Category Archives: CIP Writers

Varda’s Le Bonheur Picture Perfect

In retrospect, Agnes Varda is one of the major figures of the New Wave, and created what is arguably the first New Wave film (1955’s La Pointe Courte), Varda was something of an outsider to the group of Cahiers du Cinema critics-turned-filmmakers who dominate discussions of the New Wave to this day. A formally trained photographer and art historian, her associations were primarily with other Left Bank artists and filmmakers like Marguerite Duras, Chris Marker, and novelist Alain Robbe-Grillet, whose narrative experiments informed many of the more adventurous films of the era.

Le Bonheur is Varda’s third feature film, and stars Jean-Claude and Claire Druout as Francois and Therese, a middle-class couple living happily in the Parisian countryside with their children, played by their real-life children Olivier and Sandrine. He works as a carpenter, and she as a seamstress. They dote on their children and seem utterly devoted to each other; yet after Francois meets a pretty young clerk at the local post office, he wastes no time in pursuing her.

Francois’ rationalization of his infidelity, which he insists increases his family’s happiness at no cost to his relationship with Therese, in a sort of perverse take on Mill’s utilitarian ethics, is at the root of Le Bonheur‘s atmosphere of unease and inevitable tragedy.

Stylistically, Le Bonheur is most famous for Varda’s masterful use of bright, oversaturated color (including fades to vivid primary colors instead of black in scene transitions) and for its minor-key Mozart score, but she uses subtler aesthetic strategies as well. Varda’s use of jump cuts, for example, might seem similar to Godard’s jump cuts. But, where he often used jump cuts to distance the viewer from his films by emphasizing their artificiality, Varda employs them more subtly, often to convey a character’s subjective view of a scene or emotional state. Also reminescent of Godard is the presence of advertising and pop culture, but again, this is deployed sparingly (a ye-ye pop song in the style of France Gall, ad posters featuring smiling women, a wall of pinups at Francois’ workplace).

Le Bonheur is a singular film both in the New Wave as a whole and Varda’s body of work, and remains controversial and much-discussed even today.

By Ryan Hupp

Le Bonheur screens this Wednesday
September 28, 7:30 p.m.
L’Etage / 624 South 6th Street / Philadelphia, PA
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SFT// Agnes Varda – Les Fiances Du Pont MacDonald

SHORT FILM TUESDAY

Les Fiances Du Pont MacDonald (1961)

This early short film, by often over looked filmmaker Agnes Varda, is a dark comedy about love and death, executed as an homage to the work of Buster Keaton. Cast as the leads are “New Wave” super couple Jean-Luc Godard and Anna Karina, who add a reflexive playful air with their presence. In the future, with films like Lion’s Love, Varda would again pursue similar genre themes and cast her filmmaker friends in the leads.

by Robert Curry

Le Bonheur Colors the Meaning of Happiness

The sight of sunflowers are normally a sign of happiness, of joy. And yet Le Bonheur (Happiness) is an Agnes Varda film, and she is not going to let the young family in the background of these ominous plants escape unscathed. By the end of the film, it is the autumn, and the leaves, the characters, and even the family have changed.

And yet the park lands are constantly a heaven for the family, with their bright colors complementing the richness of the outdoors. Contrast this with the family’s return home early on, to the beige, tan and blah world of their town and their in-laws.

Varda deliberately chooses the colors red and blue to signify the passion and domesticity of protagionist François (Jean-Claude Drouot). François appears to have a great relationship with his wife Therese (Claire Drouot) but it cools off slightly, but not enough to leave her. While mailing a letter François falls in love with postal clerk Emilie (Marie-France Boyer). He uses his job as a carpenter as a reason to visit her apartment and eventually go to bed with her.

For nine-tenths of the movie, you wonder how long François can hold onto his dream situation of a bigamous relationship. Varda is not the first director to explore bigamy, but Ida Lupino’s The Bigamist is indicative of the exploitative tone prior films would have used and had to have used in order to escape censors.

Most films would have focused on the spurned wife and her struggles, but François and his actions are the main focus, and the filter (through his mascuilinity) the viewer sees the events take place from a neglected point of view. Varda’s tale is not unsympathetic to François, and he gets a happy ending, but it is at a terrific cost, and drives the point of Theresa’s plight even more.

By Tom Keiser

Le Bonheur screens this Wednesday
September 28, 7:30 p.m.
L’Etage / 624 South 6th Street / Philadelphia, PA
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Charbol’s Allegory Captures Cultural Frustrations of France in the Early Sixties

When American critics assess the French New Wave of the early sixties, it is more often than not in relation to their influence on Hollywood some ten years later. However, Claude Charbol’s 1960 effort, Les Bonnes Femmes, did not have that broad an American release. That makes such a comparison very difficult, so one is obliged to critic the film in a national context.



Les Bonnes Femmes was a financial disappointment for Claude Charbol, though he considers it his best work of the era. Unlike the Technicolor extravaganza of Godard’s Contempt, Charbol’s film is dark and gloomy. It has captured the seedy post war texture of Paris in a stark black and white reminiscent of Shirley Clarke’s The Connection or Martin Ritt’s Edge Of The City. Such authenticity lends a realistic credibility to the dramatic action, and perhaps even heightens the audiences’ investment. That said, Les Bonnes Femmes is a film of France as it was in the early sixties made for the French.

 

The narrative centers on four shop girls who believe themselves to be determined to find good men for husbands, despite the fact that as the film carries on their motives and aspirations evolve despite themselves. It is a film of desperation and romantic frustration, evidenced by one shop girl (played by Clothilde Joano) who allows her desperation to draw her close to disaster when she begins dating a sadistic motorcyclist.

 

The plot of Les Bonnes Femmes speaks as a splendid allegory for the cultural frustrations of France in the early sixties. The rise in political unrest, the new youth movements, an over arching sense of rebellion all seem to have similar effects on French society as do the romantic quests of the four shop girls become a frustrating and confusing journey for them. Charbol seems equally as concerned about the course of his nation as he does for the individual at the dawn of such turbulent times.

By Robert Curry
Les Bonnes Femmes screening this Saturday
September 24, 7:30 pm
AxD Gallery / 265 South 10th Street / Philadelphia, PA
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SFT// Eric Rohmer -The Bakery Girl Of Monceau

SHORT FILM TUESDAY

The Bakery Girl Of Monceau (1963)

Documentary filmmaker Barbet Schroeder stars as a man caught between two women in this early effort by Eric Rohmer. This film begins a cycle of films by the one time editor of the Cahiers du Cinema called “Six Moral Tales”. In these films, Rohmer analyzes the changing social mores in modern France.