Author Topic: 1960s World Cinema: Le Bonheur (1965, France)  (Read 15072 times)

worm@work

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Re: 1960s World Cinema: Le Bonheur (1965, France)
« Reply #10 on: March 17, 2009, 08:02:07 AM »
Thanks FifthCityMuse. I really do think you'll enjoy watching the whole thing. Her editing together of all these various strands to structure  the documentary is really remarkable too. And it was really interesting for me to notice how she seems to have a reasonably free-wheeling style during the shooting process but she seems to be really strict and rigorous about her editing. Maybe this is pretty normal, especially with documentary filmmakers but still, the difference in how she talks about the shooting process vs. the editing process was really remarkable to me.

I also forgot to finish the anecdote about Varda rapping in the film. So she said she that she wanted to have a traditional classical score for the film for which she recruited a composer she had worked with in the past but she also felt that she wanted part of the score to be rap because she thought it best suited the tone and content of the film. So she found these 3 kids rapping at a street corner and recruited them to do the rap for the film. Come the day of the recording, one of them never showed up. Of the other two, a boy and a girl, the boy didn't like the words that Varda had written for them to perform. He would keep improvising on his own which she was okay with except he wouldn't even agree to stay on topic. So on the final day, she only expected the girl to show up but even she didn't and Varda said she figured there's only a small part left and she could just do it herself :). Personally, I found it really fun to suddenly hear her voice on the rap soundtrack towards the end of the film and given that she keeps mixing the personal with her topic anyway, it all felt rather appropriate.
« Last Edit: March 17, 2009, 08:34:16 AM by worm@work »

worm@work

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Re: 1960s World Cinema: Le Bonheur (1965, France)
« Reply #11 on: March 17, 2009, 04:30:33 PM »

Le Bonheur (Agnès Varda, 1965)

So I finally come to the actual film picked for the marathon, which turned out to be the last one I watched in the series. Unfortunately, she couldn't stay to do a Q&A since this was a late show.. so no fun anecdotes to accompany this one!

As it turns out, this also seems to be the hardest one for me to write about. First of all, the whole film just felt like a fable to me. The characters all feel like these heightened versions of reality and the whole story at one level just feels really simplistic. For instance, in the very first frame which shows a family enjoying a picnic in the country and this entire scene is just too fairytale-like in its perfection. The man is just too perfectly tall, dark and handsome and the woman is blonde and pretty and wholesome and their two kids who look just like their mother are always smiling and playful and charming and the countryside looks like a Renaissance painting that just decided to come alive for this occasion. Everything is just far too idyllic and perfect. And even as the story progresses and gets perhaps less idyllic, it continues to stay really simple at least on the surface.

While introducing the film, Varda talked about her decision to cast Jean-Claude Drouot who was a successful and well-known TV star in the film and more importantly, to cast his wife (who wasn't a professional actress) and his kids in the film. She seemed very satisfied with the decision and felt that it really helped make the family dynamic seem really natural and true to life. She also described the film itself as a wonderful perfect-looking summer fruit that contains a worm inside it!

Anyway, so back to the film itself, I thought the family dynamics really did work well. The married couple seem completely authentic and somehow the entire Drouot family, including the kids, seems to be able to be around each other as if there are no cameras around. Again, I am compelled to call attention to her ability to film these domestic scenes as if she just stood there in a corner and shot them as they carried on with their normal lives. Likewise with the scenes in the carpenter's workshop. The way she is able to capture that sense of camaraderie amongst the men is pretty great.

When the other blonde girl in the post-office is first introduced to us and we see her interact with Francoise, here again I was struck by how simple and natural the flirtation between the two appears. They are both young and good-looking and somehow it seems perfectly natural that they should smile at each other and get talking. I think one of my favorite parts of the film is that even as we watch this and anticipate what is to come, the way she films this interaction is so cheerful and the two people in question are so immensely likable that one almost doesn't notice that the scene isn't eliciting the usual disapproving reaction. And that sorta helps me understand skjerva's view of the film as an attack on monogamy. However, ultimately, I am not sure that I agree with that point of view but more on that later.

This is where I think Varda sort of plays with our expectations regarding what is to come next. Either that or I just can't predict how French people will behave in a certain situation :D. For one thing, the man basically seems to be reasonably honest with the women. Also, he seems to find for himself a definition of fidelity that somehow manages to allow him to love two women at once. Again, things that I think support the anti-monogamy view of the film.

Where I think the film takes a turn is during the final act where we see that his actions do have consequences. I think this made at least a few people at my screening view the film in fact as being against the free-love culture. But I felt like the film doesn't necessarily take that position either.

Finally, we see though that the consequences are far from fatal for Francoise. We see that Emilie has just replaced Therese as the wife and mother in the family. But just as I started to wonder about the fact that she is perhaps letting the man off too easily by giving him the opportunity to resume his life as before, I also realized that she shows that Francoise has effectively tied the formerly rather free-spirited Emilie to a life of commitment and domesticity. So she does finally get us to question his actions.

I just loved the visual flourishes in the film. This is Varda's first color feature and it's overall just lush and colorful and beautiful to look at. But more importantly, I love the way she uses these little visual cues to add humor and even convey what could be rather heavy themes in such a lighthearted way. There is the obvious use of advertisements (billboards) and storefronts and so on to hint at what is possibly going on in the characters' minds or to just make us chuckle :). Secondly, the use of colors which I think was very deliberate but I didn't really get a chance to make notes on what color is used in which part to be able to make any sense of that stuff. Finally, when Emilie moves in as his wife, she is even wearing a dress that is eerily similar to the one that Therese is wearing in the first screen (if only I had screenshots for all this :().. not to mention the fact that both Emilie and Therese are almost the same shade of blonde and both are really pretty just in slightly different ways. Oh and the scene where Therese wants to go watch a film with Francoise and she excitedly tells him, "It’s Brigitte Bardot and Jeanne Moreau together for the first time". She then goes on to ask him which one he prefers, a question that he wisely answers by telling her that he prefers her to both of them. But then Varda cuts to the carpentry shop and we see that the men's locker is covered with posters of Bardot with only one picture of Moreau in the bunch.

I do think that the film sort of sets up this conflict between nature and society.. this idea that desire is natural but that we need the structure of family (and monogamy) to function happily in society and how do we resolve these two opposing forces. How does one find a reasonable code to live by given that love / desire doesn't seem to follow these neat rules. However, I didn't think that she takes a stand in one direction or the other but rather just poses these questions to us.

I also felt that the film sort of raises this idea that despite being unique individuals and so on, we are all still ultimately replaceable. The two kids love their parents but are soon happy to have Emilie to take care of them and play with them. Even the uncle and his wife and the family friends seem to have accepted Emilie as their own. I found this aspect of the film really tragic.

Loved the use of Mozart's music for the score. I think it worked brilliantly in the film.

worm@work

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Re: 1960s World Cinema: Le Bonheur (1965, France)
« Reply #12 on: March 17, 2009, 04:34:24 PM »
Oh and I also wondered about whether there is a feminist angle necessarily. I mean, could the story be told with Francoise and Therese reversing roles? I think it can and I don't think I'd have taken away anything fundamentally different from it. I am not suggesting that it'd have been better to tell the story that way. In fact, I think this works given the simple fable-like quality of the film. Just that I didn't necessarily see this as a critique of how men (or women) specifically live their lives or make choices. I found it pretty universal that way.

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Re: 1960s World Cinema: Le Bonheur (1965, France)
« Reply #13 on: March 17, 2009, 04:35:00 PM »
Welcome to the marathon, StarCarly!

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I think I'd love how awkward it'd be, or how awkward it should be.

skjerva

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Re: 1960s World Cinema: Le Bonheur (1965, France)
« Reply #14 on: March 18, 2009, 12:35:07 AM »

Le Bonheur (Agnès Varda, 1965)

So I finally come to the actual film picked for the marathon, which turned out to be the last one I watched in the series. Unfortunately, she couldn't stay to do a Q&A since this was a late show.. so no fun anecdotes to accompany this one!

As it turns out, this also seems to be the hardest one for me to write about. First of all, the whole film just felt like a fable to me. The characters all feel like these heightened versions of reality and the whole story at one level just feels really simplistic. For instance, in the very first frame which shows a family enjoying a picnic in the country and this entire scene is just too fairytale-like in its perfection. The man is just too perfectly tall, dark and handsome and the woman is blonde and pretty and wholesome and their two kids who look just like their mother are always smiling and playful and charming and the countryside looks like a Renaissance painting that just decided to come alive for this occasion. Everything is just far too idyllic and perfect. And even as the story progresses and gets perhaps less idyllic, it continues to stay really simple at least on the surface.


love that frame!  drag Varda didn't have much to say on this one, i think i'd be most interested in her thoughts on this film more than any other.

i think the fable model works fairly well.  we get françois & family1 walking into the frame to begin the film and françois & family2 walking out of the frame to conclude - what we have witnessed is the messy lesson
But I wish the public could, in the midst of its pleasures, see how blatantly it is being spoon-fed, and ask for slightly better dreams. 
                        - Iris Barry from "The Public's Pleasure" (1926)

skjerva

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Re: 1960s World Cinema: Le Bonheur (1965, France)
« Reply #15 on: March 18, 2009, 12:50:02 AM »
More thoughts - More Happiness?: Loving More in Varda’s Le Bonheur

Family and Happiness
Family is at the center of Le Bonheur, clearly for good reason, as this is where ideas of love, happiness, and the good life continually return to and spring from.  Varda masterfully plays with the idea of familial love, and family, in a move to extend this thinking to a non-monogamous romantic love, in doing so she is expanding both our ides of love and family.

As earlier mentioned, the family’s first appearance in the film is in the opening credit scene where the blurry family-figures walk into the camera, with cutaways of a sunflower.  At this point it is not known that this is a family, though it will likely be assumed once recognition of two adult figures holding hands of two child figures is made.  As the family walks into the camera, from an extreme long shot to a medium shot, the viewer expects the fog to lift, for the family to come into focus.  It doesn’t happen (Image F 1):


            (Image F 1)                                          (Image F 2)

So the picture of the family the viewer expects is yet to be delivered.  In this springtime nature scene the family emerges from the forest, walking into the camera to play their parts in the evolutionary cycle for the spectators, they are still incomplete, fuzzy, yet ready to make their mark on nature.  Opening the film on a family emerging from nature, Varda introduces “the problem”, here it is worth mentioning, that on the foregrounded sunflower that appears onscreen with the family (opposed to the cutaway sunflower), a bee lands, pollination is at hand – Varda’s lesson begins.  Getting ahead of the story, at film’s end, the “new family” – the product of Varda’s species revolution – return to the forest (Image F 2), walking away from the camera, having provided the spectator with the lesson.

The film’s first post-pollination addition comes in the form of a newborn niece to François and Émilie – “Gosh!  It’s a girl” exclaim the nephews upon reading the note affixed to their door.  Perhaps not coincidentally, François just met his “new girl” two scenes prior to this announcement.  With the new birth, the family extends its concept of family and love by the inclusion of another.  The always uncommented upon assumption that parents can love more than one child, and in this case more than two, is here paired with the impending addition of a second romantic love for François – a new addition to the family, indeed.

The traditional starting point and signature of the family is the wedding.  Le Bonheur’s wedding takes place at about the film’s midpoint, or more interestingly, its tipping point.  Because Émilie made the bride’s wedding dress, she has secured an invitation for her family to attend – François cannot go, he is visiting his new love, Émilie.  François’ choice to not attend the wedding is perhaps a first significant challenge to the primacy of marriage and the social witnessing it requires.  More on this later, but contrast the cutting of the wedding scene – suggesting a stagnant institution – with the scene that follows of François appearing at Émilie’s door - vibrant and engaging – there does seem to be a question of whether or not the wedding ought to be the relationship model for happiness as well as the idealized romantic terminal.

François raises another issue regarding familial love during a workplace conversation about romantic relations.  One of François’ co-workers, “a skirt-chaser” as Françoise calls him, states “after you get one, you’ll want many” to an admittedly inexperienced young co-worker who had stated “I’d rather have one only, a good one.”  François, without divulging his multiple-partnered self, states in response to both co-workers’ positions “I like fidelity…I’m not capricious.  When I love, I can’t stop.”  The conversation is broken up by the boss who wants them to work, but François wants to get one last thought out - “For old people I feel the same.  I loved my father.  I don’t think of him very often but I still love him.  He’s here.  It goes on…”  With this statement François seems to be equating his love of his deceased father with the romantic love just previously discussed, familial love is similar to romantic love.  Further, he is commenting broadly on love as bountiful and obviously multiple.  Here lies the ethic of François’ philosophy of happiness, which is inclusive of love and family – “Happiness works by addition.”

François has an expansive idea of love, family, and relationships that is grounded in honesty and fidelity - happiness must respect the wishes and desires of others.  This is of course most plain when François finally tells his wife - after she asks him why he has been so happy recently – that he loves another woman.  On seeing her less than jubilant reaction, François says to her “If it hurts you…I’ll do what you want.  If you ask me to do without her, I’ll do it.  I want you to be happy.  You and the kids.  You and I.  You first.”  In François’ previous exchanges with Émilie he had always conveyed his love for his wife, never speaking negatively of her, and speaking of her qualities as distinct from what Émilie had to offer.  At one point Émilie says “Tell me one thing…Are she and I the same to you?” François responds “No, very different” and goes on to enumerate various qualities.  While there appears an equivalence between François’ relationship to Thérèse and Émilie in that the film begins with one pairing and concludes with another, or that there seem to be equivalences in that both pairings do some of the same things together – dance, visit the forest with the kids, have sex – it is not suggested that one pairing’s activities in any way replaces the same activities done by the other pairing.  In fact, François tells Émilie that her lovemaking is very different from Thérèse’s.  Further, the scene where most of the primary characters are present for the dance has partners swapping out, again suggesting a desire for variety.
But I wish the public could, in the midst of its pleasures, see how blatantly it is being spoon-fed, and ask for slightly better dreams. 
                        - Iris Barry from "The Public's Pleasure" (1926)

worm@work

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Re: 1960s World Cinema: Le Bonheur (1965, France)
« Reply #16 on: March 23, 2009, 09:11:16 AM »

La Pointe-Courte (Agnès Varda, 1954)

More on this later.

worm@work

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Re: 1960s World Cinema: Le Bonheur (1965, France)
« Reply #17 on: March 23, 2009, 09:44:07 AM »
Okay, 2 more screenshots first. Looks like something out of Persona, no?




worm@work

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Re: 1960s World Cinema: Le Bonheur (1965, France)
« Reply #18 on: March 23, 2009, 08:11:48 PM »

La Pointe-Courte (Agnès Varda, 1954)

Hmm, so I liked this one quite a bit too. Visually, I was drawn in pretty much immediately. Right from the first few frames, where we see this gorgeous surface texture that I initially thought was a sandy desert which then revealed itself to be totally something else, I was hooked. And then the camera sort of moves down a narrow lane in the village and not only did it remind me of my grandparents house (they live in a coastal village in India) but I felt like I could almost smell the sea breeze blowing through the hanging laundry and the windows of the houses. Just all the scenes where we just see people working and going about their daily lives made me feel like I had such a good sense of the place. I loved those scenes and the way the couple, especially the wife from Paris always sticks out as a stranger whenever juxtaposed against any of the villagers.


Anyway, so this did feel like a debut feature to me in the way she seems so fascinated by the textures and she seems to be using the camera so playfully to explore all of these different textures and lines that just seem to exist in this little fishing town.


I really liked the alternating stories structure as well even if it sometimes took me out of one story a little too rudely in my opinion. I remember one scene in the film where we see the couple talking (not like they do anything else in the film!) and they seem to have run out of things to say and are just sitting quietly and suddenly we cut to a child being slapped by his mother and move to the other storyline. I definitely felt that slap! I think that structure worked even better for me after I was done watching the film because I really liked the parallel between this idea of an unknown toxin polluting the water that the fisherfolk rely on for food and the unnamed, unknown thing that seems to have come between the man and his wife.

Interesting that this idea of something superficially / seemingly beautiful containing something darker within it seems to be a recurring pattern at least in her fictional films - the cancer in Cléo, infidelity in Le Bonheur and so on.

I think what she calls her "equal fascination" with documentary and narrative cinema is really evident here as well. I think Varda mentioned while talking about one of the other films I watched at the HFA that this was her most scripted film. She said she had an extremely detailed shooting script and she pretty much followed it exactly. This surprises me considering how verité-style at least half the film feels. She also talked about how the rest of the cast except for the lead actors are actual residents of Pointe-Courte and that they contributed a lot to the script!

It's amazing how documentary-like and natural the scenes with the fishermen and their families feels at all times whereas the scenes with the couple are just so formally framed and their dialogues are so stylized. They don't even talk like normal people. They always seem to be delivering their lines or something which I somehow think was a deliberate choice on her part. I don't know if that was the reason but I definitely was a lot more interested in the villager's lives than I was in the couple's marriage woes. Most of the time when they were talking, I was just happy the scenery was so great to look at!

I loved the cats in the film, the way they appear and the way it always feels as if she got distracted by them and decided to look at them through her camera instead of the couple :). Overall, I think the film works for me more than anything else, as a story told in images. There are nice lines from the villagers I thought but the way the train always seems to come between the couple, the way the villagers' tools are visible everywhere, the crabs that scuttle into the sand -- these are the touches that I really loved.

Incidentally, for a movie that's mostly focused on a failing marriage, it hardly feels melancholic at all. Also, I really like the way the ending doesn't feel pat or either clearly sad or happy. Again, I felt the same way about her other films too.

I am not sure I'd have bothered to go to so many of these Varda films if it weren't for this marathon. This was just a great discovery for me!

pixote

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Re: 1960s World Cinema: Le Bonheur (1965, France)
« Reply #19 on: March 24, 2009, 04:13:03 AM »

La Pointe-Courte  (Agnès Varda, 1954)

Any film containing the still above is going to earn a recommendation from me.  The shot/sequence itself is even better than the single frame, too.

Visually, I was drawn in pretty much immediately. Right from the first few frames, where we see this gorgeous surface texture that I initially thought was a sandy desert which then revealed itself to be totally something else, I was hooked.
I was drawn in immediately as well, though more by the shot that follows the one you describe above.  As the camera was coasting down the cobblestone street, slightly above eye-level, moving as if floating on the wind, I actually remarked, "What a great way to start a movie!"  It's just like the perfect entrance into the location — so visually arresting.  It's a shame Varda couldn't sustain the shot even longer (the eventual edit point was pretty awkward), but that's okay.  The shot also does a nice job of introducing my favorite character in the film: the wind.



That's partly a comment on my great appreciation of the film's sense of location (and photography) and partly on my tepid interest in the film's characters. 

I loved those scenes and the way the couple, especially the wife from Paris always sticks out as a stranger whenever juxtaposed against any of the villagers.
I really liked the alternating stories structure as well even if it sometimes took me out of one story a little too rudely in my opinion.
I didn't really like either of those aspects of the film, I guess.  It just seemed to set up this overly basic dichotomy between the urban and the rural — romanticizing the latter at the expense of the former.  The villagers are full of life and emotion, hard-working, etc. etc., while the couple from Paris are cold and detached, living too much in their minds.  Varda captures this visually, often posing the man and woman in artificial fashion, freezing them in space and time, keeping their words disassociated from their bodies, and so on.  Alas, Paris has robbed the man of the spontaneous joy he no doubt had as a boy growing up in this coastal village:



At a narrative level, a lot of this stuff bored me, but I found it interesting at a metacinematic level, thinking about how the mix of styles captured the transitional nature of the filmmaking, with the filming of the villagers harkening back to influences from the 30s, especially Jean Vigo (À propos de Nice, L'Atalante), and the filming of the couple anticipating much of the Left Bank cinema to come — certainly Hiroshima mon amour and Last Year at Marienbad, both by La Pointe-Courte's editor, Alain Resnais.  Some of the more staid filmmaking of 1950s France seemed to slip in there, too.

Incidentally, for a movie that's mostly focused on a failing marriage, it hardly feels melancholic at all. Also, I really like the way the ending doesn't feel pat or either clearly sad or happy.
I generally agree, though one shot did sort of make me laugh out loud:



The whole thing seems to be about how the simple humanity of the surrounding village life has reminded the couple how to feel again or something like that, and when the woman undoes the belt on her dress and takes the clip out of her hair, it's almost as if she turns into like a Green Acres farmgirl in a frock or something.  The goofy smile just adds to it.  And the awkward way the man reaches over to touch her hand.  I dunno, something about it made me laugh.  Yay! The ice between them is really starting to thaw! etc.  (I also laughed earlier in the film at the prolonged shot of the fisherman suggestively thrusting his pole in the water over and over and over again.  I forgot what dialogue played over that, but it definitely fit, whatever it was.)

I haven't talked enough about what I liked about the film (and I did like it), so I'll just say that the scene of people trying to keep their balance on the greased mast, that encapsulates all my enjoyment of the film.

pixote
« Last Edit: March 24, 2009, 04:32:08 AM by pixote »
I think I'd love how awkward it'd be, or how awkward it should be.