to sell the company in order to have a more international stake in the textiles industry. Edo is against this, but feels like he is trapped. He feels like it is his duty to go along with everything, but knows that is not what his grandfather ever wanted. When the family hosts the business people who are proposing to buy the company back in Italy, Antonio is entreated to make the meal. As a first course in his devotion to Emma, he makes Ukha. This dish was a symbol of Russia for Emma and a connection to her son Edo. Edo realizes that Emma is having an affair with Antonio and storms off. Edo and Emma fight in Russian poolside. When Edo has had enough, he turns around, trips, knocks his head on a stone and falls into the pool. He is rushed to he hospital but is pronounced dead. Emma is devastated.

She doesn’t talk to anyone and could only dress and be at the funeral with the help of her devoted servant, Ida. After the funeral, she knows that she has to revel all to her husband and her family. When she says that she doesn’t want to be with him anymore, he says something that sums up her situation perfectly: You are cut off. She is no longer in the family anymore, because she never really was.

This film is pretty perfect. Tilda Swinton stars as Emma or Kitesh (her real name). Her transformation from a devoted, yet cut off wife to someone who is alive isn’t just exhibited in the cutting of her hair. Her face changes, ever so subtly. At the beginning, you can see a hint of sadness, but her face is flush, full and vibrant. After she has the affair with Antonio, her face becomes more structured and eyes darker. My guess is that makeup had little to do with this transformation. It was more Tilda’s transformation into the character. She plays Emma with such restraint that when she finally bares her raw emotions at the end, it is even more startling.

The love affair is portrayed really well. Antonio is not an amazingly hot guy. He has a beard and crooked teeth. And yet the way he loves food and prepares food makes him this extremely attractive man. When Emma goes to his farm/restaurant for the first time, nature intrudes onto the screen in way that was not photographed previously in the film. She becomes a part of nature as she becomes a part of Antonio. One of my favorite scenes in this film is the second love scene. There is a sequence where Emma and Antonio work together on this farm, collecting food, manicuring the brush, hiking, preparing food, and finally cutting her hair. The sequence is wordless, but you can see the affection that they have for each other. This sequence leads to them making love in nature. The scene is a blur of flowers, bugs, and extreme close-ups of their skin touching. You can see the sweat on Antonio’s back and Emma’s stomach as Antonio caresses her. You can almost feel that passion that they are exhibiting for each other while you are watching the scene.

I Am Love is a wonderful film. You should probably see it.

Actresses that I would see any film with them in it (Modern)

Julie Delpy in 1995

Image via Wikipedia

A chronic problem of the movie industry is the rejection of great actresses and meaty roles for them to play with. Most great actresses are under praised in favor of their male counterparts. So I decided to do a top 5 favorite actress countdown in honor of WOMEN! YAY!

5. Julie Delpy

 

Julie stars in a pair of my favorite romantic films ever, Before Sunrise and Before Sunset. In these films, I fell in love with her. She is silly and enthusiastic and intellectual and just plain awesome. Those films came about through workshops with herself, her co-star Ethan Hawke and the director Richard Linklater, so I like to think that she infused her character with aspects of herself. She is a multi-talented actress who picks roles she likes, not roles she makes a lot of money from. She has even directed a few films, which is totally awesome. Favorite films: Before Sunrise, Before Sunset, 2 Days in Paris. Movies I can’t Wait To See: The Countess, Two Days in New York

4. Maggie Cheung

Most of these actresses won the way into my heart by playing leading roles in romantic/drama films. Maggie is no different. One of my favorite films of all time, In the Mood for Love, stars her and Tony Leung (one of my favorite actors of all time). She plays a secretive woman whose husband is cheating on her with Tony Leung’s wife. They find out together and they pretend to be each other’s spouses so they could break up with them. Of course this leads to them falling in love. It is a film of subtlety and that is how I describe Maggie’s acting style. She conveys a plethora of emotions through one look, one word. She is also very versatile in the roles she plays. She can go easily from doing acrobatic stunts on wires to playing a rock star addict very easily. Favorite Films: Clean, In the Mood for Love, Hero, Irma Vep, 2046. Films I Can’t Wait to See: The Soong Sisters, Ashes of Time (original), Centre Stage, Days of Being Wild

3. Juliette Binoche

If you don’t love Juliette, then you don’t love international cinema. Beyond what she has done in the States, she has put in some of the most amazing performances that I have ever seen in on the screen. She has worked with some of the most influential film directors of all time and yet she makes their films that she stars in the highlights of their filmographies. If you haven’t seen Blue, The Unbearable Lightness of Being, Summer Hours and man more, just go out and see them. Your life will be better for it. Films I Can’t Wait To See: Certified Copy, Cache, Cosmopolis, Code Unknown, Flight of the Red Balloon

2. Isabelle Huppert

I get giddy every time I see her name in the credits when I do my pre-viewing prep. Her small lips, freckled skin, shock of red hair and her quiet yet affecting voice just makes me want to ask why she isn’t the height of female beauty? She transforms into her characters so effortlessly it is something to see. One of my favorite performances of all time it the Piano Teacher. If you want to see Isabelle at the top of her game, watch this film. Favorite Films: The Piano Teacher, White Material, 8 Women, Madame Bovary. Films I Can’t Wait to See: Die Blutgrafin, Time of the Wolf, Les Destinees, Loulou, The Story of Women, The Lacemaker, Every Man for Himself

1. Tilda Swinton

What an awesome actress Tilda is. She inspired this list because I just got finished watching I am Love. She is so great in that film that I got to thinking, what is she not great in? I came up with nothing that I have seen at least. She is avant-garde, she is sweet, she is beautiful in a unconvential way and she is a phenomenal actress. From her early more experimental films to the Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, she is amazing. I cannot wait to see We Need to Talk About Kevin. Favorite Films: Orlando, Michael Clayton, Burn After Reading, I Am Love. Films I Can’t Wait To Watch: Julia, The Man from London, Edward II, Caravaggio, Moonrise Kingdom, Die Blutgrafin, We Need to Talk About Kevin

I seem to have picked mostly European actresses, so this is my American alternate list:

Anna Faris

Jennifer Jason Leigh

Nicole Kidman (sorry I know she is Australian, but she has done a lot of American films)

Meryl Streep

Dian Keaton and Mia Farrow (with Woody Allen and in their early careers for the most part)

Kate Winslet

Kathy Bates

Michelle Williams

My next top 5 is going to be actresses I would see any film they were in (Classic). I am not giving anything away, so you will have to be patient, man.

La Haine (Hate)

cap109

Image by cwangdom via Flickr

Paris, France. When the place comes to mind visually, you think of certain landmarks (Eiffel Tower), certain foods (baguettes, croissants, snails), certain attitudes (smugness, cigarette smoking) and most importantly certain people (Audrey Tatou, Jean-Paul Belmondo, Louis Garrel). However this is not all that Paris is. Paris is considered the New York City of Europe. This is for several reasons, one being French is the international language of business and France has historically conquered several third world countries and therefore their inhabitants looking for a better life travel to the main land. Arabs, Africans, and Jewish people are three big ethnic groups in France. And yet, do you see many films from France about them? Are they represented in their government, businesses, or society? I recently watched Midnight in Paris (which I wrote about on this blog). This film is about an American visiting Paris. You see Paris through his eyes. Every woman and man was of Western European descent. Every place he went when he was in present day was cleaned up. It was beautiful. That is how most Americans see Paris. However that is not how Paris is.

La Haine (Hate) is about trying to get visibility for these ethnic groups. The film follows three young men, each one of different descent. One is Jewish, one is African, and one is Arabian. Yet they live in the same neighborhood and are best friends. The place they do live doesn’t look a thing like Paris. It looks more like the projects of Southside Chicago or the Bronx. It seems divided from the rest of the town. This is made even more clear by the events of the film.

The Jewish man (Vinz is played by Vincent Cassel, it is weird to see him all gangstered out.) could be considered the protagonist. The night before he had participated in a violent riot that took place after a police officer maliciously beat a young Arab, who seemingly didn’t do anything. He gloats about how he participated in the mayhem. He is proud to possibly go to jail for a month for messing some shit up. He wants respect from his neighbors. He wants to be a gangster. However the African man, Hubert, has seen many people wreck their lives from wanting to be something so stupid. He continueally is trying to convince Vinz that fighting is stupid. He wants to get out of the ghetto. Said is an Arab who doesn’t really feel any connection to the boy who was shot, despite being from the same ethnic group. He acts as a buffoon. For instance, he goes through considerable effort to get 500 francs from this man named Snoopy. He drags his friends all over Paris in order to find him. Yet apparently 500 francs is not much.

These men run into several cops during their adventures through this film. They are hassled, they witness a friend of theirs shooting at a cop, they are jailed and they are beaten. All of it seems to be without real reason. One of the most emotional scenes for me personally has got to be when Hubert and Said are handcuffed to chairs and these two cops sort of grill them, but they don’t really want any information, they just want to choke them. They continue with verbally and physically abusing them for several moments while they explain to what I assume is a new recruit about their methods. The new recruit sits there disgusted. Why are they doing this to two boys who don’t seem to know anything. The cops are just sort of venting their frustrations from the night before on them.

Throughout the film, the three men watch several news reports on the riot. Every news report mentions that a gun was stolen from a cop during the confusion. Several people from the street are interviewed about whether they are not worried about it. Vinz shows his two friends the gun and says that if the young man who is hospitalized dies, then he will kill a cop with it. Acting tough, he goes through the whole film carrying this stupid gun. I think that Vinz wants nothing but to be political. Yet, because he dropped out of high school, his ability to affect change is only through what he knows. That is it is only through violence that he feels he will be able to say something meaningful. He foolishly disregards the consequences.

It is only at the end, does he realize that he doesn’t have the balls for it. He is confronted with a situation where killing someone with the cop’s gun would rid the world of an extreme racist. Although he knows that this racist is a horrible person, he can not kill him. He has realized that he is not bull headed enough. This conclusion seems to have save him from the fate he wanted at the beginning of the film. And yet it doesn’t.

The look of this film is striking. It is shot in high contrast black and white, several tricks of the camera that does not take away the impact of the film. I love the opening scene of the film, after the credits in particular. It sort of applies to my “fuck the man” attitude. Also look out for a mash up of “fuck the police” in French and one of Edith Piaf’s most famous songs.

This film would be a good companion piece to Le Petit Soldat. It will leave the viewer feeling upset with the stupid authority in the film and in real life. I feel like that is a good thing.

Le Petit Soldat (The Little Solider)

The Little Soldier

Image via Wikipedia

Directed by Jean-Luc Godard

Le Petit Soldat is technically Godard’s third film. Although he filmed it after he filmed Breathless and before A Woman is a Woman, the film was banned for three years before it received a release. The reason behind this ban was the same behind the Battle of Algiers, it shows France in a bad light in connection with the Algerian Liberation.

Before I review this film extensively, I want to let you know that I am no expert on the locations, the history of the conflict or anything connected to it. I did study Algeria for a short period of time during my coursework, but I do not retain much information on the subject. If someone is interested in knowing more about the Algerian Liberation, I would suggest watching the film the Battle of Algiers directed by Gillo Pontecorvo. I also would suggest after watching the film to check out the Criterion Cast’s latest episode on the Battle of Algiers. They have some really interesting things to say about the film.

Le Petit Soldat follows this young man who is a secret hit man for the French government in Switzerland. His cover is being a photographer and an acquaintance of his offers to introduce him to a beautiful young woman to photograph. This is where Anna Karina is introduced to the world. This is her first film role with Godard and she is very lovely in this film. She plays innocence very well. She turns out to be an informant for the Algerian Liberation. He meets her and falls in love with her. He then rethinks his career choice and tries to resist having to perform another hit. He gets threatened while she inadvertently exposes him.

What follows is a torture scene. Although the torture is shown very matter-of-factly and not glamorized in any way, it can be hard to watch. I respect Godard for showing the torture scenes like he did. Throughout the film, the hit man, Bruno, narrates his inner thoughts. He says once we get to the torture that it is a very tedious and monotonous thing and therefore boring to watch. Of course I found it to be the exact opposite. They strip Bruno down, put him into a bathroom that can easily be shut if someone unexpected comes, and start with fire. They just take a few matches, light them and put them under his bound hands. Simple enough tactic, but if you think about it, that could become very painful quickly. They then spray him with water, then they submerge his head in water, then they put a shirt over his head and spray him with water making so he can’t breathe. This is of course one of the torture processes that resonates with me. This is because of the American tactic of waterboarding is very similar and yet it is not called “torture.” I have seen this depiction and several others and it most definitely is.

After the torturer realizes that the water is not helping, he is given shock treatments. These do not work either. Throughout these scenes, Bruno describes what is going on with his thoughts. At one point he decides he is going to try to break out and he does in a most poetic way. He runs to Veronica (Anna Karina) and she helps him get out of his bounds.

He realizes that he must get out and he must get Veronica out of the situation. He goes back to the French and promises to do a hit in order to get passports to Brazil. However the French decide not to trust him and take Veronica to torture her. The film then comes to its horrible conclusion.

Although one can see Godard as a filmmaker through the disjointed narrative, the jump cuts, and the dialogue, this feels like something completely different from Breathless and A Woman is a Woman. First off it is an overtly political film that presents both sides of the conflict in bad lights. Bruno has no real need to be a hit man for the French, politically. He does think that Arabs can be good people. He is sort of just apathetic to his situation. This sort of shifts when he falls for Veronica. Veronica does seem to have a motive to want to inform for Algerian rebels, but she keeps it secret for most of the film. She does come across as pretty surface given the fact that every time you see her, she is combing her hair, looking in a mirror, or getting dressed. The only people who really seem to be dogmatic in the film are the people who are seen torturing Bruno and are hinted at torturing Veronica. This film hints at the more politicized Godard to come.

My Dinner With Andre

Directed by: Louis Malle

My Dinner with Andre is a deceptively simple film. It is about a man who is unsatisfied with his career and life going to meet a colleague of his for a dinner. This man is apprehensive of the meeting because five years earlier this man stopped an enormously successful career as a theatre director and sort of fell off the earth. He then popped up at various times talking about how he went to different places in order to talk to trees. This man didn’t know what kind of insane drivel to expect from this man.

This film is of course  much, much deeper than that. It only takes place in one dining room over the course of maybe a couple of hours in this characters’ lives, but during this time they travel to Poland, the Sahara, Tibet, New York, and the Scottish Isles. Andre talks about his apathy for life that he was experiencing and Wally (who is the other man, a surrogate maybe for the audience) has the same sort of feeling.

I connected with the film on a deep level. They explored themes that may seem very general but are true to life. Finding oneself, death, purpose, art, other people, the inability to carry on a real conversation with people you know, spirituality, family members, the role media plays in people’s experiences, and money are all explored during this conversation. Andre plays like the guide through his experiences and Wally sort of is the dissent, the skeptic about these experiences. I cannot help but be on Wally’s side, but wish I was on Andre’s side, if that makes any sense. There is a deeply ingrained sense of skepticism that I have had since I was born, I guess. I want to believe accounts of rejuvenation and discovery, but I couldn’t ever really believe. I don’t really think that by the end of the conversation that Andre is any better than Wally for having had these experiences.

Wally is a person that never really had any success that Andre enjoyed. He had some of his plays produced, he has some bit parts in plays and in film, but mostly it was just him waiting for his chance. Andre had a wildly successful career, but felt he peaked maybe too soon. Or maybe it wasn’t exactly what he wanted to be doing. So he went on these journeys to try to discover himself. Would it have been possible for Andre to discover himself while staying in New York City with his family? Would it be possible for Wally to do the same thing as Andre? Would he even want to go anywhere but New York City? Did Andre in fact discover himself or is Andre still searching? I think by the end of the film, both characters are signficantly changed, but will the change last? Or will Wally just go on to his daily routine? The more I think about this film, the deeper it goes for me.

Ultimately this film is about the difficulty to really connect to people. They bring up at several points in the film how the society they are sort of trapped in does nothing but talk, but they don’t actually say anything. Even during this conversation, Wally has a difficult time in expressing how he feels about Andre’s experiences. Wally asks Andre if he really wants to hear what he is going to say. He then goes on a type of rant where he is expressing how closed off he is from life. How he likes to be with his girlfriend, read, do his errands, write every once in a while, and wake up to a cold cup of coffee. If there isn’t a roach in his cup of coffee, then he will have a good day. But if there is a roach in that cup then he won’t. Andre sort of dominates the conversation for most of the film, but after Wally decides to reveal what he actually thinks, it becomes closer and closer to an even dialogue.

Through the extra features of the film, you can explore why these three people wanted to make this film. Everything that Andre talks about in the film really did happen to the real Andre Gregory. Wallace Shawn is really his friend, but of course he did not just hear these conversations once in a restaurant. Their process of making this film is just as interesting as watching the film itself. There is also a magnificent conversation with the film’s director, Louis Malle. He sums up My Dinner with Andre and his other films by saying that he doesn’t want his audience to come away from the film with a clear sense of anything. Malle is just as confused during the making of his films, so should everyone else be.

This clip is a wonderful example of the play between the two characters.

The Blob

I have decided that my french new wave review will be going up weekly due to the fact that I recently had to downgrade my netflix account due to the price changes. Instead I will be putting up other reviews and top 5 lists and generally anything else I want to on a daily basis. So I will Start with…

 

That’s right the Blob!!!

As a sort of disclaimer I will say that the Blob sort of resists any form of critique, plot hole consideration or bad acting being pointed out. The status of cult classic has been placed on this film because of these three things. It begs the viewer to just sort of go along with everything that happens.

Does a cult classic really lend it to an intellectual critique as a film itself and not as a part of the landscape it was a part of at the time? This film was just another film to put on a big screen so teenagers will scream therefore spilling their popcorn so they would have to buy more. Does it seem to be anything more? The fact that it isn’t really is kind of its appeal for a relaxing night at home with your broke friends making up drinking games in order to swallow massive amounts of shitty alcohol.

The blob as a monster is completely unbelievable. Why doesn’t it destroy everything in its path, sort of like lava? Or why doesn’t the doctor just chop off the old farmer’s hand, thereby destroying the blob instead of just covering his head with a blanket? Even it’s weakness totally weak sauce! I’m sorry to spoil it but c’mon? It freezes? Booorrrinng!

Also how is Steve McQueen in this film? He is wooden and bored on the screen. He just sort of limps through the action like a disabled veteran. How did he get more work after this? I don’t know much about Steve McQueen and I would love to see other works of his, but this is not a good example of his acting at all.

The heavy handed Holy Family references, the police stereotypes (the good one, the disbeliever, and the secret genius), the “rebels” and the obvious fake small town all contribute to the campiness of the film. You should probably just stop reading this, go get a 24 pack of keystone light (it’s okay it is only like five cents), a couple friends that have nothing better to do (better it they are unemployed like moi) and pop this sucker in.

A Woman is A Woman

Are they not super cute?

Directed by Jean-Luc Godard, 1961

This is a charming film, plain and simple. It took me several tries to get into it and to realize that you need to have your full attention placed towards the screen in order to get the film, but once I stopped doing other things, worrying about other things and generally stopped being selfish, I came to love it. It is a silly film ultimately, which are always my favorite films.

This film stars Godard’s first wife Anna Karina as Angela, Jean-Claude Brialy as Emile and Jean-Paul Belmondo as Alfred. Angela wants a baby by her boyfriend, Emile, however he is reluctant to do anything about it. Alfred is a friend of Emile’s but is also desperately in love with Angela. Alfred would give Angela anything she wants, romantically at least.

However the plot is only secondary to the machinations that Godard employs in telling the story. The first jarring aspect of the film is the score. The score is sort of overly sweet, like something out of a Hollywood musical starring Gene Kelly or Fred Astaire. The score also cuts in and out at seemingly random times. Usually when there seems to be something mundane going on in the screen the music is turned up to high volume. Angela is also a strip tease artist who sings a song as a part of her strip tease. This is one of my favorite scenes. She is dressed in a sailor’s outfit and she seems to be making the song up on the fly. She dances around to the music at high volume, but when she decides to sing, the music cuts out and all you hear is her beautiful voice singing tantalizing verses.

Another machination is the awareness of the audience. Several times Angela looks directly in the camera as if to say “I know you are watching me.” Early on in the film, before Angela and Emile start to really fight, Angela says “let’s take a bow before we proceed with the farce.” Then they start ripping into each other as if nothing has happened.

Godard references his other film and the films of his compatriots quite clearly. He references Lola when Angela does her number at Zodiac. Jean-Paul Belmondo references his previous film with Godard when he says that he wants to catch A bout de souffle on the television. Godard references his friend, Truffaut’s two films Shoot the Pianist and Jules et Jim by shooting cameos with the female leads of the two films. Knowing these references adds another dimension to the humor of the film.

What drives this film is the fight scenes between Angela and Emile. They are bitter, absurd, and at many times charming. My favorite fight scene has got to be the bedroom scene. Angela and Emile get into bed vowing to not speak to one another. Angela can’t sleep so she brings the huge lamp with her to get a book off the shelf to insult Emile with. She covers up part of the title and shows only the word “Monster.” To retaliate, Emile gets a book off the shelf in the same way Angela does, scribbles something on the cover and shows it to her. This sparks an all out book cover war. The absurdity of it comes from their choices. At one point Emile calls Angela a Peruvian Mummy and a Sardine. This is what their love and their competitiveness have brought them to.

This film is absurd and yet engrossing. I recommend it if only to watch with an open eye.

I also recommend reading Mike D’Angelo’s Scenic Routes on A Woman is A Woman at avclub.com If only I can be as eloquent as him.

http://www.avclub.com/articles/a-woman-is-a-woman,36533/

Breathless

After watching the documentary Two in the Wave that I reviewed yesterday, I couldn’t get Godard and Truffaut out of my mind. I kept going back to their films in my mind and became overwhelmed by all the films of theirs that I hadn’t seen. I set out a new mission for myself. I have decided to watch all of Godard and Truffaut’s films in as complete of order as possible. But I think that the French New Wave is more than just Godard and Truffaut. It is Renais, Rohmer, Varda and Chabrol. Therefore if I am still alive and wanting to do this blog after I complete Godard and Truffaut’s filmographies, I would like to do theirs also. I will probably do Varda third because I have been wanting to watch all of her films for ages now and she is a great director on par with Godard and Truffaut.

I will have triumphs and failures. I will try to chronicle both in this blog. I do not know how this will take me or if I will be able to talk about a french new wave film every time that I post, but I will try my best. Trying is all I can do I suppose.

The first film in Godard’s filmography is Breathless (A bout de souffle). At least this was Godard’s first released film. Le Petit Soldat was completed while he was filming Breathless, but it was banned for three years, because it talked about the French involvement in Algeria in a negative way. This film stars the hunky Jean-Paul Belmondo (Michel) and the gorgeous Jean Seberg (Patricia).

It is about a man who is on the lam because he killed a cop. He returns to Paris in order to get money owed him and to see this girl and convince her to go to Italy with her.

Every time I see this film I like it more and more. It is a pretty straight forward thriller that could have been made in America during the forties, but it is made unique by various techniques that Godard uses. Of course this film is famous for the jump cuts and for Belmondo aping Humphrey Bogart, but what I like most is how much of a role that media plays in this film. She works for the New York Herald in Paris, so when we meet her she is pedaling their papers. Michel is constantly buying papers to check up on what the police are doing. The headline scroller is used several times in order to instill some suspense. Patricia turns on the radio in her apartment in order to listen to music and is interrupted by the station reconfiguring. She runs away from the cops and into a theater. In fact the theater helps her get away from the people chasing her. A metaphor perhaps?

My favorite scene has to be when Patricia finds Michel in her bed at the apartment. When I first saw this film over four years ago, I thought that the scene was overlong. But now I think it is perfect. It shows Michel’s ways of persuasion, Patricia’s confusion about what is going on around her and their burgeoning love for one another. Godard takes his time and it is appreciated this time by me, whereas in other viewings I was slightly impatient.

Another aspect of the film that I find interesting is the language barrier between Michel and Patricia. If you have ever had long conversations with people whose first language is not English and they did not grow up in the U.S.A. then you have probably experienced what goes on between them. Patricia can understand French and she speaks it well (better than me, at least) but she is not aware of the turn of phrases Michel uses in everyday language. She asks what things mean and Michel sometimes gives the right answer and sometimes it is the wrong one, but it is always an explanation on what is meant by this or that. At several points in the film, they are reduced to miming what they mean to each other and what they meant to say, because there is no other way.

At the beginning of the film, you are aware that Michel and Patricia are just characters acting out this scene or that scene as actors. However by the end of the film, they are human. When Michel finally gets caught and is running down the street in a weird panicky way, you feel for Patricia who follows him in her elegant Dior dress.

This film deserves all of the accolades that have put upon it and I would love to own a copy of it someday.

Two in the Wave

Directed by: Emmanuel Laurent

If someone to take an entry level film history class at a university, chances are you will learn about the French New Wave and their two big advocates, Francois Truffaut and Jean-Luc Godard. You be shown at least scenes from the 400 Blows and Breathless. You are told how this wave of films transformed everything including how people saw films, how they could be made and the acting. If you really liked those films (like I did) you might even do a rudimentary paper on how these films relate to someone more modern like Tarantino. However, you will not really get to know these two filmmakers in this class. These two men did a lot more than the 400 Blows and Breathless. They evolved, regressed, played with and fought over film. They were fierce friends and mortal enemies.

This film delves into the evolution of these two filmmakers as seen through the eyes of one of both directors’ favorite actors, Jean-Pierre Leaud. Jean-Pierre shows up in Truffaut’s first film, the 400 Blows, playing his doppelganger Antoine Doinel. He ends up playing Antoine several times throughout his career, but breaks from the character by playing Godard’s muse and anti-characters in various films including Masculin Feminine. Godard and Truffaut sort of fight over him as their personal friendship dissolves, ending with hate letters exchanged and the the friendship and working relationship cut off completely.

It is interesting to see how Truffaut evolves into an artistic director and Godard evolves into a political director. Truffaut talks about at one point the painter Matisse and how although he lived through three wars, one never sees that in his paintings. Instead you see women, flowers, and window sills. Art is done not just for art’s sake but art is done for distraction from the reality.

Godard approaches his films completely differently. He wants his films to be a reflection of how he wants the world to live both personally and politically. Of course his most famous film that is covered in this documentary is La Choinoise. Although I have not watched the full film, I know that it is about trying to live towards the Marxist ideal. Something that I find very noble to put into a film.

This documentary also covers the beginning of their relationship, as film critics. In this aspect for me, Truffaut and Godard are the ideal that I completely fail at getting to every time. These men would go to the Cinemathque all day and just watch film after film after film after film. Then they would parse out what they saw and put them into beautifully constructed criticism articles published in one of the biggest art magazines at the time. While they were doing this, they were no more older than I. And yet here I am writing  a shitty review on a documentary that took me two times to see because I fell asleep/ had the internet go out on me the first time. I love watching films, but usually I can’t watch several films in a row because I come up with excuses to do other things. They loved film to the degree they were obsessed with it, but they were also critical of it. This love informed their mastery behind the camera in creating unique films. I want to be Godard. I want to be Truffaut. I want to love and be obsessed with cinema they way they were. I write about cinema in a way that adds things to the conversation and not just hey this film was good.

I love film. I love talking about film. I love watching film and I love making film. But I will never be as cool as Godard and as truthful as Truffaut. That is what this documentary taught me. Their genius is theirs and theirs alone. These directors are unique and shouldn’t just be one more stop in a long line of film evolution. They should be a class all their own.

P.S. if you want to watch another documentary film that is connected with this time period and want to be jealous of the ambition of someone definitely seek out Henri Langlois: Phantom of the Cinema. That film and Two in the Wave can be found on Netflix Watch Instant.