Sunday, September 2, 2012

Breathless / Alphaville -
Jean-Luc Godard (1960/1965)

Did you hear all about the recent results of BFI's decadennial Sight & Sound poll? Vertigo is finally better than Citizen Kane!! So I'll be watching 1+ film per day throughout September - and blogging it...

Not the first film from the Nouvelle Vague, but the directorial debut of Jean-Luc Godard - the new waviest of the French New Wave.

A bout de souffle (1960)
Breathless (À bout de souffle)
dir. Jean-Luc Godard. 1960, France.
Sight & Sound 2012: Critics' #13 / Directors' #11
Roger Ebert's Great Movies ... Criterion essay
DVD/Blu-Ray from the Criterion Collection
Watch via Hulu-Plus / Amazon Instant / iTunes

Breathless trailer (1960)

I've only seen a handful of Godard films, as few as three total. Wait, I'm counting Jules and Jim (1962), which was Truffaut - so I think it was just two. Breathless being the first for me, and it's probably been around 20 years since. Again, kinda why we're here...

Jean Seberg

Michel Poiccard: Informers inform, burglars burgle, murderers murder, lovers love.

Regardez, what a difference a couple of decades can make. Back in my early-20s, I think I found these characters pretty cool. Don't get me wrong - the film is extra cool, Paris 1960 is definitely cool, Jean-Luc Godard was the king of cool. But in the flush of youth, I must have seen another young rebel romancing the city, living fast, burning bright. Jean-Paul Belmondo plays a Parisian car thief. Jean Seburg plays his American sociopathic pixie dreamgirl. They each have several screws loose.

Michel fancies himself a tough guy, boasting a false identity (László Kovács!), chain-smoking ill-rolled cigarettes. Cracking wise in some rhyming slang, like "Maintenant je fonce, Alphonse!" ("Gotta make tracks, Max!") Although right upfront, he admits he's just an asshole. Really he's just naïve and juvenile, accidentally getting deeper & deeper in trouble than he ever intends. Patricia carries the unearned superiority of Americans abroad, or else she wears that mask to hide her mental and ethical hollowness. Or is she just a pathological liar? Her interactions with other people are odd, to say the least.

A bout de souffle
Lots of great little moments of cool occur throughout. "Not much of a looker, but I'm quite a boxer" is perfect self-deprecation. Everyone constantly throwing lit matches and cigarettes on the floor. "That scooter just passed you!" made me laugh out loud. Maybe the first ever high-five in movie history? And also lots of weird uneasiness, like Michel's desperate anti-suave begging for sex, or Patricia's boss telling the story about forgetting to sleep with the girl he'd meant to.

But I think this is a loveletter to art - mostly the movies. Godard was a film critic for Cahiers du Cinema, and right near the beginning a young girl tries to sell Michel an issue on the street. The credits are a Who's Who of French/New Wave: story by François Truffaut, supervised by Claude Chabrol, Parvulesco by Jean-Pierre Melville (we'll get to him later this month), and Godard as the informer (the one in the quote above). There are movie posters everywhere: Ten Seconds to Hell ("Live dangerously until the end!"), The Harder They Fall (I finally figured out that Michel dresses like a '40s Bogie character), Westbound (the French Western film?)... I liked how during the American film noir, Patricia hides in the DAMES restroom. Oh, and the film is dedicated to Monogram Pictures. There's talk of the great artist Renoir, Maurice Chevalier, and Romeo & Juliet - which certainly foreshadows the unintended consequences of young love oustside the bounds.

Alphaville stairs
Yesterday being a Saturday, I went for a double-feature. Picking the 2nd film was quite difficult - given the critical reverence for a wide range of Godard films, plus any of the other French/New Wave auteurs: Truffaut, Rohmer, Resnais, even Roger Vadim or Jean-Pierre Melville. But in the end, it was always Godard's only experimental film noir sci-fi headtrip...

Alphaville (1965)
Alphaville (une étrange aventure de Lemmy Caution)
dir. Jean-Luc Godard. 1965, France.
Sight & Sound 2012: Critics' #894 (1 vote) / Directors' #132
New York Times movie review
OOP Criterion DVD from Amazon
Watch via Amazon Instant / iTunes / YouTube

Alphaville trailer (1965)

Turned out to be the perfect complement to Breathless. Stylistically could not be more different... and the French-American slots are reversed for the lead actors. Maybe not as good a film, but I think I actually enjoyed it more.

Alphaville windows
"I'm fine, thanks. Don't mention it."

The noir-style score is relentless & ridiculous. Everyone's always walking around through various doorways, repeating the same lines of dialogue. Mathematics Park. Lemmy Caution always taking photos with his Retro camera. Dick Tracy and Flash Gordon have gone missing. Natacha von Braun has "the voice of a pretty sphinx." Mr. Nosferatu is α-#1? Seems like maybe we're heading for a black-and-white Oz reveal, but the film changes track. Computer monologues, flashing of negative print images... The triumph of poetry over logic? Maybe.

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