Monday, September 22, 2008

Response III- Breathless

I believe Jean-Luc Godard's "Breathless" to be the most interesting film we have watched so far. In addition to being very entertaining, this film uses innovative editing techniques and seeks to keep the story and the viewer separated by preventing the viewer from psychologically entering the reality of the film.

With this film, Godard really made a name for himself. In many ways, he broke the rules of traditional film making and invented a new style. With Godard's new style "anything goes" in film making.

This film contributed many new, innovative editing techniques to the art of film-making. An example of theses new editing techniques is Godard's use of jump-cuts. While the concept of jump-cuts was not unheard of, Godard's series of jump-cuts appearing one after the other was a relatively unique. Throughout the course of "Breathless" there are several sequences of jump cuts. These jump-cuts seem to appear in scenes when characters ramble. For example, there is one scene when Michel, the main character, is complimenting his love interest on how beautiful she is. He excessively compliments her and when the audience finally catches on to Michel's superfluous compliments, the series of jump-cuts begin to appear. The jump cuts effect was one that made the scene appear to drag on.

Sometimes, the continuity of scenes are disrupted and the events in shots are not linked well with the succeeding ones. I asked myself "wait a minute, how did we get there?" several times during this film. My favorite example of this appears at the end beginning of the movie. After Michel shoots the policeman, we immediately see him running in a field. In the previous scene, there were no scenes in sight. We never see Michel fleeing the scene. With this disruption of continuity, Godard forces us to fill in what happens. With the jump-cut technique and the technique just discussed, Godard succeeds in reminding us that we are watching a movie.

Many films today present events in a logical order and are edited in an orthodoxed fashion. The problem with these films, is they "spoon feed" the audience and allow them to become too engaged in the story. Many feel as if they are in the story. Godard's techniques allow us to stay separated from the story.

In a way, this whole film is about reminding the audience that they are watching a movie. Godard does this not only with his editing techniques but with many elements in the story as well. Michel is something of what I would call a "wannabe" gangster. he reminds me of children today who try to imitate their favorite action heroes. This can be seen as early as the beginning of the film. While Michel is driving in the car, he finds a gun in the glove compartment, aims it at the rear view mirror and pretends to shoot it while saying "POW!" In addition to this, Michel also imitates famous people like Humphrey Bogart. He does this with constant rubbing of his lips.

My favorite scene in this film is when Michel is shot in the back and he runs down the street for a few minutes; as we all know this is impossible in real life. With this scene, the many allusions to the world of cinema, Michel's "wannabe" gangster attitude, and the unique editing techniques, Godard seeks to remind us that we are viewing a film. For this reason, I really enjoyed this film. It is not often that a director intentionally makes a film the way Godard did. It was definitely a nice change.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Response II- 400 Blows

I did not really know what to expect from a film with the title "400 Blows." Before watching a film, I could usually accurately guess what it will generally deal with; however, this wasn't the case with this film. I believed that the reason for entitling the film "400 Blows" would become evident during my viewing of the film, but I was wrong. After seeing this movie, I still could not understand why it had such a title. Then I realized that "400 Blows" is not the original title of the film, it is "Les cents quatre coups." The French title is literally translated "400 Blows;" however, "Les cents quatre coups" comes from the French expression "faire les quatre cents coups" which means "to raise hell." After taking into account the meaning of the French title, the reason why Francios Truffaut chose such a title becomes clear- because "400 Blows" deals with an adolescent named Antione Doinel who is regarded as a "hell rasier" by his parents and his teachers. As the film progresses, one feels that Antione is the victim, not the people he annoys with his misdeeds. This sentiment comes about with the sense of confinement Truffaut creates in this film. Furthermore, the audience discovers that Antione is not as evil as he is perceived to be and that the bad behavior he displays is a result of a disfunctional family.

Throughout the whole film, Truffaut creates a sense of confinement. This is done mostly with the sets and especially with Jean-Pierre Leaud's acting. Leaud's portrayal of Antione was very passive and apathetic. There were not very many instances in this film where Antione shows a great deal of emotion. From what I remember, there were only two scenes where Antione demonstrates emotion: when he is in that ride that rotates rapidly, and when he is in reform school and he sees his close friend outside. For me, the lack of emotion created an atmosphere of unhappiness which elevated the sense of imprisonment. Although Antione is not literally confined for a majority of the movie, the conditions he lives in, along with the way that he is treated by his elders allowed me to feel as if he were living his life in prison.

The sets Truffaut uses also add to the sense of imprisonment in "400 Blows." Antione lives in a small apartment with his family. The apartment is in livable condition, but Antione sleeps in a very small room, almost closet-like, with a bed that hasn't any sheets. At one point, Antione's fathers asks the mother why she hasn't bought new sheets for Antione. She refuses to buy them because she claims Antione likes his sleeping bag better. Also, the classroom at the school Antione attends isn't very appealing; it reflects a prison setting. The work the teacher assigns to the students adds to this as well. In one scene, he makes the children memorize poetry and cite it back to him. They learn the poetry without knowing what it means and without giving their onw feedback on it. They are taught one way of thinking, and they are to accept it and not challenge it.

Antione was born out of wedlock and his mother reluctantly gave birth to him. One can see that Antione's mother clearly resents him through the way she mistreats him. In addition, Antione's mother has an affair which is not secret to Antione, and his parents constantly fight. To me, this qualifies as a disfunctional family. A child cannot develop properly unless he/she is raised in a nuturing environment; therefore, the fact that Antione is a troublemaker is not entirely his fault.

Antione has a dream of visiting the ocean. The fact that this dream is so simple and innocent shows the pure-hearted side of Antione that is rarely seen. At the end of the film, Antione's dream finally comes true when he escapes from reform school and runs to the ocean. Truffaut uniquely ends the film with a freeze frame. Before Truffaut, no one had ever ended a film in this manner; however, I feel that a freeze frame conclusion was appropriated for "400 Blows."

There were many times in my life when I wished that I could freeze time. With the freeze frame, Truffaut managed to perpetuate Antione's moment of perfect happiness. I have heard some say that the ending leaves the audience in a state of suspense. Contrary to most people, I was satisfied with the ending. Realistically, I believe Truffaut could not expand on this story anymore. Antione's ultimate dream has come true-- there is no better ending than that. This freeze frame ending in a way reminds me of a poem by John Keats entitled " Ode on a Grecian Urn." The poem can be found on In a way, I am jealous of Antione. That freeze frame not only immortalizes him, but leaves him living eternally in a state of happiness.

Monday, September 8, 2008

Response- Les Cousins

I must admit that I am not well versed in French film. Until last week, I would probably not have been able to name a French director or a famous French film. The 1959 New Wave French film entitled Les Cousins, was the first feature-length French film I had ever seen; I enjoyed the film immensly. Director Claude Chebrol did a fine job of providing his audiences with an engaging film that posseses uniquely developed characters and a surprising conclusion.

There are three central characters in this film: Charles the student from the French countryside, Florence (Charles' love interest), and Charles' cousin Paul. The most interesting and uniquely developed character among those listed is Paul. Paul lives in Paris and his cousin Charles is sent to live with him while attending school in the city. These two characters are polar opposites: Charles is a dedicated student who is motivated to succeed in school, and Paul is a party-animal who cares for nothing more than good times, women, and alcohol. Paul provides a great deal of entertainment for the viewers of this film; but it is not his entertaining nature which is driving me to discuss him as a character of particular interest. There is more to Paul than lust, alchol, and parties.

Throughout the course of the film, one may notice that Paul has a fetish for guns and is an admirer of German culture. With Paul, Chebrol is successful in making various allusions to Nazism. At one of the parties, Paul begins playing a muscial piece by Wagner on his record player. To many, it is known that Wagner himself was a racist and was the Nazis' favourite composer. At that same party, Paul recites a poem in German while wearing what seemed to be a military hat that resembled one a Nazi official would have worn. In another instance, Paul and Charles return home and find their Jewish friend sleeping on the floor. In order to awaken him and frighten him, Paul yells in his ear "Gestapo," which was the secret police of Nazi Germany that, among many things, arrested jews.

The reason why Chabrol would use such allusions to Nazi Germany in his film is unclear to me; but I do have a faint idea. Early on in my life, I learned that France and Germany were enemies during the Second World War and Germany at one point controlled France. I believe that the presence of Nazi symbolism in Les Cousins may be a device Chabrol uses to foreshadow the unhealthy realtionship between Charles and Paul that comes later on in the film. In the case of Paul and Charles' relationship Paul is Germany and Charles is France.

Chabrol emphasizes the French author Balzac at one point in the film. As I discovered in class, Balzac wrote his novels about French countrymen moving to the city in pursuit of wealth and success. Ironically, this film follows a similiar storyline. Furthermore, it is very interesting how Charles and many of Balzac's characters are unsuccessful in their pursuit of success.

Earlier on, I mentioned that Paul had a gun fetish. It was very clever of Chabrol to give Paul such a fetish. With this fetish, Chabrol prepares the audience for the accidental murder of Charles by Paul at the end of the movie. I must admit that I predicted one of the characters would commit a murder, but the way it happened surprised me. The bullet that was meant for Paul ended up in Charles. The whole movie is a series of unfortunate events for Charles. In the end, Charles' misfortune continues when he loses a game of Russian roulette.

Although I really enjoyed this film, I feel as if Chabrol is undermining hardwork. Throughout the whole film, it is the hardworker who is unfortunate and the lazy party-boy who succeeds. After seeing that film I felt like I should quit studying and leave my future in the hands of lust, parties, and booze; but of course, we all know that in reality, Paul's path does not yield the best results.

This film was a joy to watch. I was disappointed to discover that we would not be viewing many more of Chabrol's films. However, after seeing Les Cousins I am looking forward to viewing many more French New Wave films.