For the Love of a Man [2015)

What a film!

Sometimes I end with that sentiment, but I want to make sure that you take away that message.

This fantastic documentary takes a look at the cult of personality surrounding the biggest star of Tamil cinema:  Rajinikanth.

To paraphrase from one of my favorite films (Genghis Blues), Rajinikanth is like Michael Jordan, Elvis, and John F. Kennedy rolled into one.

If you live in the state of Tamil Nadu.

India.

Yes, we recently touched on Rajasthan, but let’s find Tamil Nadu on a map.

Very southern tip of India.

On the east side.

And here’s where we find Chennai.

[Which seems to be pronounced Chin-ay]

And, of course, Chennai used to be called Madras.

Now that we are caught up on geography, let’s get back to this amazing figure known as Rajini (short for Rajinikanth).

If we are to compare him to other international cinema stars, we might look to Jean-Paul Belmondo.

That great lip-rubbing outlaw of À bout de souffle.

Definitely a smoker.

Smoking those thick-tar Boyards cigarettes.

[Or so I imagine]

And sunglasses.

Rajini must always have his sunglasses.

Cigarettes and sunglasses.

Sounds like a ZZ Top song.

But for Rajinikanth, you need a big, thick mustache.

And you need a certain finesse with those props (the smokes and the shades).

Like Michael Jackson in the “Smooth Criminal” video.

Yeah!

This is India, man!

There’s dancing in the films!

The stars dance!!

And sing!!!

[Of course, don’t tell the generations of voiceover singers that]

But it is well-known.

Mohammed Rafi.  Lata Mangeshkar.

But did Rafi ever sing in Tamil?  Not that I know of.

And Lata?  I have no idea.  But it wasn’t her main language.

So let’s take a step back here…

Tamil.

By “native speakers” (70 million), Tamil is the 20th most spoken language in the world.

That’s ahead of Turkish, Italian, and Thai (just to name a few).

By “total number of speakers” (74 million), Tamil is still the 20th most spoken language in the world.

That’s ahead of Korean, Turkish, and Vietnamese (to name just three).

But what about Tamil cinema?

I’m sure it goes without saying that this is my first venture into writing about this unique slice of the world pie.

Indeed, it’s my first time even really contemplating it to a serious degree.

But back to this Rajinikanth fellow…

He’s ostensibly been the biggest star in Tamil cinema…since the 1970s!

He debuted in 1975.

His first film was in Tamil.

In 1976, he was in four films (only one of which was in Tamil).

In 1977, he was in 15 (!) films (eight being in Tamil).

In 1978, he was in 21 (!!) films (16 in Tamil).

Funny enough, Rajinikanth was not born in Tamil Nadu.

No, rather, he was born in the state of Mysore.

However, this state no longer exists under that name.

And being born in the city of Bangalore (a.k.a. Bengaluru), Rajinikanth would have been born in what is now the state of Karnataka.

65% of Kannadigas (those who live in Karnataka) speak Kannada (not to be confused with Canada).

Oddly, Rajinikanth was born to a Marathi family.

As in, people who speak the Marathi language.

So how does he become the biggest star of the Tamil people?

He indeed spoke Marathi (and Kannada) as a child.

It was only when Rajinikanth came to the Madras Film Institute (well into life) that he finally learned Tamil.

He was 25 when he acted in his first film (a Tamil production).

But I must say, Rajinikanth is a very charismatic figure.

I never finished comparing him to other actors.

Part of me wants to say James Dean, but I think Bruce Lee might be even more apt.

Rajinikanth kicks butt.  But with style!

He has moxie!

And most importantly, he stands up for the little guys.

Having been a bus conductor himself, he has played roles such as that of an auto-rickshaw driver.

And by dint of his sheer magnetism (and an almost Soviet, Trotskyist atmosphere in Tamil Nadu), he has spawned a legion of fans who await his film premieres with what can only be compared to the manic thrall of Beatlemania.

His fans literally scream their lungs out on opening nights…so happy to see their hero in a new picture.

And Rajinikanth makes but one movie every three years now.

If all of this sounds remotely interesting to you, then you absolutely must see For the Love of a Man (which is currently on Netflix in the U.S.).

Director Rinku Kalsy proves herself worlds above many of her contemporaries with this penetrating documentary.

Producer Joyojeet Pal seems to have played a very “hands-on” role as well (as a researcher for this picture).

It’s not always clear where the action is occurring in our film, but it seems that some of it (at least) was filmed in Sholinghur (which is about 67 miles inland from the coastal Chennai).

Then again, we do catch one glimpse of the actual Rajinikanth in the film…and it is in front of his residence in Chennai.

Which is to say, For the Love of a Man is very much about fandom.

And it reminds me of my own devotion to my heroes:  Jean-Luc Godard, Mercury Rev, Bob Dylan…

So I very much identified with the cross-section of Tamil society surveyed in this documentary.

Their devotion to their “leader” is very touching.

Not least, Rajinikanth seems like a very spiritual and magnanimous person.

A really generous human being.

And THAT is what really cements the devotion of his fans.

Any film publication that ripped this movie (Hollywood Reporter) must not have its head on straight.

Anyone in Venice who pooh-poohed this film needs a good spanking.

For the Love of a Man is a masterpiece.

-PD

Perličky na dně [1966)

I’ve never been much a fan of the omnibus film (or anthology film) genre.

Several directors.

One product.

But this one serves a very interesting purpose.

So far, we have only considered the work of Jiří Menzel (among Czech directors).

So now we will get to branch out a bit.

A sampler of sorts.

Funny enough, Menzel leads this whole thing off.

Start with your best speaker, they say.

Menzel’s contribution is fairly good.

It is closer in spirit to Capricious Summer than it is to the masterpiece Closely Watched Trains

Which is to say, it is largely “meh”.

But a true auteur is still engaging even when he or she is meh, and Menzel is interesting…even when he’s boring (as in Rozmarné léto).

If we want to know where the Belgian juggernaut Aaltra comes from, then we should look no further than Menzel’s short contribution on motorcycle racing.

As with all the stories in this omnibus, the author (in the literary sense) is Bohumil Hrabal.

We get our first bit of the “aging” theme in this installment.

The old man with his stories of Smetana and Dvořák.

The weird harpsichord music courtesy of Jan Klusák (or perhaps Jiří Šust).

It’s baroque, but just slightly off.  Anachronistic.  Neobaroque.  Like Stravinsky’s Concerto for Piano and Wind Instruments (and just as rococonutty).

But the “aging” theme really comes to the fore in the next section which is directed by Jan Němec.  Němec sadly passed away but four months ago.

In this scene we meet two old men in a hospital.  It is a very touching piece of cinema.

They try to keep each other’s spirits up.

We also start to sense another theme in Hrabal’s writing:  lies.

Lies notwithstanding, Němec’s segment is perhaps the most poignant thing about this film.

In the middle we get a splash of color (the rest of the film being in black and white) courtesy of the radical Evald Schorm.

What makes Schorm’s segment so beautifully jarring is the music (extremely reminiscent of Olivier Messiaen):  organ dissonance ostensibly courtesy of the aforementioned Klusák and/or Šust.

We are presented with outsider art in its purest form.  A painter who paints every wall in his house.  It is certainly reminiscent of the one-of-a-kind Henry Darger.

Incidentally, the scene is deliciously dark humor directed at not only the bureaucracy of the Czechoslovak state but also at the legitimacy of the insurance industry.

Věra Chytilová contributes a dark-yet-dreamy vignette suffused with desperation throughout.  Her use of slow-motion photography captures some very special emotions and is reminiscent of Jean Vigo’s use of the same in Zéro de conduite.

Finally, we encounter gypsies for the first time thanks to the loving depiction of Jaromil Jireš.

A Czech boy does his best Jean-Paul Belmondo before the cracked mirror near the lobby cards.

Dana Valtová might be the most convincing actress in this entire feature.  Her role of the dark-skinned gypsy (who remains nameless) is quite astonishing.

And so we learn a bit more about the Czech people thanks to this defining mosaic from the Czech New Wave:  Pearls of the Deep.

And little by little we learn a new culture.

 

-PD

青春残酷物語 [1960)

[CRUEL STORY OF YOUTH, (1960)]

Today was a bad day.

You would be shocked (dear readers) if I asserted the opposite.

No, there is no sugarcoating it.

But that’s ok. [Ah!]

Such anxiety.  Such fear.  Such trepidation.

Ah!  That wasn’t so bad.

But don’t breathe relief too soon.  [Sigh…]

We’re surrounded by morons.  Condescending illiterates.

A fistful of assholes.

Yes, that Japanese up there indeed does not read Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist.

Things fall apart.  Shit happens.  Sometimes, the shit hits the fan.

That is the story of Nagisa Oshima’s Cruel Story of Youth.

Seishun Zankoku Monogatari…that’s what it says.

Kinda like Ugetsu Mongatari (which I reviewed some time back).

物語

Epic.

And it is.  More or less.

The story of Mako and Kiyoshi.

No magical powers here.  This is like the Japanese version of À bout de souffle.

If we don’t understand French (and we don’t), then we really shouldn’t be fooling around with Japanese.

That is my 2 cents…me, and the royal we.

Inseparable.

Mako and Kiyoshi.

Will they survive this cruel world?

Perhaps they must be cruel themselves to survive it?

And perhaps only Kiyoshi (cool as Jean-Paul Belmondo) is cruel?

Mako is no Jean Seberg.

She might be a coquette, but she’s not une dégueulasse.

Our film followed on the heels of Godard’s Breathless by a mere four months.

And what about Jerry Lee Lewis’ “Breathless”?

It preceded Godard’s film by two years (1958).

Any one else out of breath???

How about those Japanese protestors?

They weren’t keen on the Anpo treaty.

[Treaty of Mutual Cooperation and Security between the United States and Japan]

Yeah, a mere 15 years after Hiroshima and Nagasaki…and Japan was a beaten nation.

Doubly beaten.

Because they joined hands with their brethren (us) who had so recently vaporized them.

And so no wonder people were protesting.

But we don’t see protests in movies.

Not real protests.  Not anymore.

In fact, Japan does not even exist for the U.S. anymore.

Japan is like a house cat.

Domesticated.

Japan protests nothing.

Their economy slides with ours.

They are between a rock and a hard place.

Seemingly forever.

It is a geopolitical fault-line.

In the film we see South Koreans protesting.

This ended long ago (for us brainwashed viewers in the West).

Only the Chinese protest.

Tiananmen Square.  1989.

And CNN had a bird’s-eye view of tank man.

A bit too perfect.

But yes:  every nation protests.

Except the well-behaved Japanese and South Koreans.

But what about these recent tremors?

Okinawa.

As recently as February of this year.

Just what is going on?

Anpo is that famously robust treaty…in effect longer than anything since the Peace of Westphalia (1648).

I am reminded of my most erudite friend’s knowing focus on the war which these treaties (a series in 1648) ended.

Thirty years.

It was a bad day for Mako.  Rape.

The valiant rapist.

What?

It is like Dostoyevsky.

Stick around and the plot thickens.

Buked and scorned by Yuki (the sister).

Youth…how cruel it is to be taken.

And then our lovers reenact The Kid with no windows (but plenty of stones).

But I’m most sad for Horio.

It’s the old man in me.

Finally the reification gets to be too much for Mako.

And a tear rolls down her cheek.  In her sleep.

Busy signal.  Pink Floyd’s The Wall.

Twenty years.

A cement mixer.

Is she?  No.  It can’t end like that!

“This ain’t prostitution…IT’S EXTORTION! (tortion)! (torsion)!”

They call them the diamond dogs.

Oshima with a shadow play.

Kiyoshi holds Mako in the foreground.

Aki implores Yuki in the background.

[And for subtitlers everywhere, please think before you use the phrase “for old time’s sake” in a Japanese film.]

In her polka dot dress with the leeks peeking from the grocery sack.

Blammo!

The futility of youth.

The grimy uncertainty…the shifting sands.

The idealism made to lick the city sidewalk.

The valiant rapist saint.

INRI.

Ecce homo.

And Mako, fragile, with a bloody cheek.

 

-PD

Au Hasard Balthazar [1966)

If life has no meaning, then do not continue to the next sentence.

Thank you.

For those of you still reading.

You must excuse my reliance on 1/3rd of the trivium (to the detriment of the remainder).

It must be rhetoric which I employ.

Like a donkey.

No.

It doesn’t work that way.

But for those of us in poverty and misery.

How do we express our futile existences?

By affirming their meanings.

Their meaningfulness.

You have not worked your whole life for nothing.

You worked to survive.

But you survived for others.

You loved.  You cared.

You were curious.

Too curious to let the human race go.

And so, slow and easy does it goes [sic]…the autumn of your years.

Perhaps.

Another spring.

Hope.  Eternal.

Robert Bresson slips a note under our door.

A key.

At first viewing it is dull.  Ugly.

Like a donkey.

Yes.

But Bresson knew Beethoven.  Concision of expression.

Economy of means.

It is no wonder that we hear Schubert throughout this film.

And no wonder that Schubert is Philip Glass’ favorite composer.

Those ostinati.  Figured bass.

Even simpler than Alberti.

More like a rail fence transposition.

Or a Caesar shift cipher.

Ostinato.  Obstinate.

Like the donkey.

But I have patiently borne the humiliation.

I am still a youthful beast of burden.

And yet I know my hooves.

I am a genius.

A four-legged mathematician.

Give me three digits…and a single digit.

And I multiply.

I fecundate the field with feathery flowers.

Four digits.

Do I hear five?

With a memory like an elephant.

A stare like a tiger.

And a harangue like a polar bear.

But look how he shivers.

The donkey.

So humble as to not say a word.

Perhaps it was the wisdom of salt.

Salt of the earth.

A wise ass.

Yes, forever in trouble.  With my pride.

Getting kicked in the rump.

But these are really nasty assaults.

The other side of James Dean.

François Lafarge as Gérard is a real asshole.

Not enough love at home.

Feels a need to punch donkeys.

[pause]

Quite literally…the world comes to life through Bresson’s filmmaking.

Prostitutes pop up.

Pimps prance and preen.

But here we have “merely” sexual assault.

A first step in losing the ability to feel anything.

Numb.

And we have rape (through allusion, of course).

Gérard toots his horn.

Literally.

The other side of the James Dean coin.

The underside of Jean-Paul Belmondo.

A disproportionate riposte courtesy of the one filmmaker with the balls to be simple.

So simple.

On first glance it is nothing.

A donkey.

But live a few years.

And then revisit.

It is a novel.

It contains everything.

We can’t catch it because it doesn’t pop out at us in color.

One way would be to say that no one has ever looked more sad on screen than Anne Wiazemsky here.

Before Godard.

Perhaps a first conversation.

A nervousness.

It was through Wiazemsky that Bresson told this tale.

To teach the New Wave.

They hadn’t learned all the lessons yet.

He wasn’t done speaking.

The quiet tone of an old man…

I want to tell you more more more.

But this is best secret.

To appreciate the simple things.

Before they are gone.

The patient animals.

So gentle in their existence.

Not presuming.

Not running.  Not hustling.

The pack-animals.

We know this look.

In cats.  In dogs.

This wisdom.

We laugh at their carefree insolence.

But they have shown the way.

Such resilience!

Such love…

And we are taken in.

Our hearts are melted.

Yes.

Few moments in cinema feel more lonely than the end of Au Hasard Balthazar.

It is almost unbearable.

The quiet dignity of humanity being shamed.

How could we ever forget our love.

For even a second.

When we rub two sticks together at such an eyelevel perspective, the meaning of life is very clear.

But unutterable.

 

-PD

Popiół i diament [1958)

The words don’t come easily.

In the old crypt.

He has to toss her the matches.

His trusty matches.

Twice he has lit the cigarette of Commissar Szczuka.

As for her.  Her.

Ewa Krzyżewska.

Krystyna.  I saw you in a magazyna.  (GZM)

But Zbigniew Cybulski knows the author.

Cyprian Norwid.

All he wanted to do was go to school.

He had done well.  A smart kid.

The assassin poet.  Maciek.

A bit like the gunrunning Rimbaud.

Ashes and diamonds.  Violets in the dustbin.

Adam Pawlikowski couldn’t help but inhale the fleeting perfume of love.

A little love turns an assassin straight.

It is like James Bond.

Daniel Craig.

Skyfall, perhaps.

Simple word association.

And for “assassination”?  “Employment.”

This is Ashes and Diamonds by Andrzej Wajda.

The precursor to Bruno Forestier in Le Petit Soldat.

And in many (many) ways, the precursor to Michel in À Bout de souffle.

So much of Jean-Paul Belmondo seems to come from Zbigniew Cybulski.

It makes sense.

The sunglasses.

Living in the sewers during the uprising in Warsaw.

Godard.  So underground that he wore his sunglasses at night.

Yes, they are a way to hide.

For The Velvet Underground they would become a way to survive the strobe-light insanity of Andy Warhol’s Exploding Plastic Inevitable.

For Lou Reed they would become immortalized as a way to deal with the harsh light of the day (or night) when on heroin.

This was no doubt from Hubert Selby, Jr.  From William S. Burroughs.

Perhaps even Nelson Algren.

But let’s not get too far afield.

This is a “review” of a Polish film called Popiół i diament.

It is an achingly-beautiful film.  There.  I said it.

I don’t begrudge this film.

She is my first love within Polish cinema.

There is something so special about this film.

Little moments.  The flowers dropped in the trash.

The “what-could-have-been”.  The employment by way of death.

The pull and tug of war.  The futility of taking sides.

Wajda was making a bold statement here.

There are no winners in Ashes and Diamonds.

The only winner is the viewer.

The viewer who sees the film-poetry and loses themselves for a moment upon the ash heap…the midden pile…the city dump which is modern life.

For a moment…stumbling across the wasteland…there is a girl…and a little bouquet of violets.

 

-PD

Roma città aperta [1945)

When I was younger I could take the easy way.

But as I have grown older I have found that increasingly impossible.

In moments of weakness I think of money.  A job.  Adventure.

But none of that really matters.

What matters is our fellow human beings.

Dear friends, this film (Rome, Open City) is an extremely moving experience.

What I try to bring to you as an amateur film critic are the words of a man immersed in the film…baptized…in the experience of each film.

Most pieces of cinema are not worth this effort, but occasionally a film is worth every minute…every second…every tear shed.

Roma città aperta is a masterpiece from director Roberto Rossellini.  This is a very famous film because of the milieu in which it was made.

WWII was not even over.  You can imagine how hard it must have been to get film stock (film for the camera) while Europe was in flames and Italy was a defeated country occupied by the Allies.

But this film tells of Italy occupied by the Nazis (and, indeed, Rome was occupied by the Nazis prior to American occupation).

But all of these descriptions I’m giving you…they mean nothing.

What you must understand about this film is that it did something which no film before it had done.

This film was infused with the sorrow of the World Wars, but was presented as one would present a documentary.

Hence the name neorealism.

Anna Magnani is so beautiful, but not glamorous.  She is beautiful because she is believable.  It takes a philosophical film director to deliver such a performance.  It also takes a hell of an actress!

Roma città aperta is like an opera by Mascagni or Leoncavallo.  Verismo!

Act I ends with Magnani running after her fiancé.  The SS have literally come to take him away.  And her weaving, desperate run became an iconic film moment which wouldn’t be adequately interpolated back into the cinematic discussion till Jean-Paul Belmondo took the entire Rue Campagne-Première to die in À Bout de souffle. 

Godard was young.  À Bout de souffle was his first film.

Godard took the easy way.  Postmodernism.

A bit from here and a bit from there.  Voila!

But later Godard grew a conscience.  And his conscience helped him find himself kicked to the curb of the film industry.

In our film, Aldo Fabrizi is the voice of conscience.

He plays the priest don Pietro.

He’s not your average priest.

This is a guy who stands against the Nazis.

Don Pietro helps the resistance.

Don Pietro gives and gives and gives and asks nothing.

He is a true man of God…a true humanitarian.

He helps anyone in need…atheists, communists, it doesn’t matter.

But one thing is important.

Don Pietro has made a value judgment concerning the Nazis.

He has discerned who the enemy is.

That is a large step.

Today, we are told every day who our enemy is supposed to be.

The worst offender is Fox News, but the other networks (ABC, NBC, CBS, CNN, MSNBC) are all equally devoid of journalistic merit.

As for the print media, The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and The Washington Post are completely worthless.

If you lived in Nazi Germany, you would have been bombarded with propaganda about how the Jews were the enemy and how the Jews were responsible for every conceivable ill in society.

That was, of course, untrue.

In America today, we are told (particularly by the infantile Fox News) that Islam and Muslims are the enemy and that every conceivable problem in the world today relates back to this group.

This is, obviously, untrue.

The other three/five networks (ABC, NBC, CBS, CNN, MSNBC) are more eager to push gun control (something which Hitler would no doubt have applauded).

And so, I propose to you, dear readers that what we are seeing in the world today is an array of psychological operations which mirror something about which Italy knows only too well:  Operation Gladio.

But I propose to you that what we are seeing nowadays are multiple Gladios run by gently-warring factions of the New World Order.

The biggest Gladio in operation (a series of false-flag attacks accompanied by fake wars) is the one being run by the neoconservative faction of the New World Order (including several prominent Zionists who, despite holding high U.S. government offices [and Top Secret clearances], held dual citizenship during their terms of service to the U.S. with Israel and the U.S.).  This Gladio brought you the Paris attacks.  This Gladio is responsible for the War “on” Terror (including the synthetic Arab army/marketing confection known as ISIS).  And finally, this Gladio almost certainly brought you the San Bernardino shooting as well.

The main goal of the neoconservative Gladio is endless war.  It is a macro operation.  It operates on the level of geopolitics.  War profiteering, oil, drugs…  The neoconservative Gladio brought you the mother of all false-flags:  9/11.

On the other hand is the liberal Gladio.  The liberal Gladio brought you Sandy Hook (their masterpiece).  Their other suspected jobs are Aurora (the Batman shooter) and Umpqua.  It wouldn’t be a stretch to also include the OKC bombing and the Waco massacre of the Branch Davidians.  But focusing on the first three cases alone (Sandy Hook, Aurora, Umpqua), it is very clear that the liberal Gladio has as its main goal gun control.

The liberal Gladio is operating on a micro (or domestic) level.  The San Bernardino shooting was meant to make Obama look soft on crime.  The neocon gang which engineered the shooting exhibited perfect timing as Obama had recently announced an initiative to reclaim MRAPs from local law enforcement across the country (in response to police abuse of power).  The neocons took a page out of the liberal false-flags-for-gun-control playbook on this one, but the main goal was endless war.  [This, of course, didn’t prevent Obama from trying to leverage the event to prop up HIS faction’s agenda.]

The unfortunate equation is that neither side can expose the deeds of the opposing side because they are both dealing in untruths.  Obama has, up until now, squandered his opportunity to bring the neocons of the Bush administration to task for 9/11 and the fraudulent War “on” Terror.  Indeed, Obama has only proven that he himself is a fraud down to his very core.

The layers-upon-layers of lies in the United States cannot hold.  Snowden pierced the veil.  Only those with a conscience can save us now.

 

-PD

 

Pierrot le Fou [1965)

Here.  Ici.  Godard=Picasso=Joyce.  It may start with an Élie Faure quote concerning Velázquez, but that is just to set the stage for this ball of colored glass which goes beyond cinema.  The politics come on stronger, but they are like that strangely succinct Butthole Surfers lyric about not giving a fuck about the FBI…or the CIA.

You must only dial M.  Two murders by scissor.  Furthermore, the only way to catch a thief might be in his fireworks.  The tears of a clown…Clyde and his Bonnie…I can’t even keep track of their casual carnage.  Two?  3?  One thing is for sure:  the excitement of Breathless returns…along with the high school musical version of Broadway…in a bare apartment…a girl and a shitload of guns.  That’s all you need for this film.  And a car.  The spirit of Gene Kelly emerges later to spiff up the surreal song moments.

Pierrot doesn’t drive off a cliff.  But he drives right into the sea.  Yes, books were Pierrot’s downfall.  He’s never gonna get that job at Standard Oil.  Especially since he skipped town with a smokin’-hot murderer.  Drive all night.  Fuck it!  I’m so sick of everyone.  I just want to do what I want.  You know, just get in your car and start driving.  Find a town somewhere and start a whole new life.

Enid Coleslaw would doubtless have a certain simpatico with our lovers Marianne and Ferdinand (Pierrot [Belmondo]).  But this paradise isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.  A parrot, a fox, sure…but eating out of tin cans…Marianne, like Groucho Marx, wants some hot-cha-cha!  And so the dance hall in town.  It could be L’Atalante.  It could be Casque d’Or.  Why are the police not here yet?  Because they like to let people destroy themselves.  Victor Hugo meets Dostoyevsky.

More torture à la Le Petit Soldat.  Use the whore’s dress.  Polyester.  An especially nasty asphyxiation.  And so Ferdinand ends up back in the bathtub…where he started.  Instead of reading the history of modern art to his daughter, he has just outed his lover.  What a terrible 5:00 pm.  What a terrible 5:00 pm.  What a terrible 5:00 pm.

Maybe I will just let the train pulverize me.  Why is it always damsels in distress?  Damoiseau?

Ah, but it all makes so much sense in the end.  Raymond Devos sums it up.  That tune that’s always been playing.  It is our comedic, pathetic love life.  Yes, she betrayed us.  And so he fails to not commit suicide.

A failed failure is a success.  I’ve always had trouble spelling that word.  I blame Bob Dylan.  There is no k in success.  And though I long embraced suckcess, I now remove the k and a c comes with it.  Sucess.  I have unsuccessfully spelled success.  As a graduate student.  In business.

Ah, but it’s really no use.  One must stay optimistic.  Realistic.  Let’s face it:  the chances are slim.  It takes a lot to laugh.  Hear that lonesome whistle blow.  Maybe tomorrow Bob Dylan.  Suckcess in all its glory.

-PD

Une femme est une femme [1961)

I don’t know if it’s a comedy or a tragedy, but it’s a masterpiece.  So says Jean-Claude Brialy near the end of this film.  This is, indeed, a complex turning point in Godard’s filmography.  It is important to note that Godard made a film in between Breathless and A Woman is a Woman (Le Petit soldat), but it was banned by the French government because it focused on torture (as part of the ongoing Algerian War).  What is obvious is the dramatic shift from the stark noir of Breathless to the candied colors of A Woman is a Woman.

But there are many things strange about this relatively “normal” film (relative as regards Godard).  There is a sexual, existential tension between Anna Karina and Godard the director which is played out in a complex quasi-real paradox of a love triangle.  Bear with me…  Brialy and Belmondo are both symbols, but at times it seems that Belmondo is a symbol for himself.  Brialy is more obviously the “Godard” character.  Knowing the history of Karina and Godard, it might seem rather premature for them to be having relationship problems, but that’s why it is essential to note that her first film as Godard’s muse was Le Petit soldat.  [It would eventually be released after Vivre sa vie as his fourth film (and, importantly, after the Algerian War had ended).]

I would go so far as to say that Godard is weirder in this film (last I checked, the only of his films available on Netflix=his most lasting contribution to the mainstream) than Jodorowsky is in The Holy Mountain.  That might seem to be a stretch, but again:  bear with me.  Jodorowsky, while brilliant, is over-the-top in such a way which harkens back to the earliest of avant-gardes…the films of Dali and Bunuel.  Godard, on the other hand, while seeming to “play the game” to a certain extent was in actuality creating a new language.  Just the first few moments of A Woman is a Woman alone are enough to indicate as much.  The role of sound and music in this film is paramount.  While perhaps little noticed, Godard (together with the music of Michel Legrand) had developed a sort of audio jump cut.  He would use this device to greatest effect in the opening credits of Vivre sa vie.  The inexplicable stops and starts in both the soundtrack and the ostensibly synchronized sound (dialogue and such) serve to once again make the viewer subtly ill-at-ease (just as Breathless had done visually).

James Monaco had it right when he talked about the Nouvelle Vague exploding genres from the inside out.  Godard here chooses the American musical.  I could go on at length, but I will keep it short.  No one has dug deeper into themselves time after time to give the viewer a truly novel and thought-provoking experience than Jean-Luc Godard.  Understood on a strictly intellectual level, it is fascinating.  Viewed over the course of a long, persistent career, it is truly touching.

-PD

A bout de souffle [1960)

To paraphrase Lester Bangs regarding The Velvet Underground, modern cinema begins with Jean-Luc Godard.  The strangest part is that Godard’s trajectory has been somewhat like that of the great French novelist Louis-Ferdinand Céline.  Both would be primarily recognized in their lifetimes for their first creation.  For Céline it was the groundbreaking spleen of Voyage au bout de la nuit (1932) and for Godard the film in question (his first full-length feature).  The most criminal aspect of this whole equation is that Godard IS STILL ALIVE AND MAKING GREAT, GREAT FILMS!

For awhile, my dissatisfaction with the public’s reception of Godard over his long career led me to undervalue his earlier works (to perhaps balance out the disproportionate attention these films get in relation to his oeuvre as a whole).  What cannot be denied, however, is that Breathless (literally “at the end of breath”) is as important to film as Journey to the End of the Night (Voyage…) is to literature.  There are more similarities.  Michel Poiccard (Jean-Paul Belmondo) is not so different from Céline’s Bardamu.  The spirit of youth and anarchy run throughout these two works…all of it tied together with a dark humor which disarms as much as it offends.

The key to Godard’s film is that it is radical while also being somewhat subtle.  Perhaps this is only accurate in hindsight (considering what has followed Breathless in the cinematic canon), but the avant-garde nature of the film is really in all of the little rules it breaks.  The most oft mentioned are the jump cuts (and there are plenty of them).  A deeper reading into the history of the film might reveal that Cécile Decugis and Lila Herman were responsible for this novel approach as much as Godard.  Agnès Guillemot did not become Godard’s regular editor until Une femme est une femme (or Le Petit soldat…take your pick).  There is reason to believe that the jump cuts were mainly in the service of keeping the action going.  Along with Martial Solal’s excellent noir jazz, the pace rarely slackens but for a few contrasting scenes.

What is less-discussed is the plethora of filmic references which play like an inside joke for the Cahiers crowd.  Breaking “the fourth wall” is just one of the many transgressions which Godard takes up joyfully in this affront.  One might venture to guess that what was truly “dégueulasse” to Godard was the state of the French film industry leading up to his first real foray into direction.  At every turn, the “tradition of quality” is left in the dust as Breathless speeds away wild and free.

-PD