Thursday, September 25, 2008

Last Year at Marienbad

Rorschach inkblot. That's my first impression. Do the events described even take place? Can we be sure? And who's version is correct? Can we be sure of that? And even if we were sure a year ago, well, that was a year ago - wasn't it? We can't be sure. Which is the whole point of the film.

The film takes place at Marienbad, an immense edifice with characters, corriders and music right out of our murkiest memories. We couldn't make our own Marienbad's any more unrealistically melodramatic. It's not until the total edifice comes on screen that it's construction becomes clear: the building resembles the brain, and what occurs does so in the mind of the Narrator.

This is not to say what occurs on the screen isn't occuring in real life. The Narrator describe a previous meeting the Woman can't recall. She denies it so convincingly that doubts of it's occurance creep into the mind of the Narrator. In the end, even he can't be sure.

The sparring between the Narrator's memory and the Woman's memory (or his memory of her memory?) throughout the film is officiated by a Taller Gentleman. At one point the Man comments the Taller Gentleman might be the Woman's husband or chaperone. He does so because the Man (or his memory of her) is clearly the aggressor, and he reflexively provides her a protector, a referee to ensure he doesn't push unfairly. The Taller Gentleman uses his peculiar game (not infallible, just never beaten) to remind the Man of his limitations

That, in the end, the Man is no longer sure of the prior meeting with the Woman, comments on the limitations of not only our ability to remember at all, but to also remember accurately, especially with the passage of time. I would like to think it goes a step farther and shows how, assuming the meeting did not take place (?), we can trick ourselves into creating false realities.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Hiroshima, Mon Amour (II)

On a personal level, the chance meeting of two strangers turns into revisiting the singular moments in each of their lives. The sense of "boredom" on Emmanuelle's face intitially attracts Eiji to her. Eiji recognizes this boredom as one formed by the passing of the singular event of one's life. It is a boredom Eiji relates to. His singular event is coming home to a Hiroshima seared by the dropping of the first atomic bomb.

Emmanuelle empathizes with those who experienced the horrors of the blast with such force that Eiji starts to draw the past from Emmanuelle. It is a time Emmanuelle needs to revisit, but fears as well. The past has to be remembered in order not to be repeated; but remembering the past revisits her most painful memories. Emmanuelle does so only because she senses the same past in Eiji.

The searing event in Emmanuelle's life is her illicit love affair with a German soldier. His death and her subsequent humiliation and imprisonment (in her parents cellar) so embitter her, the people of Nevers assumed her mad. Her retaliation was to promise to never forget her lover's caress. Despite her efforts, her memory fades. These memories, and more to the point, that she has been unable to conciously retain (what she dreams about most, but thinks about least scene) anything more than a shell of these memoris is what Eiji shocks her into (re)realizing.

For his part, Eiji seeks to understand how Emmanuelle can be so torn by the destruction of Hiroshima without having experienced the event herself. Eiji witnessed the aftermath first hand, but even that was not enough to prevent his memories from also fading. And all that is left of the public memory are gift shops and museums. It's as if the newly rebuilt concrete Hiroshima is sufficient to press the horrific nature of the event (older sweeper in surgeons mask in front of New Hotel Hiroshima shot) into the past. For Eiji, his singular event is behind him, despite the world's best efforts to never forget.

Even if everyone understood the enormity of remembering, Emmanuaelle knows it's impossible to remember in the face of time. References to worms, insects, dogs, flowers and children in the days after the blast, and the symbolic rebirthing in the museum (children center screen under posters scene) only add to the despair of eventual loss of all memory of man's destructive nature and the evitable repetition of similiarly horrific events. New generations will both complete the loss of memory and experience new horrors because of it.

Emmanuaelle states: The ultimate enemy is the "principle of inequality." The question is: Can this be done without the aid of memory?

I don't want to forget that fantastic opening "rebirthing" scene. Both Emmanuelle and Eiji are "born again" as only two people with similarly searing singular events in their lives can. Only then can they "escape" their convenient existences (both "happy" with spouses) and relate to each other as equals.

Hiroshima, Mon Amour

Hiroshima, Mon Amour is a film about the futility of the struggle to see the other side of the same coin, the inevitable destruction resulting from this narrow point of view, the rebirth of new hope, and finally the knowing that this cycle will repeat itself.

The scene opens with Emmanuelle and Eiji, in Hiroshima, symbolically coming to life on the screen, survivors of a death many years earlier brought about by our inability to see the destructive nature of our willingness to bend others to our cause no matter what the consequences.

In Emmanuelle's case it was the illicit love of a German soldier during the second World War in her home town of Nevers when she was still a young girl. Her subsequent humiliation and imprisonment in her parent's celler so embittered her, the people of Nevers assumed her mad.

Despite her promise to never forget her lover's caress, years later, she knows her struggle has been futile; that the nature of things is to forget, and for cycles to repeat. Her lover is she dreams of the most (unconsciously), but thinks about the least (consciously).

Her visits to the museum in Hiroshima, like her struggles to remember, mean little to those who visit. For the tourist, the destruction of 200,000 people are viscerel at best, eliciting tears but perhaps little else. What the they walk away with are but souvineers or trinkets, and never the sense of the enormity of the constant struggle it would take on their part to prevent another Hiroshima. For most of us Hirsohima and its lesson have been long forgotten.

Even if we could understand the enormity and join the struggle, the natural cycle would overwhelm them all. Other Hiroshimas will occur. No matter the effort

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Bob Le Flambeur

In Bob Le Flambeur, a trolly's dawn descent into Pigalle would seem to suggest the start of a story about all that is hellish in Montmatre. Jean-Pierre Melville however softens the inhabitants of this hell with all the greys in the opening scenes. Mellville goes on to introduce (Le Grand) Bob as an "old young" man, further greying typically established boundaries.
Our first view of Bob is a reflection of an older gentleman, suggesting the stories reflective manner that becomes evident as the film progresses. The location - tiny gambling den - suggests Bob is a small time hood. Later his comment that he was content never to step beyond the city's limits confirms this was always the case.
Something else is suggested in the opening scenes. Black and white chess board walls surround the players in the opening scene. And in the next, black and white dominoes walls suggest the same: life is a game with winners and losers. The player's shadow playing on Bob as he enters suggests that Bob is but a piece in the game of life and can little influence the final outcome.
Bob gambles in the face of a dwindling account, not because he thinks he can influence or somehow cheat a capricious fate. He continues to gamble because he accepts that is who he is, and knows that fate will eventually come around albeit independent of his needs.
As a romantic, Bob is generous with money (tips newspaper man, loads seed money to Yvonne, initially only asks Marco how much he needs, gives Anne money for a room), wisdom (to Paulo) and standards (refuses to help a much younger and bigger Marco after finding out why he has to skip town).
Bob is at the end of his fortune, but still the optimist. His luck eventually changes at the races where fate, for the moment, seems to smile on Bob. He decides to go to a nearby Casino where he loses all his money, but finds when there will be a lot of cash in the Casino's safe. This bit of information sets the stage for the gamble of a lifetime.
Despite all the detail, the planning, the practice the job doesn't go as plan. All human foibles imaginable contribute to foil the robbery. During the time it's falling apart, Bob gambles at the Casino, and by morning's light has won the 800 million his crew was to rob.
As the rest of the crew arrives at the Casino, so do the Police. A gunfight ensues, and fate turns on Paulo and the rest of the crew.
The end result is that no matter how carefully or deligently we plan, it is fate that determines who wins and who loses. And that all of us are only one piece in the game of life whose outcome is determined only by fate.

Thursday, September 18, 2008


Absolutely excellent film about a young man, Michel, as he struggles to deny all that is human within him, and in doing so, prove his superiority over every other human not like him.

The movie opens with a bleak white on black introduction accentuated by even bleaker somber music. It explains that the protagonist is forced to live a "nightmare" due to "weaknesses" that have led him to a life of crime.

The "weakness" alluded to in this introduction is Michel's need to see himself as a superman. The reason for this need is not made explicit, but director Robert Bresson leaves room for speculation (e.g., a fatherless childhood (father never mentioned), despicable actions (stealing from his mother), a failed/lack of respectable career (Michel is unemployed), grandiose self-importance (stacks of books covered with dust, keeping a diary), desperate living conditions (a room in a flophouse without even a properly working door).

We first meet Michel at the racetrack where he is "walking on air" with the "world at his feet" after lifting money from a woman's purse. He later challenges the police to prove their suspicions of the theft or to let him go. He gets away with both, and the next day he smoothly swivels off the tram in front of his mother place still walking on air.

Michel's refusal to visit with his (not well) mother provides a hint he is no ordinary pickpocket and illustrates his lack of empathy. He provides (cold, hard) cash for his mother (via a third party,) but grants no emotional support. It's not a cold refusal to visit, just a matter of fact refusal. Michel has willed all emotion from himself.

It's reason is explained in the next scene where Michel argues that certain men should be allowed to operate without regard to the law, and that society should have no role in deciding who these men might be. Michel also argues that the only criteria for these men to operate above society should be their ability to something very well. Intent has no meaning in Michel's world, only performance. It's why he doesn't respond to his friend when the friend asks if Michel will go to the addresses, and why he supplies only money to his mother. Michel believes himself to be one of these "supermen" and isolates himself emotionally to reinforce this delusion.

Michel blames his "stagnation" on society. He feels imprisoned. His revenge is to pick society's pockets. His early successes provide him not only with money, but the satisfaction of sticking it to the rest of society.

When another man baits Michel to come outside and then ignores him, Michel asks who he is. When he gets no answer, Michel has to follow this man who has the audacity to bait him and then refuse to answer him. Michel must be thinking: Could this be another superman? Michel follows him and in a few minutes they are single-dimensional comrades. Later in the film, a third pickpocket joins them.

When Michel' mother dies, the last remnant of emotion leaves him. He no longer has anyone to answer to. There's "no turning back." The reference to his three minutes belief in god was, and I really speculate here, the futile three minutes he prayed for a miracle and her recovery. The virtually soundless following scene in the hall of the bank reverberates Michel's emptiness. An emptiness shortly filled by his fellow pickpocket.

In the sparring match with the detective at the bar, Michel prophetically states that supermen don't get caught. When he does, Michel cannot deny that he is not a superman. The thought that he is like everyone else is "unbearable" to him. But, it's an admittance Michel can no longer deny and one that leads to his salvation.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

400 Blows

Can't believe I have a blog.

I recently viewed 400 Blows by Francois Truffaut. I'm happy this film was my first exposure to French film. Some thoughts follow.

The opening scene - credits rolling, Eiffel tower in the background, city neighborhoods in the foreground, the camera circling, closing in on the tower, and finally reaching the base of the tower - brings to mind someone encircling a substantial but delicate reward. That the end of the scene pulls away from the tower through a tree-lined street signals that by film's end the reward is realized.

Fortunately, low angle shots of parts of the tower softened by columns and trees, a grey sky a veiled sun and the use of sound bridges paint a not too rough journey ahead.

I could not tell how Antoine defaced the eyes of the pinup in the initial school scene, but it seems to hint women ought to either close their eyes to what's going on around them, or should put on glasses to better see what's going on around them. Either way it's an acknowledgement of the gender differences in French society referred to in class. The more obvious example of this is the girls-in-a-cage shot that occurs later in the film.

To the boy, it would have been simple play with almost inconsequential results. When he's caught, all that's missed is recess. As the film progresses, each succeeding transgression by Antoine comes with increasingly greater consequences, resulting in subsequently greater obstacles. Overcoming each obstacle is what Antoine must do before he can even realize what he's looking for.

The school [paint peeling from walls] and Instructor [at wits end] both seem equally worn. Yet neither seem particularly harsh. The lack of sharp contrast in light and color blends has the affect of blending all the participants together, as if they're all in the same boat floating in an unforgiving world tethered by society and its rules. That not everyone is comfortable with those rules [Antoine and friends] or is capable of abiding by them [boy not able to keep up with the writing in class] is made clear in the school scenes.

Antoine strains against the tether [the natural order of things] almost unconsciously. His rebellions seem almost comical in their execution and never cruel in intention [e.g., writing on walls, staying home from school, stealing from parents, abandoning gym teacher, even attempting to defy the physical law of gravity (representing the seemingly unchallangeable naturals laws of society.)] This innocence however offers no protection from reality. In one scene, Antoine gets quesy when he overhears the women conversing about childbirth, and in another Antoine gets caught returning the typewriter.

The arrest occurs after Antoine has consciously attempted to conform to the wishes of his parents and teacher - his initial eureka! moment - and fails. Both at home where he almost burns down the apartment, and at school where he is suspended for plagerism.

Because of this I believe the shot of Antoine, tears in his eyes, looking out the rear of the paddy wagon as a consequence of being caught returning the typewriter, is as much a realization that no matter how hard he tries with the best of intentions, not only does he not fit into society, he can't seem to be free from it's stupyfing [to him] rules. Not to argue that the saddness reflected in Antoine is not the result of losing what comfort, companionship, familiarity and [stupyfying as it was] certainty he had up to that point, just that it might be more than that. This is the harshest shot of the film; the darkness and heavy shadows every so often pierced by contrasting very bright lights.

The turning point in Antoine's life comes when he experiences what I believe is his [silent] second eureka moment. This occurs when he hears the runaway that was caught and returned to the facility shout out that at least he was free for five days [and would gladly do it again.] This, I believe, is when that second eureka moment occurs in Antoine. He knows that to experience freedom, its going to be up to him to break away and be free.

This opportunity occurs later during the soccer game and consists of the long shot to the sea. At first, the concern of the viewer is whether or not he will also be caught and returned. But as the shot progresses, Antoine passes through a gate of sorts, and it is at this point that I sense Antoine is looking for more than just escaping. He finally sees the ocean and finally knows what it is to be free. Armed with this new found knowledge, he turns and sees his world anew. He may not know exactly what path he will take, but knows if nothing else it will be one of his choosing.