Wednesday, June 6, 2012
Dipping My Toes in French New Wave: Cleo from 5 to 7 and The 400 Blows
I like to think I've dipped my toes into most things by now, but then I remember there are several sub-genres that have eluded me. One of which is the French New Wave. To tie in with the LAMB's Foreign Chops for the month, I've checked out a couple of definite New Wave films: Cleo from 5 to 7 and The 400 Blows. Throughout this month, I'll be watching a few more New Wave flicks and checking in every Wednesday to let you know how I'm going. Just think of this as a 'wider film education for a 16 year old who has nothing better to do'...
The main reason I saw Cleo from 5 to 7 was because it was directed by a woman. Call me strange or whatever, but whenever I watch a film directed by a woman, I feel a sense of pride (even when I'm watching Mamma Mia). However, there was a certain sense of pride that I felt while watching Cleo that I definitely didn't feel whilst watching Mamma Mia. This film was just indescribably great. It takes place in real time, starting from 5pm. It follows beautiful singer Cleo (Corinne Marchand) throughout an hour and a half of her life, as she waits to find out the diagnosis of her cancerous tumour and whether it is fatal. From the get-go, this film seemed pretty much perfect for me: I have a major weakness for these simple films where we observe a certain character going through life. This one is a step ahead of the other ones I've obsessed over in the past. For one thing, it is French, and I can't help it if I fall in love with anything from that country. Another thing is that it is so goddamn beautiful. However, the thing I liked the most was that this film started off in colour - and it had every reason to go on that way - but Agnes Varda chose to film the rest in black-and-white. Glorious black-and-white. From there, everything is more beautiful, more eerie, more feeling. Just the way I like it.
Now I'm not the kind of girl who beats the feminist drum, but this film is something different to what I usually watch in that respect. Cleo is a character who starts off very vain and obsessed with her appearance - just like most other female film characters. She buys things in order to make herself feel better. She has a mask which she's carefully procured over the years because she is scared of what other people think of her. As the film goes on, however, she starts stripping off this mask and starts exposing us to the true fear she's feeling over her biopsy results. She searches for ways to calm herself, in the hope that someone else will be able to help her with her ordeal. This leads her to her supposed best friend Dorothee, who doesn't help all that much. It's then she realises there is only so much other people can do for her - which is something that I can relate to. What I love about the way that Varda has crafted this character and this film is that she isn't obsessed with having the female talk only of love, men and beauty. The female isn't constantly pitted against other males. I'm not sure why, but I was fascinated by that. It was a brilliant film, which finishes just at the right moment. And who knew that when I sat down to watch this film on a Friday night that I'd get a life lesson?
Now, The 400 Blows was a film that I liked a little less, but still appreciated all the same. Known as one of the first French New Wave films, Francois Truffaut tells the story of a young, misunderstood boy Antoine (Jean-Pierre Leaud) who goes into a life filled with petty crime because he is left without attention. This film struck me because I realised that it is the kind of film that we should be watching at high school, but unfortunately New Zealand schools wouldn't dare to go that far. Everything about the story and the way it is made is perfect for adolescents to get a good feeling of how far films can go. Antoine's story is heart-breaking: he's seen as a troublemaker, and frequently gets the blame for things, even if he doesn't deserve it. Because he is young, everyone seems to see his troubles as a result of him being 'underdeveloped' in terms of life. Despite the fact that his parents and his teachers were once kids like him, they've forgotten what it is like to be a kid, and therefore don't understand what Antoine is going through. He gets sent to a prison-like school in order to straighten him out, but the truth is that this is the worst thing for him. It's just another excuse for his parents to ignore his problems. Which made me very upset, even moreso now I've mulled the film over.
I am not that familiar with Truffaut's work (though that will change throughout the month), but I can say that I loved the way this was made. The editing, particularly during Antoine's monologue, was particularly striking. Just the way Truffaut sets up and shoots scenes is so indescribably awesome. The score, too, was brilliant. I don't really have much else to say about The 400 Blows at the moment, because I feel it would get better on a rewatch. Let's just say, that final shot will be etched in my memory for years to come.
What do you think of these films? Also, what French New Wave film do you recommend I see next?