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I admit to choosing who gets to be a “great director” with some level of arbitrariness. Generally, it’ll be directors whose oevre I’m trying to work through, thus reviews/reactions in this category will end up being something of a series as I watch more and more films by a given director. This time I’m lumping multiple directors together as I catch up. Also, the fact that these are all foreign directors is completely unintentional.
Made in USA
In which Jean-Luc Godard tries to meld Pierrot le fou‘s visual and narrative style with an overtly political story. Anna Karina is looking for her boyfriend, Richard P—, who has disappeared under suspicious circumstances, perhaps the victim of a political intrigue. Along the way, she’s thrust into a world like “a Disney film starring Humphrey Bogart. A film with a political message.” She meets various other people who may or may not be helping her on her quest, who tend to break down into interesting but unrelated language games at random times. The overall effect is extremely pretty to look at, but essentially incomprehensible, which is not necessarily a bad thing, but Godard certainly pushes the limit of how little plot information he can give and still keep us watching.
France 1966; dir: Jean-Luc Godard; starring: Anna Karina, Jean-Pierre Léaud
IMDb | The Frame | (not available on R1 DVD)
A stylistic return to earlier films like Band of Outsiders, but thematically tending toward Godard’s eventual political turn in 1968. Paul (Léaud) is a student and frequent protestor against the Vietnam War; meanwhile, he cautiously (almost indifferently, though his indifference is probably a pose) romances Chantal Goya. I enjoyed the film, as I always enjoy Godard films, but I need a rewatch to talk about it competently. Again, like all Godard films. I know a few people who like Masculin Feminin best of Godard’s films, and Chantal Goya best of his heroines, but she’s still not Anna Karina. :) And the ending threw me off. Still, so did Pierrot le fou‘s the first time, and now it’s one of my favorite Godard films.
France 1966; dir: Jean-Luc Godard; starring: Jean-Pierre Léaud, Chantal Goya
IMDb | The Frame
Les bonnes femmes
Hey, look! I’m branching out from Godard and Truffaut into other New Wave directors! This is Claude Chabrol’s first feature, following four Parisian shop girls as they go about their daily lives. It’s not one of his best-known films, and it feels like a first film – like he’s still feeling out the best ways to do things – but I ended up finding it rather compelling. At first the four girls seem very similar, all working at the same store, watching the clock until they can leave, going out at night, etc. But their personalities begin to emerge – subtly, so much so that I didn’t catch all the nuances until the second time through (I rewatched almost immediately because of not paying enough attention but then being so intrigued by the end I wanted to see what I had missed). Then one of the girls starts a romance with a biker who’s been following her around, and the film takes a darker, more ambiguous turn, definitely a turn for the better. Certainly interested in seeing more Chabrol films after this introduction.
France 1960 (translated title: The Good Girls); dir: Claude Chabrol; starring: Clotilde Joano, Bernadette Lafont, Stéphane Audran, Lucile Saint-Simon
IMDb | The Frame
Kieslowski’s Polish films don’t have quite the same cinematic beauty as his later French ones, but Blind Chance has interest of its own in its branching, repeating structure – quite possibly an influence on Tom Tykwer’s Run Lola Run. A man suddenly opens his mouth and screams, and the camera dives down his gaping throat, thus starting the first of three possible storylines. In each, the man runs for and either catches or misses a train. One outcome has him joining the Communist party, another working with the resistance. All are somehow concerned with the political situation and a given individual’s involvement in it, making it akin to Milan Kundera’s novels. The chronology is a bit more jumbled even than that, with some intermittent sections that I couldn’t place in the timeline, at least without a rewatch. (Heh, it’s apparently a trend in the “Great Directors” category that all the films need to be watched more than once.)
Poland 1987; dir: Krzysztof Kieslowski; starring: stars
IMDb | The Frame
Well, that was a remarkably consistent set of ratings across those films. I’d be tempted to knock the Chabrol up to Well Above Average, actually – it’s stayed in my head more than the others. And I’m pretty sure a rewatch on Masculin Feminin would also knock it up a notch. We’ll see. BTW, Made in USA is not available on DVD in Region 1, hence its non-appearance in the Amazon widget.
This is a fan-made music video setting Jean-Luc Godard’s Pierrot le fou with The Pixies song “Wave of Mutilation.” Most fanvidders are busy with Harry Potter or Lost or some such, so it’s fun to find one working with Godard! And pretty well, too, though it definitely helps that the line “I drive my car into the ocean” happens to be extremely apropos. The video does spoil the ending of Pierrot le fou completely, just fyi. Also, this slowed-down version of the song? Way better than the regular version that kicks my ass in Rock Band.
David Bordwell has a whole chapter on Jean-Luc Godard in Narration in the Fiction Film; I almost returned the book to the library without reading it, but I’m so glad I didn’t. It’s great. And this quote is so right:
Those who dislike Godard’s films may well find the works’ resistance to large-scale coherence incredibly frustrating; those who admire the films have probably learned to savor a movie as a string of vivid, somewhat isolated effects.
I find myself more and more savoring films that are a string of vivid, somewhat isolated effects rather than devoted to large-scale coherence. Perhaps something to keep in mind when you decide whether to take or leave my recommendations. ;)
So my newest procrastination technique is watching videoblogs, like Mahalo Daily. Found this one, which is ostensibly about Veronica Belmont learning to speak French, but is really an imitation of New Wave techniques. The tracking shot at the end is obviously a recreation of the opening of Contempt (and the music is very Contempt-esque as well), and the gunshots over each title card is from Masculin Feminin, at least. New Wave fans, help me out? Are the other shots derived from specific New Wave films, too? Are they all Godard, or others? The shot focusing on the coffee cup actually reminded me more of Kieslowski’s Blue, but it could have other referents.