Two or Three Things I Know About Her (2 ou 3 choses que je sais d’elle)

2 or 3 Things I Know About Her

Speak as though quoting the truth.

There’s a bit of a perverse satisfaction upon meeting and starting my final Godard film on the list, knowing that, more likely than not, it will probably be my last Godard film, period. To say that Jean-Luc Godard and I don’t really click on the same level is to somewhat understate the fact, and aside from a very few anomalies in his filmography, I generally disregard the man’s work entirely. It was thus that I did extensive looking into 2 or 3 Things I Know About Her before I started it, to make sure I didn’t hate it as much as I sometimes really hated a Godard film. In the end, it worked out; I didn’t hate this, and I even found myself liking it at certain points. But only barely.

The plot ostensibly follows Juliette, a young housewife, through a day in her life as she does whatever, ranging from shopping for clothes to prostituting herself. The plot of the film isn’t what’s important, though, and the film knows this, barely giving a care as to whether or not it is following the so-called narrative at any given time. No, instead, this can really be called a film essay (one which centers on the concept of modern living in Paris), and it has more than a few things in common with F for Fake, which would popularize that term. Godard’s film comes 5 years before Welles’, so technically Godard can lay an earlier claim to the genesis of the idea, but this is still a Godard film, so along with the concept of watching a film essay, there’s some inherent expectations that come with watching a Godard, and most of them make a reappearance here. Along with the general deliberate messing with the viewer to keep him or her from sinking into the film at any level, there’s also a bit of social discourse and, dare I say, subtext to what Godard does here, even more so than his previous films. For instance, the “her” of the title does not refer to Juliette the character, or even to Marina Vlady the actress, who is introduced in an impartial voiceover at the beginning of the film, but to Paris in general; a fact the Book cites somewhat proudly, as if it spent a good long while deciphering this cryptic meaning, when actually the film itself tells you straight up what the Her of the title refers to right at the beginning of the picture. Then there’s the question of Godard’s own whispering of the voiceover narration, plus the habit of characters stopping what they’re doing or saying and talking directly into the camera; apparently this was done by Godard speaking to them through an earpiece and asking them questions on the fly, forcing the actors to give spontaneous answers through the fourth wall. Interesting, yes, and maybe even relevant to Godard’s thesis here, but it was one of Godard’s many tricks that got old fast. Nice use of color throughout the film, though.

I found a little more to appreciate here than I normally do with Godard, and I attribute it solely to my knowing going into it that it was to be largely a film essay a la Godard instead of his other films, which laughably attempt to have a narrative in the face of the director explicitly ruining his own films by taking you out of them with jump cuts and random volume changes. With that said, though, I’m glad I’m done with Godard; I honestly am. I can appreciate what he did for cinema, even if I personally don’t like it, or even barely condone it. That he is still alive and making films today, while all his contemporaries of an era gone by are either dead or retired, is an excellent example of cosmic hilarity to me. I find it even more amusing that it seems that none of his recent works have gotten nearly the same reaction as his work during the 1960s did. To that, I can only say that I would wager it is because cinema, as a whole, has moved on, has evolved, and Godard, the one-trick pony that he is, is still trying the same old things that people once called him brilliant for. Now, though, it just makes him seem old hat. Stick to Godard during his heyday. That is, if you even like him at all to begin with.

Arbitrary Rating: 7/10

The Young One (La joven)

The Young One

Oh, sinnerman… Where you gonna run to?

I was not aware that Luis Bunuel had done films in English. Apparently, he only did two, but the editors saw fit to add one of them to the list, until they ended up removing it to add a different Bunuel film. Nevertheless, I’ve arrived at my final Bunuel film (thank God), or at least the last one on the list, and it was largely the fact that it was in English, coupled with the lack of surreal Bunuel touches, that I was able to like this one a little more than most of the Bunuel I’ve seen, and a lot more than the early work of his.

La Joven, or The Young One, is the story of a colored man, a clarinet player, who ends up on the run in the South after a white woman accuses him of rape. He ends up fleeing to a nearby island, on which lives a disgruntled game warden and the teenage granddaughter of the warden’s former partner, who is found dead at the beginning of the film. The film then largely follows the interactions between these three people (and an additional two brought in later in the plot); the racially charged initial meetings between the warden and the clarinet player, the sexually charged interactions between the warden and the young girl, and the friendship that develops between the girl and the black man. Like I said in the opener, this was in English, and it wasn’t just in the language; this felt like a Hollywood production, albeit one that somehow would’ve gotten away with topics like underage sex and racially-heated dialogue. The plot was pretty straightforward, although focused more on characterization than the actual plot, but it worked fairly well. The actors’ delivery of their lines was rather stilted across the board, but the cinematography was quite nice; especially the frequent use of dolly to add movement to quite a number of shots, which was a surprising development.

Really, I’m just amazed that I’m talking about a Bunuel film like this, like it’s a regular Hollywood film of the 40s or 50s. Granted, it came out in 1960, but I’m perfectly willing to forgive Bunuel some lapses in creative and technological development if it meant we get more normal films out of him like this one. As rudimentary as this was, this pretty much shot up to right below Los Olvidados as one of my favorite Bunuel films, and the fact that I can even use the phrase “my favorite Bunuel films” is frankly enough of a miracle in itself. I can see why they culled this particular Bunuel to add a different one, but if it had been up to me, this wouldn’t have gotten my vote. It’s actually watchable, and entertaining, which is two things I can’t say about a large chunk of the man’s work, so if that comes off as a recommendation, then that’s what it does.

Arbitrary Rating: 7/10

The Color of Pomegranates (Sayat nova)

The Color of Pomegranates

I am the man whose life and soul are torture.

Sergei Parajanov, I can only imagine what it must have been like to live with your particular mind inside your head. I say “I can only imagine”, because you seem to be committed to putting what goes on inside your head to celluloid with your films, regardless of its coherence or watchability. There is only one phrase, six words, that can possibly describe the experience of Sayat Nova: “What is this I don’t even”. To try and comprehend a film like Sayat Nova, regardless of how many times you may have seen it, is to walrus a burning diamond so that your effigy of scarlet can defenestrate a cuckolding dirigible. That said, the film was just imperceptibly penetrable enough to where you could tell there was something to it, rather than just being complete and utter nonsense like half of Bunuel’s filmography. Still, merely the fact that this was only a scant 72 minutes in length could be viewed as evidence toward the existence of a benevolent God.

Plot? You want a plot? Go to the corner and slap yourself fifty-six times across the buttocks, you silly, misguided fool. Instead, I’m basically forced to go into the person the film is named after, and leave it at that; Sayat Nova, or King of Song, was an Armenian ashug, which basically means a traveling bard or poet, and what amounts to the film’s “plot” is an exploration of the man’s work, which purports to tell his life experiences, but fuck all if I know that that’s what’s going on. For a supposed biopic, this does not actually tell the story of its subject’s life. Hell, the version I saw had a disclaimer at the beginning of the film basically saying as such, and that this would not be a conventional biopic in any sense, but a realization of Sayat Nova’s mindset through a visual approximation of his poetry. So, does the film succeed at what it tries to do? I want to say… maybe? Yes? Really, I have no idea whatsoever; this was a shade above films like L’Age d’Or, and only then, to me, because it was at least interesting to look at. Basically, here’s Sayat Nova, the film, in a nutshell: take Inception, with its layers upon layers upon layers of meaning. Okay; now take everything that Inception had as substance or material, and replace it with whatever would be at the diametrically opposite side of the universe from it, but still keep the layers upon layers upon layers methodology. Okay? Now, take all that, and put it in a blender, run it for a good five minutes, and then lay out the contents on a flat, two-dimensional plane, so that all the little chopped-up bits are next to other little chopped-up bits. Now, call that metaphor or juxtaposition. That’s Sayat Nova, or at the very least, you have just created what must have been Sayat Nova’s storyboarding process.

I really don’t think this would have much of a chance of being made in today’s commercial day and age of filmmaking, where the only thing that matters to a good 95% of film producers and investment backers is the bottom line; this is not a film concerned with making a profit, or being commercially successful and viable, or even with being particularly watchable. It is concerned with creating a visual world, one that brings to life the thought process behind Sayat Nova’s poetry and life’s work. To that end, I’d say the film succeeds, though I’d only be saying it because I basically had little idea what was going on or, having no knowledge of Sayat Nova’s work, what anything was supposed to be alluding to, but I could tell there was meaning behind everything, or almost everything, that was happening, so there must have been something there… Right?

Arbitrary Rating: 6/10

The Red and the White (Csillagosok, katonak)

The Red and the White

No quarter for the Bolsheviks!

Here we go, another film that largely divides audience reactions into the “love it” or “hate it” camps. Interestingly enough, though, this is one that I actually do have something to go by before seeing it, having seen Miklos Jancso’s other list film, Red Psalm. That one I hated; I found it completely empty of substance, and likened it humorously to being an interpretive dance rather than a film. Well, it seems I can’t fault Jancso for not being consistent; this earlier work of his, The Red and the White, is very much of the same mold, and features almost identical selling points; the only real difference being that this is in black-and-white instead of color.

So, here’s the thing: this film basically has no plot. There isn’t even a section for the plot on the Wikipedia entry for this film; that’s how plotless it is. Ostensibly, the film is about the conflict between the titular Reds (Communists) and Whites (Tsarists) in post-Russian-Revolution Hungary, and leaves it at that. What the film actually is, however, is something a little more difficult to grasp. I’m going to describe the film as best I can, and I’ll do it in ways that will be almost identical to the descriptions I gave for Red Psalm, but I’ll assume you either haven’t seen that film or read my review of it, because if you’ve read my review for one of them, you’ve really read them both. The film is comprised of a series of long takes, which necessitates that everything that happens in the frame happen flawlessly, or they’ll be forced to do it again. By that logic, I can commend Jancso for being a hell of a craftsman, and knowing exactly what it is he wants out of his actors and set pieces. That said, I can’t commend him on being a hell of a storyteller, because Jancso isn’t a storyteller; he’s an expresser of metaphors and ideas. This is basically a fancy way of saying that he’s a choreographer, and little more, and here I’ll repeat a sentiment I expressed in my Red Psalm review: to make up for the lack of engaging editing, since it is merely long take after long take, each take has a ton of movement in the frame, from people going through scripted motions to other people on horseback trotting along to add extra kinetic visuals, even to the camera itself floating back and forth and to and fro for seemingly no reason other than to see if Jancso could get away with doing it in the shot, or to make the shot more complicated for whatever reason.

It’s at this point that I’m basically throwing my hands up in the air when it comes to Jancso as a filmmaker. He’s not a filmmaker; he’s a choreographer, and even with his choreography having layers of metaphor beneath them, that alone does not a film make. I hand-waved this away with my Red Psalm review by basically saying at the end that it’s up to Jancso how he wishes to use the medium of cinema, but I really have to protest the concept of making a film like this; just because he wants to make a film like this, does not make a film like this watchable. It may be historically relevant, or cinematically appealing, or nice to look at, or even important in that the Soviet Union sought to suppress the film, but that still doesn’t make it watchable, and that doesn’t make it good. Really, the only reason to see this or Red Psalm is to say that you’ve seen all the films on the list and not be a liar in doing so, because there’s no other reason to watch this film, and I’d be willing to bet that any reason anyone could come up with to watch this, I could take that reason and stick it on another film that does it better, thus making The Red and the White almost completely perfunctory in the annals of cinema. I’m willing to grant that my opinion of this film has only soured further during my writing of this review, but I still say that that does not mean that I am wrong.

Arbitrary Rating: 5/10

Contempt (Le mepris)

Contempt

Film substitutes a world that conforms to our desires. This is the story of that world.

Jean-Luc Godard’s Le Mepris, or Contempt, was largely advertised with star Brigitte Bardot as the centerfold, using her sex appeal to try and sell the film. What Le Mepris ends up being is a little more than that, though not by much; this is Godard, after all. Once again, we find ourselves watching a director’s film about making films, though I wasn’t sure that even this subject would make me excited for a Godard film, and as it turns out, I was pretty much right. I liked this more than I would have if it hadn’t had the subject matter it did, and also because a majority of the film was largely without Godard being all Godard on us the audience, but there was still some to be had.

The film is ostensibly about two things; the making of a film about Homer’s The Odyssey, directed by Fritz Lang (who plays himself), and the marriage turmoil between one of the scriptwriters of the fictional film and his wife, played by Bardot. The Lang picture’s producer, played by Jack Palance, hires the writer to revise the script, and uses the opportunity to invite him and his wife to his place for a drink. Evidently, something happens along the way that the scriptwriter, having been forced to walk there instead of riding in Palance’s car like his wife, was not a privy to, and it begins to drive a wedge between him and his wife, mostly through a very large sequence in the middle of the film where the two argue in their apartment. Right from the get-go, the film makes use of meta elements and that typical Jean-Luc Godard immersion-breaking reminder that, yes, we are watching a film; the opening credits, for instance, aren’t displayed, but are instead read aloud for us to hear, as a film camera dollies over to us before turning to face the screen. This would only seem to be a pretense, however, as after the first ten-to-fifteen minutes or so, the signature Godard aspects and meta elements are left by the wayside so Godard can once again indulge in his near-physical love of the spoken word. It’s because the Godardness is mostly dropped from this point on that this, to me, worked better than his other films, and I even began to find myself enjoying the contextual discussions between the characters. The other memorable aspect was, by and large, the film’s score. Now, Godard films aren’t typically known for their scores, as far as I know, but Le Mepris’ was very memorable, even if Godard did use it too often, and in improper places, as he is wont to do.

The Godard stylings of the first section of the film aside, this was more than what I was expecting; no doubt because I was expecting a Godard film, and this is hardly one of those, at least at face value. There’s a real craftsmanship on display here that would seem to be the opposite of what Godard does with all of his other films, and it was because there was actual thought put into the various aspects of this one that I ended up liking it. I’d say, to anyone looking towards seeing this or not, that if you’re not a fan of Godard, this would seem to be the one exception that you might actually end up liking, like I did. I’ve only got one Godard film left on the list, and I suspect it to be a return to the man’s form, so I’m thankful I only have one remaining, but I’ll treasure the one bright spot in the middle of the man’s filmography that I’ve found with this one.

Arbitrary Rating: 8/10

Barren Lives (Vidas secas)

Barren Lives

It’s crazy to go on.

Brazil’s Cinema Novo movement is reportedly heavily influenced by Italian neorealism, which immediately gets it points off with me. So for me to go on and say that this film, Vidas Secas, one of the films that helped shape the Cinema Novo movement, was not only impressive with its technicals, but with its story as well, is really saying something. I did my usual bit of research into the film before I started, and came up with very little, so I went an extra step and looked into the Cinema Novo movement itself, as a refresher of the other such films on the list I’ve seen and as an intro to this one. Boy, am I glad I did; it put this film into such perspective that there seemed to be no other outcome for me other than complete understanding, and thus empathy with what the film wants to do.

I will say though, in what may seem to be the opposite of what I said in the opener, that the plot of this one is very bare, and isn’t very driven along a narrative line as much as it sets up the environment for the characters and then merely lets things happen to them. We start with the central family (a man, a woman, and their two sons, along with their dog) trudging around the desert landscape, with practically nothing to their name and even less fortune of finding anything in their future. Even still, they come upon a house and take shelter there in a rainstorm, after which the owner of the house arrives and the father is able to talk the man into giving him a job. Thus, the situation is set up, and various things happen to our family that all seem to emphasize the unforgiving nature of this part of the country, which is the whole point of the film and the Cinema Novo movement as a whole. The first thing I noticed, after the searing cinematography, was the editing, which was quite good, and diverse enough to hold interest even when there’s nothing happening plot-wise. But, what one can’t help but notice right off the bat is the way the film looks and feels. Holy crap, was this film whitewashed. Right from the opening shot, the film itself appears bleached with sunlight, making the entire image burn right off the screen with intensity. It reminded me instantly of Black God, White Devil, a film from the same cinematic movement as this one, so that film’s look became more understandable. The film completely embodies its subject and location in a way few films are brave enough to attempt. The plot is slow to develop, just like anything in that wasteland the characters call home is slow to happen, if it happens at all. Dialogue is sparse, as sparse as food and water in the barren landscape. And whenever something does appear to happen, it’s almost always bad in some way to our family, which can get a little sickening as more and more of it occurs as the film goes on, but having looked into Cinema Novo and getting a clearer understanding of the political and social context and metaphor the film uses, it ended up becoming quite potent, as it should have been.

I should be clear about what I got from this one, and the rating I’m giving it; most of this was not based on entertainment, but on appreciation, either for what the film accomplishes, or for the technicals. I do realize that stands in almost complete opposition to nearly all of my ratings on this site thus far, but this is that rare film that gets one to make an exception. I appreciated the hell out of this film, and that the film itself was also pretty watchable, technically and narratively, earned it extra points in my book. I’m fully aware that my opinion may not be shared by many, or even a few, but for me, this was one where everything, from what the film did to my mindset going into it, just clicked perfectly, and I was incredibly thankful for it, given this film’s influences. If I were rating this based on what I thought the average viewer would get out of it, it would probably be a 7, but I got a lot more from it than I was expecting, so I decided to be a little rewarding. Your experience may vary.

Arbitrary Rating: 8/10

The Ladies Man

The Ladies Man

Woe is me!

Knowing Jerry Lewis’ brand of humor, I’m not too sure what is supposed to be so funny about a gigantic Lewis about to vomit upon a group of young socialite girls like what that poster up there implies, but I’ll give the French and whoever else calls themselves a Jerry Lewis fan the benefit of the doubt… maybe. After The Nutty Professor showcased pretty much nothing other than Jerry Lewis acting as nerdy as he could be, I was hesitant about his other film on the list, and indeed, when The Ladies Man started, and featured Lewis without the “nerd” look but still with the grating voice and hyperactive mannerisms, I had to restrain myself from giving an audible groan. But, by the end, I had warmed to the film a little bit, even if it was only a little bit.

Lewis is Herbert H. Heebert (the H. stands for Herbert), a recent college grad who finds his girlfriend in the arms of another man, and thus swears off women forever. Unfortunately for him, he ends up in the wacky and hilarious situation (your experience may vary) of taking a job as a caretaker at an all-female boarding house, a situation that, once he finds out the truth, he repeatedly tries to excise himself from, only to be foiled by the tenants and the maid at every turn. Really, there’s no actual plot here, though there is a mighty small subplot involving one of the tenants growing fond of Herbert (naturally, who wouldn’t fall for a man who acts like that?). What The Ladies Man is is a set of gags spliced together in one location, or rather one set, as aside from the opening scenes, the entire boarding house is one gigantic constructed set, with one side missing so the camera can be mounted on a crane and look into virtually any room. It was one of the largest and most expensive sets ever built for a comedy up to then, and it is by far the film’s centerpiece more than anything. Thankfully, the film seems to know exactly what an asset it has in the set, as the cinematography (and even a few of the gags) make use of the multi-floor layout quite nicely. Unfortunately, the rest of the film has nothing but Lewis and his whiny-voiced wacky-man antics to lean on, and the comedy isn’t nearly as good as the direction in this one. That said, however, there were a few spots that I genuinely found funny, so that plus the mise en scene means the film isn’t a total waste.

I usually check out the consensus review sites to get a good overview of what others generally thought about a film after I’ve seen it. I don’t think I’ve seen a film with such a wide, mixed, and varied reception as The Ladies Man. For every 5-star rating, there is a 1 or 2-star to match it, with plenty of 3s and 4s in the middle; truly, the opinion one can have after seeing this film can, and will, be anything at all. So, with that, I guess I shouldn’t be surprised that my opinion on this ended up being right where I suspected it would be before I started it; that Lewis’ style of comedy still wasn’t really my thing, for many of the same reasons I didn’t take to Lewis’ other list film. I did end up giving it a few points for what the film accomplishes with its set piece(s), and if you don’t take to Jerry Lewis like I don’t, that alone is still reason enough to watch this. But only barely.

Arbitrary Rating: 7/10