Category Archives: Agnès Varda

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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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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Cleo from 5 to 7 (Cleo de 5 à 7) – Agnès Varda

7:30PM Friday, May 13th
AxD Gallery 265 S. 10th Street (btw Spruce and Locust)
RSVP
Reception following film.

Film Synopsis:
1961 NR 89 minutes
Written by Stephan Eichenberg 

A woman delves into the inner depths of her soul and resurfaces transformed in this 1962 film by French director Agnes Varda. Young singer Cleo (Corrine Marchand) strolls along the bustling Paris streets, pondering the meaning of life and her own existence as she awaits the results of her cancer biopsy. Cleo’s observations offer a close look at Paris’s rich street life, and desperation turns into hope when Cleo encounters a young soldier.