Thursday, June 28, 2012
Dipping My Toes in French New Wave: Hiroshima Mon Amour and Jules and Jim
It has been a fun month of getting into French New Wave, but I must admit, it kinda ended with less power than it did when I started. Hiroshima Mon Amour and Jules and Jim, the last films I watched for the series, were unfortunately the worst of the selection that I'd seen. That's not to say that they were bad, they just finished last. Anyway, my (brief) takes on the two, followed by my evaluation here...
The last time I saw a film by Alain Resnais, I was scarred for life. In fact, I watched Night and Fog a whole year ago and every time I think of it, my skin crawls. So I was a little weary about Hiroshima Mon Amour, one of the earliest New Wave films, but thankfully there was little scarring on this movie's part. Instead, this is a film about a French actress (Emmanuelle Riva, who is currently gracing screens in Michael Haneke's acclaimed Amour) and a married Japanese architect (Eiji Okada) who have an affair, but no that they'll have to part ways in a very short amount of time. The film is basically a compilation of the conversations they have over the 36 hours that they are together, which are mostly based around the idea of the limits of memory. While I am a self-confessed fan of hearing people talk, this film, for some reason or another, frustrated me. I'm not sure why that was, as the words said were beautiful - I guess it was either the fact that I was exhausted or I just couldn't really connect to what was going on. Aside from that, it was beautifully made (which I think is just a given because all New Wave films have such brilliant ways of expressing themselves). Also, the opening was great - even though it is different from Night and Fog, I could see how Resnais was building on what he'd done there with a mix of clips revolving around the terrible events of Hiroshima. Certainly something that I wasn't expecting, but Resnais does that sort of thing well.
François Truffaut began my New Wave series with The 400 Blows - which coincidentally began that New Wave itself - and he is the one to end it with Jules and Jim. Even though the films are extremely different, I can definitely see a clear Truffaut connection in the way that they are made. The strange, often erratic editing is probably the one thing that stuck out for me. Editing is one thing I really like, if it is done in the right way and isn't too distracting. Truffaut seems to hit the nail on the head with that one. While Truffaut started the French New Wave with a dark, depressing drama about a boy's tough life, Jules and Jim takes a lighter route, before eventually turning into sadness - which is what most New Wave films do, I've found. It follows two friends, an Austrian writer Jules (Oskar Werner) and French Jim (Henri Serre) who meet the impulsive Catherine (Jeanne Moreau). Now, I've seen my fair share of love triangles played out on film before, but none like this one. While fairly entertaining, I admit to being a little frustrated by Catherine and how the men seemed to be hanging off her. I'd be running away from someone like that - but I guess she does have her charms. However, the way this film bases itself around the Great War is something that brings true heartbreak to the film, even though I felt that it was a shade undercooked. There wasn't a hell of a lot for me to grab onto in this movie, but it was still well and truly worth the watch, particularly if anyone wants to see what a true example of a French New Wave film is.
Anyway, what did I think of my experience with French New Wave as a whole?
It was definitely an interesting experience - especially because I saw where cinema sort of, I don't know, changed, and where the influences for some of the films I see today came from. Mind you, I can't say it was the most fun I've ever had. I honestly can't think of one film that didn't leave me on a bummer note. However, that's just fine. I've decided that I like films to depress me more than I like them to make me happy. Yes, I'm strange.
How would I rank the films I've seen, from least favourite to most favourite?
8. Hiroshima Mon Amour (1959) Dir. Alain Resnais
7. The 400 Blows (1959) Dir. François Truffaut
6. Jules and Jim (1962) Dir. François Truffaut
5. Au Hasard Balthazar (1966) Dir. Robert Bresson
4. Breathless (1960) Dir. Jean-Luc Godard
3. Cleo from 5 to 7 (1962) Dir. Agnes Varda
2. The Umbrellas of Cherbourg (1964) Dir. Jacques Demy
1. Vivre Sa Vie (1962) Dir. Jean-Luc Godard
What am I going to dip my toes in next?
Next month will be dedicated to anime films. Don't worry about recommendations just yet, I have two all set up for next week and will put up the call then. As of now, though, what do you think of Hiroshima Mon Amour or Jules and Jim, and my coverage of the basics of French New Wave?