Wednesday, December 17, 2008

A Woman is A Woman

This color film from 1961 showcases Anna Karina (Godard's then wife) as a striptease girl. She is living with her boyfriend, and suddenly wants to get pregnant very badly. Her boyfriend wants to wait, so in her frustration she calls for her boyfriend's friend to come up because she wants to ask him to get her pregnant. She is shown to be playful and dreamy in this film, but also somewhat irrational and childish. Music is very important to this film and Godard plays with sound in different ways throughout it. For example, in the opening sequence it shows Angela walking down the street while music plays, but at certain points the music cuts out and then resumes again in a jarring way. There are also many instances in the film where the actors address the camera and make the audience aware that they are watching a film. At one point Angela and Emile even face the camera and bow to the audience. It is with these devices that Godard was challenging the tradition of cinema up to that point and experimenting further.
With its vibrant color and music, this film is often said to be Godard's take on/tribute to musicals of the past that he loved. The melodramatic storyline adds to the feeling of it being a musical as well.
The film addresses issues of love and male/female relationships and perceptions. Both sexes seem to hate one another at times while they are arguing, and then turn on a dime to tenderness. It is this kind of push and pull that adds some realism to the film and explores questions of what it means to be in love and what it takes to stay in love. Some of the most humorous scenes were when the couple is going to bed and they keep grabbing books and making insults out of the titles at each other. This clever kind of situation is effective because it seems like it could happen in real life, but also fits in with the quirky feeling of a musical.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

My Night at Maud's

The sole film that we viewed by Eric Rohmer was one of my favorite. My Night at Maud's feels calculated and well thought out. It is rich with dialogue and philosophical questions. The plot focuses on Jean-Louis who happens to run into an old friend (Vidal) at a restaurant. Vidal is involved with a woman (Maud) who he wants Jean-Louis to meet. The largest, and most important section of the film takes place in Maud's apartment where the three of them speak to one another at length. It seems that Vidal and Maud have grown somewhat tired of one another, but don't quite want to leave one another behind. Vidal seems to have various motivations for introducing Jean-Louis to Maud; maybe he wants to see how much she really cares for him by giving her the temptation of sleeping with Jean-Louis, or maybe he is testing Jean-Louis and their newfound friendship. In any case, Rohmer purposefully leaves it ambiguous for the audience to decide.
Playing into the complex interactions in the film is the issue of religion. Jean-Louis is a practicing Catholic, while Maud is not at all religious and is divorced. The two of them discuss this at length and it is one of the main reasons why Jean-Louis is reluctant to sleep with her. He feels that he should stay true to the blonde woman in church that he saw, whom he wants to marry. This plays into the discussions of predestination in the film. It is also ironic in the end when they all meet on the beach and Jean-Louis puts together the whole situation in his mind. The film has a more reserved and precise approach than do the works, for example, of Godard. But at the same time , Rohmer's film also has a more classical feeling to it and is not as wildly experimental as Godard's works.

The 400 Blows

This was one of the first significant films of the French New Wave. Francois Truffaut started out as a critic for the Cahiers du Cinema and was then challenged to make a film on his own after he had harshly criticized what some people at the time considered to be classic films. He had some funding to make the film from money he had inherited and used all non-actors for the film. This was the first film that starred Antoine Doinel as a boy, who later went on to be in many other French films. The film is a character study of the child Jean-Pierre Leaud as he lives his day to day life. At school he often finds himself in trouble and at home his Mother does not really love him and his Father does not provide the guidance he needs. He feels very isolated, and seems to realize at this early age that this is his lot in life. It reminds me a bit of the novel "Death on the Installment Plan" by Celine in that it follows a young French man who feels completely hopeless and trapped.
Because of the negative situation at home and at school, he begins skipping class and committing petty crimes with his friend. He is eventually discovered stealing and is punished. After being sent off to a juvenile detention center, he escapes and the last notorious sequence in the film is the camera following him running on the beach (which he said throughout the film he always wanted to see). The films ends with a freeze frame of Jean-Pierre looking back, directly into the camera. This suggests that he will never escape his fate of misery, even though he has temporarily skirted it.
The film is said to be autobiographical for Truffaut and represents at least vaguely how he grew up. The film is dedicated to Andre Bazin, who was somewhat of a Father figure to Truffaut. Bazin was a film theorist himself, and a great influence on the French New Wave. This was one of the first films to focus on a child as the main character, and this was fascinating to audiences. The film was very successful, and it established Truffaut as a major voice in the French New Wave. It also enabled Truffaut to help fund more of his own films, as well of the works of others- such as Godard.


Breathless was Jean-Luc Godard's first feature film. Released in 1960, Francois Truffaut helped Godard set up and fund this film with money he had made from The 400 Blows. The influence of Breathless was far reaching and is still felt to this day. It was one of the first films to feature editing that did not follow the strict rules of continuity. It also featured Jean-Paul Belmondo as the lead (this was the role that first made him famous) who would "break the fourth wall" by addressing the camera directly. These new experimental ideas that Godard presented in this film opened up the palette for filmmakers around the world and challenged them to experiment as well. With this film, Godard seemed to be saying that one can do anything with film, show anything- there are no rules.
Breathless was highly influenced by American gangster/noir films. Godard did not merely idolize America with this film though. He was very critical of American politics, but loved American film. It really seemed (and still currently seems) that Godard had a love/hate relationship with American culture. This is evident in the script which has an American girl betraying a French man, but at the same time glorifies American cars and American film.
Breathless pushed the boundaries in cinematography as well. There is one extended scene (roughly 18 minutes long) which is a conversation between the two lead characters in bed and around an apartment that takes place after they had slept with one another. This was still somewhat of a cultural taboo at the time, and attracted attention in the press. The film also used handheld cameras for many of the shots, which was something new that audiences had rarely if ever seen before- especially to the extent that Godard used them.


Happiness is a film that plays with convention. For about the first half of the film, it seems that the family depicted is as happy as can be and everyone plays their traditional age and gender roles. This is accompanied by the gorgeous visuals that Varda shoots for the film, exemplifying the "happiness" and perfect aura surrounding the characters.
By chance the father of the family meets a telephone operator who is much different from his wife, and they have an affair. Instead of the man feeling like he has to choose, he instead finds himself feeling like he is even happier because of it and loves his family even more. He does not know how exactly to tell this to his wife. When he does tell her, she first says she will try to work with it, although it will take some adjustment. But then she goes missing in the park they were staying at and is found dead. The shot that shows her death leaves it ambiguous as to if she committed suicide, or if she died by mistake. This is Varda saying that it does not matter what her motivations were for dying, the fact is she died. This means that the man can not have all that he planned to. This seems to be a comment by Varda saying that nobody can have everything that they want. It also brings up questions of what exactly defines happiness? The father of the family goes on to be with the telephone operator, and his children take a liking to her. In a way, the telephone operator has take the role of the first wife. The family seems to again be happy- but under different circumstances. Are they as happy as they were? Can one move on from death and still be as happy as before? Was the father wrong in his actions? Was it fate that the mother died? Or a conscious decision? It is questions like these that Varda leaves the audience with in her controversial 1965 film.

Hiroshima Mon Amour

This was Alain Resnais' first fiction film which was released in 1959. Resnais was a bit older than some of the other directors in the French New Wave, and his style of shooting is more conventional. He often composes shots in an elegantly classic style, but his experimental nature reveals itself more in the plot structures he uses. He often collaborated with modern fiction writers on his screenplays, giving his films the feeling of a novel transposed to the screen.
The film is based on a man and a woman who have an affair with one another. There is a striking opening shot of their two bodies intertwined with one another. It looks like glitter has been sprinkled on them, and it makes them glisten in the camera as they slightly move together. This is an image that has stuck with me since I saw the film and it comes in my mind from time to time. One of the most beautiful shots I have ever seen in a film.
This film is concerned with addressing the topics of memory, representation, love, and war. The film explores questions of how one can make it a goal to remember an event like Hiroshima, when it was such an horrific event that one only wants to forget it? Both of them struggle and go back and forth over the questions they pose to one another. The man often says they she does not understand and can never understand. His entire family was killed in Hiroshima while he was at war, so he feels she can never truly understand his personal pain. At the same time, when she was twenty she had an affair with a German soldier and was made an outcast in her town because of it. She also went mad with mourning for a period and was kept in her parents basement until she was made to leave one night. She feels that the pain she holds from these events can never be understood by him. It is this equal sadness that each other hold inside themselves that is let out at each other when they have their affair. In exploring these questions at length, Resnais and his collaborator(s) seem to be saying that there is no resolution to the pain that war brings. One can only try to remember it as to not repeat the same mistakes again.


Directed in 1959 by Robert Bresson, Pickpocket is a film that is at times a character study of the main character Michel, and also a meditation on the question of the ethics of theft. The acting in the film is purposefully stark, with the actors showing little emotion. This is characteristic of a Bresson film. In doing this, it forces the audience to think about the overall questions the film poses and to more closely consider things like setting, lighting, music, etc. It also makes the moments that actors do use strong emotion stand out in a more dramatic way.
There is an interesting relationship between Michel and the police officer in the film. The police officer suspects, or arguably knows, that Michel is a pickpocket but has no way of proving it. In a cafe, Michel and his friend Jaques have a philosophical discussion with the police officer concerning the ethics of theft. Michel poses his theory that stealing can sometimes be justified if it is done by someone who is of great intellectual value to society, and therefore someone who can be trusted to steal if they feel they are justified. The officer disagrees because there would be no way of deciding who these individuals are. This sets up an unusual antagonist/protagonist relationship between a criminal and a police officer.

Last Year at Marienbad

Some of the main themes of this film are perception, memory, and a concept of "truth." I found it to be somewhat similar to Hiroshima Mon Amour in that there did not seem to be a strong, clear-cut plot with a traditional rising/falling action and climax. It instead seemed more concerned with revealing itself slowly and carefully in a way that supported the dense, mysterious feeling of the film.
The acting in the film was purposely flat, with the main characters showing little emotion. This aspect of the film also reminded me of Hiroshima Mon Amour. This lack of emotion suggests that Resnais wants the viewer to focus on other aspects of the film instead of getting attached to the characters personal identities. For example, Resnais wants us to focus on the hotel and its eerie feeling and its potential meaning, or the idea that the hotel/setting may also be a character in itself that is more important than the individual people. This idea is supported by the fact that Resnais spends much time filming the elaborate corridors and rooms of the hotel, as well as the exterior, not always with any people in the shots.
I found this film to be very beautifully shot. Resnais use of symmetry was very aesthetically pleasing and precise. He also played with the exposure of some of his shots for an interesting effect. For example, going from one extremely over-exposed shot of the main woman in the film to a shot of the garden outside of the hotel at dusk. It is this kind of contrast that makes the film so memorable and striking. Resnais use of repetition in the film emphasizes the idea that there could have been multiple outcomes to the story being told.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Bonnie and Clyde

Upon its release in 1967, Bonnie and Clyde was given mediocre or negative reviews by much of the mainstream press. It looked like it was going to be a failure until Warren Beatty urged critics to give it another look. Beatty starred in the film and also helped secure much of the funding for it when things were looking grim. Upon second consideration, many of the critics changed their opinions of the film, and it became a financial and critical success. This was significant because it was one of the first American films to be influenced by the French New Wave.
The film broke new ground in a variety of ways. The graphic violence (especially in the end) depicted in the film was some of the most gruesome ever shown up to that point in any major film. This led to controversy about the effect of violence in cinema. The film also addressed issues of impotency- which was unheard of at the time in the film world. It was especially effecting because it showed the main male character Clyde (Warren Beatty) as the one with problems "performing." It also showed scenes with Bonnie and Clyde in bed together, which some of the public found inappropriate. Of course, many also loved the film and today it is generally considered a classic.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008


Godard is making equal nods to sci-fi and film noir/detective genre film in this 1965 film. It is interesting to see Eddie Constantine cast as his notorious character Lemmy Caution in this film. In some ways he is parodying his character, but staying true to the personality of Lemmy Caution. It is clear that Godard feels a sentimental attachment to the film noir/detective genres, but he also wants to comment on how the plots in such films can be totally over the top and/or predictable. For example, when Lemmy first enters his hotel room and is immediately chased by a man trying to kill him who crashes through (I believe) three glass doors in pursuit of him- and this is all with a naked woman in the bathtub! It is these kind of over-the-top scenes that make it clear that Godard is poking fun at the genre he loves.
In taking on the sci-fi genre, Godard is not so concerned with sophisticated special effects (like other directors in the genre) but rather keeps true to his style of throwing in bits of literature, poetry, and whatever else he was interested in at the time. In that, his "signature" is still very apparent in the film. I would not say that this film is merely a loving tribute to the genre. Godard seems to be saying that the genre (film noir/detective) had reached a certain peak at that time, and it needed a change. A change that should give the genre some deeper meaning or posed more controversial questions than it had in the past. In essence, it seems that while the film was a tribute to his love of the genre, the film was also a warning that if filmmakers continue to churn out films with stereotypical plots in the film noir/detective genre, the genre will lose its relevancy and ability to keep people's attention, and it will instead start to become a parody of itself.