Monday, October 20, 2008

Response VI- Cleo from 5 to 7

The most interesting aspect of "Cleo From 5 to 7" is most certainly the fact that it was directed the only female French New Wave director: Agnes Varda. The day we watched this film, I arrived a few minutes late and was unaware that this film was directed by a female. As the film progressed, it became evident to me that " Cleo From 5 to 7" was made by a woman. After watching this film, it becomes very clear that the gender dynamics are very different when compared to those in other French New Wave films. The other French New wave films that I have seen so far are not necessarily misogynistic, but they also are not particularly friendly in their portrayal of women. Two things really captured my attention in this film: the fact that the main character is a woman, and woman are shown doing things they did not normally do during that time period.

This film is centered around Cleo, a French singer who is diagnosed with cancer. In every French New Wave film that I have watched up until this point, men have been the main characters. Don't get me wrong, women have been main characters as well, but it is very rare that one would see just one woman as the main character.

In New Wave French films, one would not normally see women driving. Many scenes in this film take place in a car, and if I can recall correctly, only one man was ever shown driving. Women were usually the ones doing the driving in " Cleo From 5 to 7." One of Cleo's friends makes reference to women driving in this film. After Cleo's friend finishes posing nude for sculptors, she and Cleo go to her car and she beings talking about getting her driver's licence. Although the gender dynamics in this film are clearly different, I don't think I would necessarily say that this film empowers women. The only reason why I say this is because the female main character is portrayed as a stereotypical women: selfish, oblivious, naive, and helpless. Anyone who knows women would agree that women are generally not like Cleo. Therefore, one could also argue that this film also portrays women negatively.

This film greatly emphasizes the French crises in Algeria that took place during the 1950's. In the film, radios and televisions give news about it and people constantly talk about. There is one scene that takes place in a local bar and Cleo selects one of her owns songs from the jukebox. She does this to see what the people think of her. She is disappointed when she notices nobody paying attention to her song; however, she fails to notice herself that people are concerned with more important matters such as the crises in Algeria. Cleo proves to be oblivious to what is going on beyond her own life and exhibits a great deal of selfishness by caring about only herself and her own image. With that in mind, one can say that Varda may be portraying women stereotypically as oppose to the way they really are.

The fact that women are contradictively portrayed negatively and positively in this film may be Varda's way of commenting on the image of women at this time. The 20th century was a century of growth for women's rights. Of course, back in the 1950's women did not have the same rights that they do today; however, although they were not yet totally equal to men, by the 50's women were well on their way to equality. The fifties were are sort of in between point for the women's movement; therefore, it is appropriate that Varda did not portray too negatively, nor too positive. One can say that she stayed "in between" with her portrayal of women.

I really enjoyed this film. In addition to being entertaining, I feel that this film provides a great deal of material for discussion.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Response V- A Girl Cut in Two

Aside from "A Girl Cut in Two," the only other Chabrol film I have seen is "Les Cousins."I have not seen a great deal of Chabrol films, but I would have to say that he is probably my favorite French director. Even though there is a gap of about fifty or more years between the two films, I can still see some similarities between "Les Cousins" and "A Girl Cut in Two." The thing that stands out at me most with these two films is Chabrol's lack of compassion for his characters. I wouldn't say Chabrol hates his characters, but I wouldn't say he particularly likes them either. He does not allow his viewers to empathize with his characters at all.

There were three central characters in this film: Paul, the author, and Gabrielle. I must say that I was not empathetic towards any of these characters. Paul is spoiled and rich. He lives off of his dead father's money and is not entirely sane. The author is an old man who cheats on his wife and forces his lover Gabrielle to engage in some perverted, obscene sexual practices. Finally, there is Gabrielle who is a naive young girl. The only problem I have with her is that I think she is stupid since she allows people like the author to take advantage of her. After acquiring a general idea of what these characters are like, one can effortlessly see that these are not characters one would empathize with. I would have to admit this aspect of the film is what made it so enjoyable for me. Usually there is at least one character that viewers identify themselves with and they become deeply engaged in that characters story. With Chabrol's style I was able to avoid identifying myself with any characters thereby maintaining a separation from reality and the world within the film.

Another interesting aspect of this film was the absence of several important scenes. For example, Chabrol excludes the scene where Gabrielle is forced to have sex with several men, the scene where Gabrielle breaks down after the author changes his locks, and the scene where Paul is tried. Chabrol intentionally excluded these scenes so we could analyse the situation in the film in a different manner. By leaving out those key scenes, the audience is forced to step back and really realize how sick and twisted the situation is and how deranged the characters really are.

This film creates suspense both during the viewing of the film and afterwards as well. I went to go see this film with my girlfriend and we did not entirely understand the scene where Gabrielle and the author go to that club. After the author and Gabrielle begin climbing the stairs of the club the scene ends. Until we discovered that Gabrielle was forced to have sex with several men while the author watched, we continually asked "what the hell happened at that club?" It drove us crazy. Even now there are still some unanswered questions I have about the film. I would really like to know if the story that Paul's mother told to Gabrielle about Paul's brother dying in the bath tub was true. If it was true, did Paul kill him or was it an accident that scarred Paul for life? If the story is true, it would explain why Paul is the way he is. On the other hand the story could be fiction as well. After the trial, Paul's mother basically tells Gabrielle to go get stuffed. It seems that she told her the story so she would testify in court. With this film, Chabrol proved that he is a master of suspense.

The ending of the film intrigued me as well. We see Gabrielle being sawed in half by her uncle during a magic act. This is no doubt alluding to the title of the film "A Girl Cut in Two." I believe that conclusion is satisfying as well because the last shot is of Gabrielle smiling in a spotlight. This shows the viewers that a dark chapter of her life has ended and she is eager to go on living. Along with "Les Cousins," "A Girl Cut in Two" is probably one of my favorite French films.

Sunday, October 5, 2008

Response IV- Pickpocket

Normally, films have a protagonist, and an antagonist and the viewers hope for the antagonist's downfall and for the protagonist's success in the accomplishment of his goals by the end of the film. This was not the case in Robert Bresson's film "Pickpocket." This film did a very good job of making me excited to see Michel, the pickpocket, be successful in his attempts to steathily steal from people. One does not simply choose to route for Michel, it just happens. Bresson forces us to identify with Michel by not including the reactions of the people who were victims of his pickpocketing. By not including reactions, I was not able to be sympathetic towards the victims; therefore it seems that there is nothing morally wrong with Michel's actions, and I inevitably came to like Michel and everything he did. Even now I wonder why I liked Michel so much. He did not really express any emotion and he usually had blank expressions on his face.

One could argue that the acting in this film was poor due to the fact that Michel and many other characters did exhibit a great deal of emotion in the expressions on their face and their dialogue. However, I believe that Bresson purposly excluded emotion since he casted non-professional actors to be in his film.

Of all the characters, it was Michel who demonstrated the least least emotion in his acting. When I really think about it, it made sense for the actor portraying Michel to be so passive and unanimated in his acting. Michel thinks himself to be a superior being. He steals from whoever he wants without caring about the consequences. Therefore, I would say that the acting in this film was appropriate. Emotion is a human trait; therefore, if I wanted to portray a character who believed himself to be a superior being, I would be sure he lacks emotion and to make him as indifferent and unanimated as possible.

This film reminds me of Raskolnikov from Dostoevsky's "Crime and Punishment." The reader of the novel is never really sure why Raskolnikov is motivated to kill; therefore, one can assume that he thinks he is a superior being. Like Raskolnikov, Michel's motivations to steal are not very clear. One can take a guess based on events in the film however. I believe that Michel just became addicted to stealing after he stole from his mother to play the horses and stole to pay her back. Although this sounds logical, there is not enough evidence to say that Michel simply became addicted to pickpocketing.

Although all the aspects of Michel's character are not clear, I enjoyed this film for the most part. I never though I could see myself empathizing with a character who is doing something immoral, but this film proved me wrong.