A movie log formerly known as Bookishness / By Charles Matthews

"Dazzled by so many and such marvelous inventions, the people of Macondo ... became indignant over the living images that the prosperous merchant Bruno Crespi projected in the theater with the lion-head ticket windows, for a character who had died and was buried in one film and for whose misfortune tears had been shed would reappear alive and transformed into an Arab in the next one. The audience, who had paid two cents apiece to share the difficulties of the actors, would not tolerate that outlandish fraud and they broke up the seats. The mayor, at the urging of Bruno Crespi, explained in a proclamation that the cinema was a machine of illusions that did not merit the emotional outbursts of the audience. With that discouraging explanation many ... decided not to return to the movies, considering that they already had too many troubles of their own to weep over the acted-out misfortunes of imaginary beings."
--Gabriel García Márquez, One Hundred Years of Solitude

Saturday, January 16, 2016

La Pointe Courte (Agnès Varda, 1955)

"They talk too much to be happy," says one of the villagers about the Parisian couple (Philippe Noiret and Silvia Monfort) who are spending time in the small fishing community on the Mediterranean. He has been in the town, where he was born, for several weeks, and she arrives to tell him that she wants a separation after four years of marriage. So they wander around, endlessly analyzing their relationship, as life goes on in the village: The townspeople argue with the authorities about where they can fish and about the bacterial count that has been detected in the water; a small child dies; a young man courts a girl over the objections of her father; a festival that involves jousting from boats takes place, and so on. The sophisticated self-analysis of the couple soon begins to look petty against the backdrop of the village's real problems. At one point in their dialogue, a scene is stolen from them by one of the village's many cats, whose playing around on a woodpile behind the couple becomes far more interesting than what they have to say. Aside from Noiret and Monfort, the actors are all actual residents of the village. Varda began as a still photographer, and her sense of composition is notable throughout this film, her first. She had spent time in Sète, the town where La Pointe Courte was filmed, as a teenager, and was photographing it for a friend when the idea of the movie came to her. It's often cited as one of the first films of the French New Wave, of which she became a prominent member, though seven years passed before she made her second and better-known film, Cléo From 5 to 7 (1962). Alain Resnais, who became one of the leading New Wave directors, edited La Pointe Courte, and the striking score is by Pierre Barbaud.

Night and Fog (Alain Resnais, 1955)

Cynics used to say that the surest way to win an Oscar for best documentary was to make a film about the Holocaust. But when Alain Resnais's Night and Fog was released, it not only received no Oscar nominations, but it was confronted by protests. The German government wanted it to be withdrawn from exhibition at the Cannes Film Festival, and the French censors objected to a scene in which a French police officer was shown guarding one of the deportation centers run by the Vichy government during the war. The French censors also objected to a sequence showing bodies being bulldozed into a mass grave. But it's a testimony to the power of Resnais's editing and the narrative written by Jean Cayrol, a survivor of the Mauthausen-Gusen camp, and spoken by Michel Bouquet, that although such images have grown distressingly familiar over the past 60 years, they still have their power to shock the conscience. It sounds tediously moralizing to reiterate, but every time a politician today tries to dehumanize whatever group is currently out of favor, these images should come to mind.