Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Pierrot Le Fou

During the opening credits of Pierrot Le Fou (1965), Godard informs us that whatever the subject matter of his film, its construction will be deconstructed by film’s end and returned to its original form: the darkness of its preexistence.

The subject matter of course is the letters that appear in alphabetical order to turn into words that in turn form phrases that in turn convey information and eventually stories. Stories contained in books. Like the books in the turnstile racks in the scene where Ferdinand ((Jean-Paul Belmondo) is introduced. The racks on either side of Ferdinand turn full circle; presaging how Ferdinand is turned around in his quest to transform his words into a “silent symphony” weaved into the fabric of permanence. This permanence is represented both by the classically (classical = permanence) centered score and the color blue reflecting the blue of the sky, sea, and river.

Ferdinand’s daughter is also introduced to us wearing a white dress with blue trim, martching the blue towel behind her. Her mother is dressed in pink, wears no slip, and is dressed in her new invisible girdle. (Godard presents the investment in the girdle as a means to obtain a (false) young look. The quest to look different implies a falsity commensurate with a misplacement of what’s important in life, both of which again emphasize an amorality of the Ferdinand’s wife.) The contrasting colors between daughter and wife are reflected as innocence and amorality.

The dominance of that amorality is demonstrated by the way Ferdinand’s wife speaks to him. For example, she tells him that he will do as he’s told. Another example is when she tells him he will not sue the T.V. station, but rather will he will be good enough to take work that someone else will find him. In the eyes of his wife, Ferdinand is incapable of finding work on his own, and treats him as an object. This association with amorality is extended to their friend Frank (and Paola) when Ferdinand mentions that the baby sitter he has lined up is probably a prostitute, implying that Ferdinand is surrounded by amorality.

Colors also prime us when Marrianne’s (Anna Karina) is introduced to us. She is dressed in white and blue, implying a connection to both the innocent youth of his daughter, and the inclination to serve as “mentor” to the younger Marrianne as he had read to his daughter earlier. This priming extends to the Marrianne’s skirt, which as the same multicolored stripe motif of Ferdinands’ robe in the previous scene. There is a connection between the two, and it’s below the belt.

The reddish (-pink) filter that accentuates the party scene highlights the garishness of the topics of conversation as seen from the point of view of the artistic Ferdinand. The shots that follow make this same point. Ferdinand’s bitterness towards his spiritually empty life (and hope in the form of the re-introduced Marrianne – remembrance of things past) results in his throwing an ostentatious cake at his wife.

The fireworks that follow represent a celebration of his action, but are muted compared to the fireworks that follow Ferdinand’s offer to take Marrianne home. The second fireworks signals the film is about to take a drastically different direction since the smoke and noise of these fireworks resemble artillery blasts. Ferdinand, the romantic, has fired the first salvo on the road to his redemption as an artist, but Godard has also hinted at how it could all blow up in his face.

As Ferdinand and Marrianne travel away towards a new future together, the windshield of their car continuously reflects lights, indicating the time and distance they are putting between Ferdinand’s past life and their new one ahead of them. Ferdinand has taken his first step towards completing his life’s ambition.

In the scenes that follow, the hard-covered, art-sized book of comics as well as the stuffed animal reinforces the blue motif of a younger more innocent time. The river crossing, which keeps Ferdinand and Marrianne in the blue water, also punctuates the journey towards a simpler live and an opportunity to meld (?) with the permanence of that simplicity. This establishing shot also focuses us on the blue-sky and open country ahead of them. The subsequent change of clothes through the woods however shows us the change in tone their quest has taken.

After establishing a life free from the constraints of the amoral civilization, Ferdinand asks if Marrianne will ever leave her. When she answers that she never will while looking into the camera, we realize Ferdinand’s idyllic life is short lived. When the following scene shows a bored Marrianne stating she doesn’t know what to do, we realize it’s an idyllic life only for the writer. Her protestations interfere with his writing – and vice-versa. The crux of the problem from Marrianne’s point of view: “you (Ferdinand) speak to me in words and I look at you with feelings.” Ferdinand counters with the fact that “she never has ideas, only feelings.” The promised deconstruction of their idyllic life has started, and the completion of Ferdinand’s silent symphony is thrown in doubt.

The extent of Ferdinand’s delusion concerning Marrianne is highlighted in the scene where Marrianne sits in a red dress in a red chair and over her right shoulder is a drawing of her cut up in a way looking out over red fields. This bit mise-en scene reveals Marrianne’s true identity: a complex woman set to leave another trail of blood behind her. It’s a woman that has been made available for Ferdinand to see both from previous experience with her as well as the dead body in her apartment. Yet Ferdinand fails to appreciate the duplicity inherent in Marrianne until she hangs him out to dry.

It is at this point that Ferdinand gets his revenge, paints his face the blue (to link himself to the permanence he sought with his uncompleted book), and straps dynamite to his head. In the end, he realizes the uselessness of words, and lights the fuse, signaling the impotence of the romantic in current society, the idea of his incompleted silent symphony - his masterpiece of a book - residing only in his head, blown forever to smithereens, the final note to his symphony being the ubiquitous blast of a bomb exploding.

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