Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Last Year at Marienbad

I'm just going to come out and say it as plainly as I can: this film was awesome. I will also come right out and say I didn't fully understand a lot of it, and I got lost several times throughout the film. Despite being tossed back and forth by the film I was captivated by it the entire time.

The basic premise is that a man and a woman meet at a large old fashioned hotel, and the man proceeds to try and convince the woman that they met a year ago. Furthermore he tries to convince her that upon meeting a year ago, they decided they would rendezvous a year later and run away together. She of course denies it, insisting they've never met before. What follow is the most confusing viewing experience I have had in a long time. Before you know it, the man has almost convinced the viewer that the two did in fact meet before, and then she'll turn it back around and you think he's crazy again. That's pretty much it as far as story goes, but the story isn't what people should watch the film for.

Everything about the film visually is fascinating and perfect. The black and white, the overly ornate backgrounds, the lighting, the actors alternately standing still and moving...everything. All of the different visual elements contributed to make the film as dreamlike as it was.
I could go on and on about how this movie floored me with it's visuals.

In my opinion, the location is the strongest point of the film. The opening shots of the ceiling help prepare the viewer for what they are about to see, an ornate and unique experience that will leave them dizzy. The seemingly endless hallways and rooms are the perfect setting for this surreal experience.

I can't really say much about the fim's message or meaning; that all most definitely went over my head. All I can say is that I have the strongest appreciation for the film visually, and would watch it again in an instant, were it available in Region 1 (yes, i've tried to purchase it).

I've since been referred to the music video for Blur's 'To the End', which was done as an homage to 'Marienbad'. Here's the link, and now we can all share a nice laugh at a joke that very few will be able to get.

I wish I could say more about the film, but it is so breathtaking that it really did leave me at a loss for words.


The confusing thing about this film is that I have almost nothing to say about it. When it was over I thought, "what a great film, but I have almost nothing to say about it." I think I need to pay more attention to it, and will in a future viewing. I got so caught up in the characters and their story that I forgot to pay attention to what Godard might have been trying to say with the film.

I can see that Godard was making some statements about capitalism and the state of the world (among other typical Godard subjects) through the character of Paul, but i'm not sure how seriously I should really take him.

Paul, while a very enjoyable character, struck me as obnoxious, childlike, and a big fan of waxing intellectual (especially to impress the girls). He seemed to channel a lot of Godard's thoughts and feelings, yet was sort of a caricature of a very obnoxious type of young know-it-all man. I am not a fan of this type of person, yet as an early 20's college film student I sometimes (often) lapse (lunge) into this category, which made him even more obnoxious to me, probably because he hit home. Character defects aside, I am puzzled as to what Godard was trying to do with Paul.

Was he,

A.) Godard's voice
B.) Godard's Ego Ideal?
C.) The aforementioned caricature, to be used to mock Paul's type.

Now, I'll go ahead and say it could be any or all three. Maybe the answer is obvious and I just missed it (totally possible). Anyway,

A.) Very likely, although it could be combined with C to make D: Godard's original character intented to be funny and charming, while at the same time stating and demonstrating some of Godard's own thoughts and feelings.

B.) The character was most definitely, as mentioned just above, funny and charming, even if he was often immature and difficult. Could Godard have created this faux-intellectual, quirky and clever character in an effort to live through him? I'm not a fan of the idea of an "Ego Ideal" character that writers create in an attempt to live through them. It seems that any good writer would be aware of such a ridiculous attempt by the unconscious to live a more ideal life through a character. I think that Godard was such a writer, and would create a character because he was an artist with something to say, and not because the pathetic unhappy child inside of him wanted to be cooler and get chicks. So, B is out.

C. Also very likely.

I've forgotten where I wanted to go with this A B C business, but I believe that D (combination of A and C) was the right option.

Ah yes, it was to decide how seriously I should take the character of Paul, and in an attempt to figure out what Godard's message was, figure out if Paul was the conveyer of said message.
I think that there is some weight to a lot of what Paul both preached and embodied, and there is most likely a lot of Godard in him. Whether or not i'll ever know for sure if Godard created him purposefully, or if some of Godard's ego slipped through in an attempt at self-gratification, is yet to be determined. It seems unlikely that an artist of Godard's caliber would make such a naive mistake.

So I guess I didn't have much to say about the film as a whole, but a lot about Paul.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008


The initially striking thing about this film is how it tends to shift back and forth in its feel. At first it is sort of film noir, then James Bond/Spy/Action Comedy, then film noir again, and then sci-fi etc. It's precicely this bizarre amalgam of genres that make the film so impressive and interesting to watch. Of course the themes that the film presents quickly grab the viewer's attention as well, but the jump from genre to genre is what lured me in initially.

One of the strongest themes seems to be the eradication of anything emotive. The future as presented here seems entirely sterile and mechanistic. Most of the settings in the film are very neutral in appearance, no decoration or art in anything. What little was present was very mechanical or ''corporate art" in appearance. This film seems to be playing with the human fear of technology. Considering when it was made there was probably a strong reaction from those who feared where the growing technology and advances in mechanics were taking humans. Although the subject matter is one of serious debate, the film handles it in a sort of playful way, having fun with the idea. It could be possible that Godard never took the ideas of machines taking over too seriously, and this was how he chose to show it.

Composition-wise, the film was very impressive. Although Godard is an obvious talent that was meant to be praised, I found many of his other films to be often disorienting in their editing and shot composition. This film however, was very impressive. There were frequent long tracking shots, well framed and lit scenes, and the editing was very consistent. As mentioned near the top, the film noir feel of the film was apparent from the start. The use of lighting to emphasize this was particularly effective, especially during the scene when Lemmy is playing with the hanging light bulb.

Initially I thought to myself, "Gee, maybe this is the FIRST sci-fi film!" Of course the thought was ridiculous, there had been many sci-fi films all throughout film history (how I could forget Metropolis, even for a SECOND, I'll never know). The next thought was, "maybe this is the first relevant sci-fi film". This seemed a little better, but only for a moment. It seemed at first that this was made in an era where people may have believed that the future depicted might actually be attainable, that within a century they might actually see cities run almost entirely by machines, etc. This is the beauty of sci-fi, we make the stories to warn us of what our actions and our societies will cause, and then they never come true (1984 has come and gone obviously). The best part is, someday we'll probably get it right, but we'll never be able to look back on it fondly as we can with films like Alphaville. As I said, maybe Godard didn't take it too seriously, maybe he did.

So was it the first sci-fi film? No. Was it the first relevant sci-fi film? No, i'm sure the films made in the past were relevant to what was going on socially at the time. Is it the first modern sci-fi film? This seems to fit. Many of the conventions of sci-fi films that we are so comfortable with today were apparent in this film, and although they may have had a precursor, they were brought together in a way that has influenced many sci-fi films to date.

Day for Night

This gets the same treatment as Pickpocket does, with my second short paper serving as the basis for this blog post. However, unlike Pickpocket, which delved into more specific parts of the film, this one is a little more generalized.

Day for Night

Francois Truffaut’s Day for Night is an interesting and complex film in simple packaging. It seems to be the straightforward story of a film crew trying to make a film, but there is much more to it than that. It is a self proclaimed “movie for people who love movies”, and the statement couldn’t be more accurate. It is often funny, sad, and dramatic, but where it really excels is in its ability to give the viewer a window in the movie-making process. And although the story is very straightforward and easy to follow, especially when compared to other films of the French New Wave, it presents one interesting and complex problem: when does the film cease to become narrative and become documentary?, or vice-versa? The film manages to both give the feel of both a documentary following the cast and crew around, as well as a narrative story that belongs in a fictional film. This phenomenon will be explored in greater detail later.
First, the more surface achievements of the film must be praised. This film is amazingly shot. Imagine shooting a film, and constantly having to redo a long, complex tracking shot, due to errors made by actors, extras, or crew. This in itself would be frustrating and unpredictable. Imagine trying to re-create seemingly bad takes of such a shot, purposefully messing them up while trying to make them appear genuine. This is what Truffaut manages to do during the opening moments of the film. Making mistakes appear genuine must be a difficult task, and yet it is done so effortlessly that we feel instantly like we are really there watching this film getting made. At first however, the viewer will think that they are watching a film, until the director yells ‘cut’ and we realize that we are actually behind those behind the camera, and are spectators. The transition from audience member to on-set spectator is so smoothly done that it is very entertaining and not at all jarring. The final shot of this opening sequence, when the crew breaks for the day and the camera cranes up and over the entire set, is awesome to behold. It really gives the viewer the feeling that they are going to get an inside view into the process that they’ve never had before. Many more of the film’s shots are equally as interesting, and Truffaut walks the line between reality and fiction so well that the viewer hardly even notices the direction of the film shifting back and forth. The somewhat jumpier handheld shots interviewing cast members give way to smooth track or tripod shots of the characters having intimate moments with each other. The final shot of the film is a breathtaking helicopter shot of the cast and crew congratulating each other on the success of finally getting the film done, and it really gives the viewer a rewarding feeling that something amazing was accomplished, and they celebrate internally with the characters, especially after sitting through all the ridiculous events that happened in the two hours previous.
Secondly, praise needs to be given to this film for its excellent use of two film’s most basic tools: acting and score. Although all films should strive to have good acting and music, Day for Night sports excellence in both. The acting in the film is fantastic, right down to those playing the grips and other assorted crew members. Acting the part of a character in a film must be difficult enough. Acting like one is acting must be even harder. The actors in this film play both their characters, who are actors, as well as the characters that said actors are playing. When the viewer is watching the film, the reality of this will most likely pass by unnoticed, they are just that good. It can be said that conveniently, the characters in Meet Pamela, the film within a film, are almost extensions of the characters in Day for Night. It is a point of speculation as to what Truffaut was trying to say with this, but more will come later on that. The actors do a fantastic job of convincing the viewer that they are acting, and then when not on set in the film they are still acting a different character. The same goes for the crew, who are actors playing crew members both on and off set in Meet Pamela. In the case of a few, most notably Truffaut, who plays the films director, they are crew members playing crew members, providing yet another interesting mirror for us to examine later.
Another point to be made is about the film’s score, which plays seemingly only intermittently, but always has a profound effect. It speeds along montages fantastically, and is such an uplifting theme that it really puts the viewer in a positive state, despite the chaos that might be ensuing on screen. It seems to really come into play only a few times in the film, but is always tastefully placed and effective.
The first main topic of discussion about this film is: what was Truffaut trying to say with this film? It can be interpreted that he was just making an enjoyable movie, and that’s as far as anyone should read into it. It seems obvious however, that he was making a statement about the film industry and the work that goes into the making of a film. In regards to the characters in the film (those making Meet Pamela) he has some things to say. The actors are almost all battered, insecure and disturbed people. It could be said that he is ridiculing actors, but it seems to be more of a statement on how the industry affects and treats people. One of the leads in the film discusses how she used to play more leading roles, and now that she is middle-aged she has been reduced to a neglected housewife. All this too while her male co-star, of the same age, is still playing lover characters. Truffaut is showing how the industry uses people for one purpose until it feels it no longer can, and then just discards them. Women actors in particular are affected by this, while males can often continue on more successfully. Some others, like the young male lead in the film, are almost the opposite. They are young people raised within the fantasy world of film, and they don’t know how to deal with their emotions properly. When one is raised around the film industry, and nearly everyone in the profession is out to get to the top by any means necessary, it becomes hard to deal with emotional problems, and young people often become a shallow reflection of their characters. Truffaut seems to be sympathizing with actors and portraying them as they often become, battered insecure people. Truffaut also seems to sympathize with the crew in the film, as they put up with all of the ridiculous situations the actors cause, as well as trying to keep the film on track and on schedule. Whether or not he sympathizes with the director out of bias is a matter of personal decision, but we see scene after scene of the director character being bombarded with questions and problems. He tries to juggle all of the crew’s concerns along with taking care of the actors and making sure they are comfortable. This all seems completely realistic, and the focus of it should not be attributed to Truffaut playing the director; it’s just the way that the film world is.
Now to the second main topic about the film: is it documentary or fiction? The obvious answer is that it is fiction. It revolves around fictional characters, with a fictional storyline, during the shooting of a fictional film. However, is it really that simple? The film seems to be Truffaut’s tribute to the art of filmmaking, chaos and all. It seems that the majority of the events in this film could be inspired by real events that have happened during Truffaut’s career, or in another director’s career. The film’s events are certainly fantastic and often ridiculous, but they are all completely realistic, and add to the feeling that this is really sort of a mockumentary, and not a fictional narrative. As stated earlier, the camera work really helps the film walk the line between fiction and reality, as in some scenes the viewer feels as though they are standing side-by-side with the cast and crew, living in the moment with them. At other times, it feels as though the viewer is treated to the action from the comfort of their chair, through the lens of a camera. This is part of what makes the film so enjoyable. The clever dance back and forth is quite a delight to behold, and makes the viewer even more curious as to what is fictional, and what has been inspired by real life. This film is the ultimate inspiration for the question: Does art imitate life, or life imitate art?


I had a shorter blog ready originally, but I'm choosing to paste in my short paper #1 instead. I feel the paper is more interesting because it gets into specifics more, and isn't just a general yarn about the film.


Robert Bresson’s 1959 film Pickpocket is a complex and rich film, and offers much to dissect and study. One of the striking things about this film is the intimacy the viewer feels with Michel, despite what an emotionally distant man he is. Although most films hope to achieve a closeness with their protagonist, Bresson manages to do so despite the fact that the protagonist is a petty thief, and he does so through the use of the method of storytelling, basic film techniques (cleverly employed), and the film’s use of non-actors.

Most of the film takes place in a few key locations: Michel’s apartment, the bar where he meets his friend Jacques and the Inspector, the Inspector’s office, and the subway system. There are of course a few other outdoor scenes, but the bulk of the film takes place in these indoor areas. This constant time spent indoors in these cramped and crowded locations adds to the feeling that the viewer is close to Michel. The camera follows Michel along the street, up and down the stairs, through tight crowds and cramped subway cars, and back and forth through his apartment, often with very few cuts (if any). This keeps the viewer close to Michel at all times, as though they are walking alongside him. The constant buzzing of passersby in the bars and subways, and the suffocating proximity to Michel in his apartment and Inspector’s office, put the viewer in the position that Michel is in: cramped, surrounded, and tense. Just as Michel is in a state of constant paranoia as the film progresses, the viewer is sucked in and becomes as paranoid as he does, reaching a climax near the end of the film.

Another way in which the film makes the viewer close to Michel is through the way the film is told. The film opens with Michel penning his confession, and telling the viewer that they are about to hear his story. This, along with the other occasional breaks of Michel writing, are excellent ways that the film draws the viewer in, and gives them a sense of voyeuristic pleasure. The viewer feels that they are getting an inside glimpse into a sordid story, which no one else is getting. The film truly takes advantage of cinema as an isolated viewer’s experience. When one is sitting in a dark movie theater, it is just them and whatever is on the screen, no one else; this is why this film is so successful in making the viewer feel close to Michel. The constant voice-over narration through the film keeps the viewer close to Michel as well, as his voice is ever-present, guiding the viewer through the tangled path of his career as a thief.

Another set of amazing things about Pickpocket, that really help make the film so suspenseful and powerful, are the editing and direction of the film. While any film should ideally have excellent direction and editing, Bresson uses these so effectively that it has to be noted. Much of the film is filled with long and slow takes that follow Michel as he wanders aimlessly through his own life, but in contrast to that are the actual pocket-picking scenes, where the editing is very rapid-fire. There are quick shots, sometimes of the same subject from different angles, which treat the viewer to a dizzying and thrilling inside window to the crime. This once again satisfies the voyeuristic curiosity that most humans posses. In addition to the power of the simple quick nature of the cuts, there is also the subject that is being focused on. The extreme close-ups of fingers and hands working smoothly and somewhat frantically are contrasted with the calm and composed, almost bored faces of the men committing the crimes. This makes the viewer feel as though they are in on the crime. When the protagonist is a criminal, and is presented as sympathetic as Michel is in this film, the viewer begins to side with them, whether they know it or not. Getting the inside view on the crime, via the editing and direction, only adds to the intimacy that the viewer feels with Michel and his accomplices, despite knowing hardly anything about them!

One of the most interesting things about this film, is that it is populated with non-actors. This practice is rare to begin with, and in today’s film world almost unheard of. Because viewers are used to an actor conveying all of their character’s feelings to the viewer through body language, facial expression, and vocal patterns, the viewer is used to being spoon-fed what the character is thinking and feeling. Pickpocket’s cast of non-actors does not follow the same route. The non-actors mostly recite and stare their way through the film. This is not to say they don’t do a good job, the characters themselves are very emotionally distant and detached from everything, and so the choice of non-actors is a perfect one. Martin La Salle, the man who plays Michel, does an admirable job despite the film being his first, and not being a trained actor. The viewer sees him as sad and sympathetic, an unfortunate man trying to find his way. However, one must recognize that this is due to the Kuleshov Effect, which is a theory that emphasizes the effects of film editing. Martin La Salle’s face could just be a blank stare, but coupled with the tragic soundtrack of the film, shots of Jeanne (the love interest), and his somber voice over, he’s suddenly the saddest man who ever lived. This is not an attack on the film, but rather an admiration of it. In choosing non-actors who would mostly be blank slates, Bresson was free to do whatever he wanted with them, and was able to build an emotionally blank character. Another strength of the non-actor is that, as mentioned before, the viewer is not being spoon-fed the emotion, and as a result he or she must make an effort to figure out what the character is feeling. This can often result in the viewer projecting their own feelings onto the character. Because nothing is being given to them the viewer must project something onto the characters so that they can connect with them. This is mostly an unconscious process, and just a natural reaction to viewing a film. The viewer must connect with the character in some way, whether consciously or unconsciously, and applying one’s own feelings to a blank canvas of an actor can be very effective. This is what happens with the mostly apathetic characters in Pickpocket.

All throughout Pickpocket there is a sort of emptiness, the film is really about the whining of an apathetic young man and those around him. The characters drift in and out of many of the scenes, and Michel especially does not even seem to make eye-contact with anything more than a few times in the film. In the hands of nearly any other director, this film would be intolerable. In the hands of Robert Bresson, through his use of engaging storytelling, clever editing and framing, and malleable non-actors, the film becomes a craftily executed work in crime and punishment. The film achieves the quality of a tragic opera, which is only emphasized by the somber soundtrack and theme, which book end the film. Pickpocket still holds strong nearly 50 years later. Sadly, in a time when people are used to having everything spoon-fed to them, it may not last much longer.

Friday, October 31, 2008

Les Carabiniers

Les Carabiniers

One of the first things that bothered me about his film was the jumpiness of some of the shots. Black gaps in between frames really stood out to me, and I’ve gotten somewhat used to it as it is sort of a Godard fixture, and so I didn’t let it bother me past the first few minutes. Choppy cuts, poor matches on action, and often mismatched editing also distracted me for a few minutes, but once I got more invested in what was going on, these either disappeared or became less noticeable.

Technical grips aside, I thoroughly enjoyed the film, especially once the father and son got going and were involved in the war. It was very interesting as a war film (honestly I’m not even sure it could be called that), depicting a different sort of perspective than is customary to war films. There wasn’t much of the actual battles, but more about what soldiers do when they’re not fighting, and about the “spoils” of war and how they can change a man.

I would say that the opportunity to take whatever one pleases during the war changed the son into a sort of primitive savage, but from early on in the film he showed a tendency towards destruction. It didn’t come as much of a shock after that when he was straddling half-dressed women and ready to shoot unarmed girls.

I thought that the use of the letter writing as a storytelling mechanic was brilliant, and the repeated shots of the women reaching for the mailbox to retrieve them were very cool. I liked the random bits of speech that would pop up in cursive occasionally; they provided an often jarring insert between footage of war.

The violence towards women in the film is understandably shocking, and at the time I can’t even imagine what it must have looked like to audiences. Despite the sympathy I formed towards women while watching the film, that was almost all dashed to pieces as the women back at home were almost as awful as the two men.

The scene of the boy seeing his first movie was an especially awesome scene, which stood out not only because it was so funny but because it was so bizarre, and in a sense probably realistic.

At any rate, I might add more to this later if I see it again soon, which I’d like to, the subsequent viewings are almost always more revealing. I couldn’t say for certain it was a war film, truthfully I couldn’t really say what kind of film it was. It reminded me strongly of Sam Mendes’ Jarhead, in that it’s not a war film, but a film about war and how it changes people, or more accurately, reveals them for who they truly are.