Director Series: François Truffaut and Jean-Luc Godard’s Une histoire d’eau (1958)

Boat

“It was obvious, once the film was finished, that it wasn’t his or mine and that it would be logical for both to sign and to make a present of it to the producer who never made a fortune out of it.” — François Truffaut

Continue reading “Director Series: François Truffaut and Jean-Luc Godard’s Une histoire d’eau (1958)”

The Unlikely Femme Fatale: Breathless (1960)

Patricia Michel

When Patricia Franchini (Jean Seberg) makes her first appearance in Jean-Luc Godard’s 1960 film Breathless, she hardly seems the femme fatale type. An American in Paris, hawking the New York Herald Tribune on the Champs-Élysées, she looks rather boyish in her t-shirt, pants and tightly cropped pixie cut. In fact, she doesn’t behave like a femme fatale either; far from seducing Michel Poiccard (Jean-Paul Belmondo), the film’s antihero, she turns down his advances multiple times, uncertain about her feelings for him. Nevertheless, his infatuation with her brings about his own destruction — almost as if she can’t avoid destroying him.

Continue reading “The Unlikely Femme Fatale: Breathless (1960)”

Godard in Space: Alphaville (1965)

Street

Leave it to Jean-Luc Godard to make a movie set in outer space that bears no resemblance whatsoever to the average space movie.

Godard’s 1965 film Alphaville, subtitled A Strange Adventure of Lemmy Caution, takes place in the eponymous metropolis, the capital of a galaxy, at some undefined point in what was then the future. To reach it, secret agent Lemmy Caution (Eddie Constantine), a resident of “the Outlands,” must travel through space — by driving a Ford Galaxie, naturally enough. Godard makes no effort to depict this improbable interstellar journey; it’s merely one of the film’s numerous absurdities, perfectly in keeping with its anachronistic protagonist.

Continue reading “Godard in Space: Alphaville (1965)”

A Comedy or a Tragedy: A Woman Is a Woman (1961)

Emile Angela Alfred

For a film that opens with the words “il était un fois” (“once upon a time”) in enormous letters, Jean-Luc Godard’s A Woman Is a Woman (1961) has a premise that may sound a tad sordid: Angela (Anna Karina), a stripper, wants to have a baby, but her boyfriend, Émile (Jean-Claude Brialy), isn’t interested in becoming a father anytime soon. Unwilling to give up the idea, she threatens to turn to his friend Alfred (Jean-Paul Belmondo), who’s in love with her but whom she’s always brushed off up until this point. “Is this a comedy or a tragedy?” Alfred asks.

Continue reading “A Comedy or a Tragedy: A Woman Is a Woman (1961)”

Reflections: Cléo from 5 to 7 (1962)

Cleo Mirrors

“Take another card,” a fortune teller (Loye Payen) instructs the tearful young woman (Corinne Marchand) sitting across the table from her at the start of Agnès Varda’s 1962 film Cléo from 5 to 7. Awaiting a potential cancer diagnosis, singer Cléo Victoire has come to Madame Irma in hopes of receiving some sort of comfort or reason for hope. So far, her tarot reading has been less than encouraging, and although Madame Irma has tried to remain positive throughout, even she jumps back in alarm when she turns over the next card and reveals a skeleton holding a scythe. “This card is not necessarily death’s. It means a complete transformation of your whole being,” the fortune teller says, still endeavoring to make the best of it, but Cléo doesn’t want to hear any more: “I’ve known for two days. I don’t need the results of the tests.” Nevertheless, she immediately asks Madame Irma to read her palm, as if that might reveal something that will cancel out the rest; Madame Irma gazes down at it for a few moments, looks up at Cléo’s face, and finally declares that she can’t read hands. “Is it so bad…?” Cléo asks, bursting into sobs. She leaves in a daze, and it’s not until she encounters a mirror downstairs that she begins to revive. “Ugliness is a kind of death,” she thinks while smiling at her reflection. “As long as I’m beautiful, I’m alive.”

Continue reading “Reflections: Cléo from 5 to 7 (1962)”

A Romantic Girl: Band of Outsiders (1964)

Arthur Odile

“For latecomers arriving now, we offer a few words chosen at random: Three weeks earlier. A pile of money. An English class. A house by the river. A romantic girl.”

By the start of Jean-Luc Godard’s 1964 film Bande à part, or Band of Outsiders, the aforementioned girl, Odile (Anna Karina), has already made the mistake of telling Franz (Sami Frey), a classmate from her English lessons, about a large stash of money hidden in the house she shares with her aunt (Louisa Colpeyn) and a Mr. Stoltz. Franz subsequently passed this information on to his friend Arthur (Claude Brasseur), a would-be criminal who’s determined to get his hands on the cash. To him, the naive Odile is a perfect pawn.

Continue reading “A Romantic Girl: Band of Outsiders (1964)”

The Adventures of Antoine Doinel: Stolen Kisses (1968)

Unlike Antoine and Colette, which came about when François Truffaut was asked to contribute an episode to an anthology film, the next movie in the Antoine Doinel series had no external impetus. “I usually start with more solid material,” the director said on a 1970 episode of Cinéastes de notre temps. “I like having two or three reasons to make a film, a coming together of a book I want to adapt or an atmosphere I want to show with an actor that I want to film, and perhaps a third reason. Here, I admit, I just wanted to work with Jean-Pierre Léaud again. I more or less set a specific date by which I wanted to make a film with Léaud, with my friends Claude de Givray and Bernard Revon. I’d worked with Claude before. I’d known him for many years. We sat down and said, ‘What are we going to do with Léaud?'”

Continue reading “The Adventures of Antoine Doinel: Stolen Kisses (1968)”

Dans la rue

One of the many things I enjoy about French New Wave movies is seeing people look directly at the camera. I’m not talking about the final shots of The 400 Blows and Breathless; I mean ordinary people who are walking down the street, going about their daily lives, and suddenly notice that someone is shooting a film. Street scenes were a vital part of the nouvelle vague style. Jean Douchet devotes an entire chapter of his book French New Wave to them, in which he explains that they were both a means of saving money and an act of rebellion against the studio system. He then talks about the effect on extras:

Extras dominated film sets throughout the world. As a trade union they took advantage of the corporatism of the other film unions to obtain jobs. Extras were everywhere and no one was spared their presence. What was most typical of the extras of the time (they could still be seen in films by Mizoguchi and even in Bresson’s Pickpocket of 1959), was their total and well-known lack of naturalness. Motionless, they posed, ‘expressed’ themselves, and had no other ambition than to be seen. They got in the way of the modern filmmaker and interfered with the audience’s involvement in the film. By shooting on location, which overturned the rules of the studio, they were thrust outside the camera’s field of view. And as in the films of Lumière and Griffith, the great silent films or the first talkies (1930-1933), Renoir (Boudu or La Chienne), Vigo, Barnet, the impression of life once again swept across the screen. When people were needed for a scene (a café, newsstand, bus stop), friends were used, or friends of friends, or even passersby who were willing to give an hour or two of their time. It not only lent an air of truth to the film, it was fun as well.

Continue reading “Dans la rue”