Monday, December 15, 2008
Bonnie and Clyde also features Godard’s favorite sound manipulation, starting and stopping the music at random points. However, it has a little more direction in this film. After Bonnie and Clyde’s first successful heist, the victims are interviewed. When the cop answers the questions, the music gets louder suggesting that the cop’s words mean nothing because Bonnie and Clyde are the heroes in this story. When the farmer answers the question, the music stops drawing importance on the fact that Bonnie and Clyde are more inclined to steal from the bank rather a poor person which again makes them look like heroes.
Like Les Carabiniers, Bonnie and Clyde shows what happens when someone with very little intelligence and guns mix. C.W. Moss reminds me of the two idiots mindlessly following orders in order to gain a fruitless reward, the life of an outlaw. Although with the guidance (or perhaps I should say orders) from his father, he was able to save himself from indulging in a life of self-indulgent violence. Blanche reminds me of the two girls who expected to benefit from the spoils of her husband’s life of crime without participating in it. But she comes with the added bonus of being a preacher’s daughter who incessantly whines about how her life turned out so badly.
So I can see the French New Wave influence on the film but I see more Godard than Truffaut.
Sunday, December 14, 2008
While A Woman is a Woman plays with the conventions of the musical, Loves of a Blonde contains one stunning scene that pays homage to the Busby Berkeley musicals. The scene starts out with an empty dance floor and slowly fills with people dancing the same steps. However, like the music in A Woman is a Woman, the scenes in Loves of a Blonde seems to start and stop randomly. One moment we see the bumbling middle-aged soldiers discussing whether or not to wait for the girls to come back and the next moment we see Milda and Andula discussing her suicide attempt. I realize that it seems that I do not understand the concept of cross-cutting/parallel editing. But to me visually the very abrupt transition did not seem to indicate that the purpose of the editing was to show the two events occurring in the same time. Rather, it seems to show the comic/tragedy dichotomy of life, particularly of young love. A moment can seem life forever as depicted by the long durations of shot but a moment can pass just as quickly and it is time to move onto the next scene.
Just as Truffaut include some exercises in cinematic techniques in Shoot the Piano Player, Godard also includes scenes shot in X-ray vision to show what lies beneath the surface suggesting that we should explore what lies beneath our words or our concept of film noir. I honestly do not know what I am supposed to make of the drawings other than Godard saying, “Look what else you can put into a film noir/science fiction context.” Perhaps art has its own language begging for deconstruction. Art has meaning to the person who gives it meaning. As I mentioned earlier, mathematical equations appear as electric signs as well as the words nord (north) and sud (south), words that give us a sense of direction. But what is the point of direction if you do not know what the direction means? In the end, Natacha is unaware that she is being directed toward freedom even as she utters “I love you”. Alphaville is directing us in Godard’s exploration of language.
Even though this film is the most linear of his films, Godard still finds ways to play with the notion of “a beginning, a middle, and an end . . .but not in that order” in quick montages in which the images are temporally displaced. These sequences have an energy to them as if to convey Godard’s joy at messing with time even in the context of a commercial film. Also, the middle section of the film has its own beginning, middle, and end. The scene plays out in a long tracking shot as the couple begins to talk about the apartment’s décor to a discussion about Paul’s job to Camille ending their relationship. The length of the scene not only builds the tension between the couple but also builds a simmering tension over having a beginning, middle, and an end. Paul may not want his relationship to end, but like all commercial films it must. And it must end resolutely with a death. Godard suggests that resolute endings are a death to the possibility of films as opposed to the open endings that leaves the audience to question what this film means to them.
I would like to think that Truffaut casting himself as the director of a melodramatic script does not mean that he has somehow made peace with commercially written/shot films. Unfortunately, as I am writing this in hindsight, I should have seen it as a sign of the commercial melodrama of The Story of Adele H. In fact, the plot of Meet Pamela resembles a soap opera with the woman who is involved with the son yet is attracted to the father. Although the scene with Delarue’s score playing while Ferrand shifts through books of directors known for taking artistic risks shows that he seems interested in taking Meet Pamela in an artistic direction, I do not think that the film ended up being an exercise of cinematic techniques like Truffaut’s other films. Yet, I do not see this film as a cop-out. Again, I think that Truffaut is mocking commercial directors for a lack of imagination but with an understanding that they both share a love of the cinema.
Aside from that, I found the little play Ferdinand and Marianne put on for the Americans funny. Not only does it mock Americans for their attitude towards Vietnam but I also think that Godard was making fun of yellowface that American films had employed in the past when depicting Asian characters with Caucasian actors. Despite having an all-Asian American cast in The Flower Drum Song, yellowface still existed in American cinema such as Mickey Rooney’s character in Breakfast at Tiffany’s released in the same year. However, if I was to award the worst case of yellowface, I would give it to Katherine Hepburn in Dragon Seed (1944). At least Marianne’s version was meant to be a joke. I do not know if French cinema has the same history with the depiction of Asian characters, but I still enjoyed the fact that Godard called attention to it.
But in the end this film is still about Godard and Karina.
Speaking of art, the café scene with her husband and another girl explores the art of conversation. He tells her, “People don’t talk in films.” Godard calls attention to the fact that the actors are reciting lines written by the screenwriter or fed by the director that the audience registers as a conversation. The typical shot/reverse shot sequence also helps to identity the scene as one. Once again, Godard shoots the scene like his interview scenes in Masculine/Feminine which forces us to make our own observations about the female rather than recognizing the scene as a conversation. And once again, the subject of the conversation is about sex as if to say that it is the only thing that men and women can “talk” about.
Since this is a film about language, I honestly think that the “her” in title is not Juliette. After all, Godard tells us in the beginning of the film what Juliette does is not important. I know that movie and the movie theater are masculine in French (le film and le cinéma). However, film used in cameras is feminine (la pellicule). But if he had included scenes using tinting or scratching like he did in Contempt, I could have argued that the two or three things he knew about la pellicule is how to change the look of the film to convey a different meaning. France is feminine in French (La France) and what Godard knows is that she is on her way to being sucked into the vortex of consumerism as show by the building under construction and the last image of the consumer products on the lawn. Language is feminine in French (la langue) and therefore what he knows is that words and images cannot always depict each other. We cannot always find the words to accurately describe our experiences with the world whether we are focusing on our economic situation or a war fought miles away from us. But we still have to try and in trying we might find a new way to communicate.
Tuesday, December 9, 2008
So why the wordless initial reaction? I doubt it was the lack of narrative coherency because Godard has not had any since Breathless and even that is debatable. Also, I think it fits with the idea that the youth are more disconnected to society and to each other than the previous generation. For example, Madeline sings a love song that has charted in Japan, which makes her produce more singles about love. Yet, she rejects love by not fully giving her attention to Paul. Love is a commodity not a feeling.
Upon my second viewing of the film, I felt a little less shell-shocked but I still find it disconcerting. Perhaps I am just disappointed that the image of women as self-absorbed entities has not changed. In fact, it has been magnified and celebrated.
Monday, December 8, 2008
However, the more I reflected on the film, the more I realized that perhaps Truffaut is making a statement about historical fiction. The term “historical fiction” is often used for books that use historical events as the prominent background to tell a story, typically a romantic one (i.e. The Other Boleyn Girl). Although the Civil War is mentioned very briefly in the beginning, it serves only as a reason for Albert and Adele to be torn apart. But what about personal history, or what we normally refer to as our autobiography? Throughout the film, we see Adele writing fiction in letters to her father and a history of her feelings in her journal. Yet, even though she may be recording the truth, she lies to herself about the reality of her situation. So, in some respects, this film is like Resnais’s Last Year at Marienbad in terms of its exploration of memory and truth, so Truffaut has not completely lost touch with French New Wave’s goal of using film as an exploration of human nature not just as a means of entertainment. I might be reaching here, but like I said in the beginning, I am like Adele desperately clinging to Truffaut as the founder of the French New Wave not the director of this commercial fare.
Tuesday, December 2, 2008
In Le Bonheur, Varda forces the viewer to reexamine the Madonna/whore complex given to all women. Women either fit in one category or another. In films, this dynamic is clear by having the two women contrast each other, usually blond versus brunette, city versus country, poor versus rich, with the mistress typically labeled the whore. Varda demystifies this concept by casting two similar looking actresses to play the devoted wife and the mistress. Oftentimes, they dressed similarly in flower-printed dresses symbolizing their life-giving presence they give to François. And up to the wife’s death, both women appear to have the same easygoing temperament. With the wife’s death, Varda recalls the F.W Murnau film Sunrise with the wife drowning. Although the mistress did not want the wife to die as the woman from the city wanted the wife to die in that film, by recalling the images of Sunrise, Varda seems to show a progression from clearly distinct Madonna/whore shown in that film to the seamless transition of the mistress to wife suggesting a world where women on film cannot be clearly defined by those labels.
As I have stated before, I love musicals. One reason I love them is the fantasy of romance that I know does not exist in real life but cannot help wishing that it could. One way musicals conveys that fantasy is the lovers’ duet where they declare the eternal love for each other. However, I found the lovers’ duet in this film to be overly cloying with the overabundance of “Je t’aime” and “Je meurs”/”Je mourrai” (I forgot which tense she sang “I die” she used) and I thought I had a high tolerance for dramatic expressions of love through song since my favorite lovers’ duets range from “Do I Love You Because You’re Beautiful?” from Roger’s and Hammerstein’s Cinderella, “All I Ask of You” from Phantom of the Opera, and “Last Night of the World” from Miss Saigon. Even if I can excuse it as an expression of young love where those emotions are extremely heightened, I was annoyed by it due to the high pitch. I guess I just predicted that they will see each other again and that they will be happily reunited. War cannot stop the path of true love. Nor could Geneviève’s mother no matter if she is dressed in a black dress with a pink shawl while Roland dressed in black and Geneviève dressed in pink to pointedly hint that those two belong together in musical love harmony.
Of course I guessed wrong as they do not end up together. Yet they seem happy with the life they have without each other. Usually when the couple does not end up together, someone ends up miserable pining away as is the case in Phantom of the Opera and Miss Saigon. The Umbrellas of Cherbourg shows that love and life go on whatever tune you choose to sing.
However, Godard does allude to the fantasy dance sequence normally featured in a musical. Normally, one person sings about an unrequited love and then comes the instrumental break where the two lovers are dancing on an obvious set. This scene occurs when Angela and Émile are walking around each other in the apartment without speaking to each other. At that point, Émile still has not given her want she wants, a baby. However, Alfred seems to love her more than Émile which he shows by playing a song for her from a jukebox. Here again, Godard twists a musical convention, the male singing his devotion for the woman he loves. But instead of Alfred singing, he chooses Charles Aznavour do it for him through a jukebox. As we hear Aznavour singing “Tu T’lassies Aller,” we see a series of close-ups of Angela reacting to the song. However, this scene could also be Godard’s love letter to Anna Karina forever preserved in film.
As a fan of musicals, I appreciate Godard’s take on the superficial nature of musicals but I still love them for its superficiality.
Never has a film made me question my will to live just to end my misery of watching 80 minutes of two idiots acting like assholes. I apologize for the strong language but I cannot help it. I do not know if I am suffering from Godard fatigue but I am tired of the image obsession. That postcard sequence went way too long to emphasize the point of our consumption of images. I am also tired of watching women being humiliated on screen. I know that soldiers taking advantage of women in the areas they occupied often happened. But I was not in the mood to see one treat a woman like a horse. And frankly for a Godard film, it was visually unappealing because the scenes looked muddy. But then again, I believe that this was one of the few films we have seen that was not a Criterion Collection DVD.
I almost skipped blogging about this film but I feel compelled to write about it. I thought that maybe my fatigue did not have to do with Godard but with the election. When I first saw this film, we were a few days away from the election and I did not need a Godard film to tell me the importance of images as I watch pundits discuss the Tina Fey effect on Sarah Palin and images of William Ayers as they discuss Barack Obama.
Also, I did not need what I would like to call “a rose by any other name” sequence when Cleopatra holds up a postcard of Elizabeth Taylor as Cleopatra and declares that Elizabeth Taylor’s image needs a new name to remind me that women on screen are just interchangeable images. I have Paris Hilton’s My New BFF for that. Paris has a bunch of young women humiliating themselves on national television to fit into her image of a best friend. The name of the “winner” does not matter as long as she basically says yes to whatever Paris wants her to do in order to help Paris maintain her image as a talentless spoiled heiress.
(And now imagine me weeping in my disbelief of making Paris Hilton somewhat relevant in my academic life.)
So I attempted to watch this film again because I thought I had put enough visual distance between my initial viewing experience and my new one. However, I could not make through the first five minutes. I guess the image of my first experience is stuck to my memory.
However, a literal English translation of the title, To Live Her Life, reflects more of the content of the film. That title does not pass judgment on Nana like My Life to Live which initially makes me think that she will somehow be a bratty prostitute. Instead, the literal translation elicits my empathy for her. I am simply observing a young woman drifting into prostitution to make ends meet. We may not always have an audience with a philosopher but we do agonize about our words whether we are texting, blogging, speaking, or writing. And we also could die at any moment no matter if we have sex with strangers for money or philosophize on the purpose of language. I could be her and she could be me.
Monday, October 20, 2008
Sometimes we remember events in bright spurts like in the bar scene as A “remembers” a moment that has been whitewashed in her mind. Even though flashing scenes as a person suddenly remembers is a convention of modern filmmaking, the high contrast between the black “real” world and the white “memory” world feels innovative. But sometimes we remember by repetition. As Resnais illustrates in the scene in which X tells A when they were in the bedroom yet showing them outside, if we repeatedly remember the wrong thing, then we have created a false memory that does not reflect what truly happened. Sometimes we recall moments in our lives as a performance as the opening scene demonstrates. People play their roles in our lives though sometimes we do not accurately remember what their roles were in reality. M starts off as a random hotel guest but as the film progresses he becomes A’s husband.
So what really happened to X and A? Are they even real people or a figment of someone's imagination? Even trying to watch the film a second time, I did not win. Resnais always wins by showing us how we play with our own minds to remember what we want to remember.
Monday, October 6, 2008
The women in both films are convinced by the men to be more sexually liberal. In Les Cousins, Florence decides that she wants to be with Charles living the idyllic domestic life. However, Paul and Clovis talk her out of it claiming that Charles could never sexually satisfy her the way Paul could. In A Girl Cut in Two, Charles convinces Gabrielle to sleep with his friends while he watches. Oddly, we do not see these scenes in A Girl Cut in Two yet we get them in Les Cousins. In Les Cousins, we see the overhead shot of Florence sitting in a chair as Paul and Clovis circle around her as they tell her that she could never be Charles’s ideal domesticated woman. We see Clovis pushing Paul onto Florence saying “You like his touch” and watching them kiss. In A Girl Cut in Two, we only see them go into the club and up the stairs. Charles introduces Gabrielle to his friends but does not explicitly state why they are there. We only learn about their deal through the dialogue between Gabrielle and Paul.
So why cut those scenes in this film and not in Les Cousins? I can imagine Gabrielle’s first experience at the club to be shot similarly to that scene in Les Cousins with Charles standing in for Clovis and his friend standing in for Paul. Perhaps a scene like that would have made identifying Gabrielle as an innocent victim too easy. In Les Cousins, Florence seems to have the same sexually ambivalent attitude as Paul and Clovis thus allowing Chabrol to maintain the distance between the characters and the viewer. If that scene played out in A Girl Cut in Two, we would see her complicity as a result of Charles’s pressure. With Florence, we would think that she would have slept with Paul anyway. By leaving those scenes out of A Girl Cut in Two, we could entertain the idea that Gabrielle might be more sexually liberal than she appeared.
Is A Girl Cut in Two supposed to be the modern Les Cousins? If it is, then Chabrol might be saying with this film, “the more things change, the more they stay the same.”
Friday, October 3, 2008
As I mentioned before, I saw this film because I love In the Mood for Love but Hiroshima, Mon Amour seems more like Wong Kar Wai’s 2046 in its treatment of place and the past. In 2046, Chow Mo-wan is pre-occupied by the memory of his past affair with Su Li-zhen. 2046 is Chow’s Nevers because it is the hotel room number where they would meet to write a martial arts novel. Unlike the French woman, Chow revisits the past often through his novels in which his main character goes to a place called 2046 to recover the past. As Hiroshima is a place of a significant historical event, 2046 is also the last year that Hong Kong will be free of China’s interference in their economy and politics. In Hiroshima, Mon Amour, Hiroshima serves as a background to highlight consequences of remembering and forgetting trauma. In 2046, the year serves as a subtext for inability to move on as Chow cannot move on from his past affair despite having multiple lovers. Also, Chow has a similar scene in which he recounts his affair to someone. In his case, the woman has the same name, so he tries to recreate the feelings he had for Su with this woman. In comparing the two films, I can see how influential Hiroshima, Mon Amour is in its portrayal of remembering.
Friday, September 26, 2008
As a “comedy of manners” shows the consequences of adhering or defying conventions, Bob le Flambeur defies the most important convention of a heist film, the successful execution of the heist. Despite adhering to the planning and rehearsing conventions of a heist film, Melville seems to do so sarcastically. For example, he has the tension-filled safecracking rehearsal that depends on the oscilloscope to find the right combination. Yet, he includes shots of the panting dog which one would assume that somehow the panting will throw off the oscilloscope. Instead, the dog happily pants taking away the seriousness of the rehearsal.
Since Bob took the money from the casino in the acceptable manner by winning, Melville must have thought Bob would have been rude if he executed the heist. Why do something dishonestly when you are succeeding in doing it honestly? But then Melville would have been rude to us if he did not give Bob some consolation from the cop because he made us sympathetic towards Bob.
Tuesday, September 16, 2008
Just as Romeo describes Juliet’s beauty, Michel also describes Patricia’s beauty. However, he does not do this when Patricia asks him to say something nice to her as she leans against the window with sunlight behind her, a perfect film setting for a romantic moment. Instead, he does it in a car before he drops her off to see a journalist. Yet, the editing betrays the romanticism of the description of her lovely body parts by only presenting Patricia in a series of jump cuts while we hear his sentiments off-screen. The jump cuts and the shots of Patricia in profile or from behind make Michel’s comments sound tedious and insincere to Patricia. In the following scene, the journalist seems to double for Michel as he is presented in a series of jump cuts as he tells Patricia a story about a girl he thought he wanted to have sex with.
Michel also fails to make Patricia breathless when she stands in a Juliet-like pose on the second floor of a hideout. She probably expects him to tell her again that he cannot live without her or that he will say something nice to her. But he does not and chooses to make a phone call which prompts her to inform the police of his whereabouts thus failing to play Michel’s version of Juliet. Earlier in the film, Michel tells her a story about a man who stole five million francs to impress a girl. When the man told the girl that the money was stolen, she stood by him eventually joining him as his lookout, “a good girl” according to Michel. By telling this story to Patricia, he hopes that Patricia would do the same. Unlike Juliet, Patricia does not make any sacrifice and steely concludes that she does not love Michel. Michel, in turn, performs a Romeo-like sacrifice and decides to go to prison but dies instead. Yet, as mentioned in class, Michel’s death stems most likely from fulfilling the gangster genre convention instead out of love for Patricia. As for Patricia, she does not die like Juliet but does become a victim of misunderstanding. When she asks the police officers to interpret Michel’s dying words, they tell her that he said that she was a scumbag instead of telling her the truth. The last frame suggests that she has found her breathless moment not caused from any feeling of love but from shock of being unloved.