Saturday, June 12, 2010

Human, the Mad Animal

I watched Jean-Luc Godard's Pierrot le Fou last night, a movie I ultimately found to be a beautiful, melancholy portrait of the connexion between audiences and movies, people and art, people and dreams.

At first, I was outright frustrated by the film. Up until I watched Breathless about a week ago, the only Godard movie I'd seen was Les Carabiniers, several years earlier. I'd hated it so much it was with trepidation I'd watched Breathless. I loved Breathless so much, I decided to risk another Godard with Pierrot le Fou. I knew early on in the film I was liking it better than Les Carbiniers, but its fundamental philosophy was irritating me in a way that somewhat reminded me of Carbiniers.

As Roger Ebert says in his reviews of the film, Pierrot le Fou is a movie about itself, as apparently many of Godard's movies are. But in the case of Pierrot le Fou, I'd add to Ebert's observation by saying that Godard, a movie critic before he became a filmmaker, was making a film prompted by the disconnect one feels when one has analysed for too long what they love, has pulled out all the bits and pieces, examined precisely what it is that works about them, until they cease to hold meaning. Pierrot le Fou is about that disconnect. The movie stars Jean-Paul Belmondo and Anna Karina as a pair of lovers on the run from a group of vaguely defined gangsters, where everything between the lovers is conveyed with ruminating, poetic cinema while everything to do with the plot is conveyed in an absurd or offhand manner.

And there are many very blatant references to criticism and the fact that Pierrot le Fou is a movie. The film begins with Ferdinand (Belmondo) in the bath reading a dense, lamenting monologue to a small child. The point seeming to be Godard acknowledging the ridiculousness of insisting on deeper meaning in cinema, before plunging headlong into something our inner children would have a lot of trouble making sense of.

I knew just what the movie was up to and I didn't think I liked it. A scene at a gas station where Marianne (Karina) uses a bit slapstick to knock over an attendant so the two lovers can make a get away is referred to her as a reference to Laurel and Hardy. When they steal another car off a garage's lift, tense music on the soundtrack arbitrarily shuts on and off, essentially to say to the audience, "The music is manipulating your emotions and how you perceive this scene."

All this I found to be very tedious, and I would at that point have found myself in agreement more with Roger Ebert's almost negative 2007 review of the film than with his glowing, 1968 review of the film. Not liking the movie was all the more frustrating because I liked a lot of things about it. Belmondo and Karina are both intensely charming and everything is shot beautifully. There's a truly wonderful tracking shot of a shared, muddled memory the two lovers have of a murder they committed together, where the shot, with only sorrowful, tense music, on the soundtrack, overwhelming dialogue, glides over the two wandering about the room, guns in the background, a bloody corpse face down on the bed--Marianne, anxious, throws Ferdinand a bottle of wine from the refrigerator before she disappears behind the refrigerator door. The camera then pans to the dead man himself walking into the room from the right, quite alive, meeting Marianne on the balcony. Marianne's movement in the scene especially, mysteriously going from the refrigerator in one shot to the balcony like a magic trick, amazed me. I was reminded frequently of Godard's famous quote, "Film is truth 24 frames a second and every cut is a lie." So to truly convey the feeling of malfunctioning sensation, it must be done in a single shot.

But however clever and beautiful the film might be, I didn't think I could get behind it as the lack of verisimilitude seemed as though it would inevitably detract from the character development. But that was before I really understood what was happening--there's a scene near the end of the film that encapsulates it beautifully.

Ferdinand comes across a decidedly uncinematic looking man singing a song to himself as he looks out at the sea. He asks repeatedly if Ferdinand can hear the music--we, the audience, do hear the musical accompaniment to his singing on the soundtrack. The man proceeds to explain how he had heard the music when he'd fallen in love with two women, the second of whom he'd wound up being married to for ten years.

He grew tired of her and decided he didn't like the song. He begs Ferdinand to tell him he's crazy, that there is no music, which Ferdinand does and the man thanks him. But when Ferdinand leaves, the man yells after him that Ferdinand has missed the whole point, accuses him of being insensitive, and says the song's haunted him all his life.

Early in the film, Ferdinand and Marianne talk to what appears to be a focus group--random, seemingly real people to whom the two stars try to tell stories to to excite their interest, invariably failing to. As the two, on the lam, travel across France, Ferdinand observes in narration that they are "like shadows, like mirrors." And it seems almost like they are a pair of Hitchcockian protagonists trying to communicate with the audience they are a reflection of.

Then it seems as though Ferdinand is the art and Marianne is the audience, as the two remain in hiding on an island for a long time, Ferdinand writing poetry obsessively, trying to convince Marianne to be content while she wishes to return to a life of action and drama.

Their dynamic becomes one of man and woman, and a scene on a beach seems a stripped down version of many conflicts between men and women on screen, as they attempt to communicate by expressing their desires directly, only to apparently fail.

In the end, the film seems to unhappily find itself to be something absurd and yet filled with crucial significance.

Twitter Sonnet #151

Charles Dexter Ward's now a fast food star.
Shy virgin bar maids examine each cup.
Vodka soaks paper panties on the bar.
But each hymen's tattooed with a prenup.
Heat rays ignited Mary Celeste's grog.
Old jokes reappear in future fable.
Egg seas coalesce from heavy smog.
Vivien Leigh was damned by Clark Gable.
Demon metal fails to really connect.
Autobots clatter to earth unnoticed.
Soft detectives bring in a wrong suspect.
Idle randomness chi can't be harnessed.
Pointless was the only meaningful dream.
Absurd as only serious can seem.

I saw to-day that Chris Walsh took me off his friends list on Live Journal, which was somewhat out of left field. The guy had always been really enthusiastically friendly to me, and I have no idea what I might have done or said to put him off. I guess I hadn't talked to him in a while, and maybe he's one of those people who feels compelled to be ruthless in pruning his friends lists. Maybe he didn't like the Howard Stern clip I posted yesterday--I know he's a big Jay Leno fan. Neither explanation really jives with the enthusiasm he used to express for things I'd write in my blog or my comics. I suppose I could ask him directly, except the past couple years have taught me what a futile endeavour it is to try to get answers from people whose regard for me makes a big and inexplicable shift. The idea of even having the conversation again makes me feel pre-emptively tired. I guess I just need to accept it and move on. Mostly it makes me feel like someone must be talking some real shit about me behind my back.

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