Film French New Wave cinema, with its brash irreverence for everything, and its gorgeous heroines, made for a delightful week of movie-watching
Someone once told me, “The films of (Jean Luc) Godard and (Francois) Truffaut should become a compulsory part of our school syllabus. Only then will all of us learn the meaning of life or rather, cease seeking the meaning of life, and learn to live.” The person had obviously been drinking and we had just come away from watching a Godard film. It was my first Godard and I was feeling slightly dazed, elated but also struck by the fatalism of “Breathless”. After that, I have seen several films by Godard and some by Truffaut as well — two of the leading directors of French New Wave cinema. There have been some films that I have liked more than others, but every film manages to provoke a wild, racy thought in my head making me believe in anything impossible.
In Truffaut's “Jules and Jim”, there is a scene early on in the film when an anarchist is writing ‘Down with everything' on a wall and the paint runs out midway. He turns, slaps the woman with him and screams, “The people might think that anarchists can't spell.” It is this irreverence that this set of film makers had even for anarchy. Nothing was holy — not relationships, not friendship, not love.
Bangalore was witness to the frenzy of the French New Wave as part of the Bonjour India celebrations across the country brought by the French Embassy in India. The film festival was also to mark 50 years of the French New Wave since the time a group of film critics in Paris who wrote for the film journal Cahiers du Cinema revolutionised filmmaking by making films that did not conform to any conventional understanding of cinema, both thematically or stylistically.
Jean-Paul Belmondo, playing a bored husband, Ferdinand, sets the tone for the film festival in “Pierrot Le Fou” (1965), where he runs away with Marianne (Anna Karina) indulging in a crime spree along the way. Their runaway romance fades; Ferdinand loses interest in Marianne as he turns towards philosophy. The couple separates and their reunion is a bloody mayhem ending in one of the most unique suicides in film history. Ferdinand wraps large sticks of dynamite around his face and blows himself up. The film's illogicality is a conscious existential style of Godard and is visible in several of his films.
A second film of Godard also found itself part of the film festival with the screening of “Alphaville” (1965), a science-fiction film set in a dystopian planet, with the painfully gorgeous Natasha (Karina) leading a maverick earthling through the muddled emotional world of Alphaville, controlled by a super computer called Alpha 60. Natasha does not know what love is or what tears are but by the end of the film, she has shed a tear and fallen in love.
Godard's equally prolific peer Francois Truffaut's “Jules et Jim” (1962) was easily the crowd's favourite. It starred Jeanne Moreau as the capricious Catherine whose hedonism and unconventional feminine quest for companionship will make us question all our notions of marriage. Fidelity is questioned throughout, while friendship is tested.
Jeanne Moreau also starred in two other films screened over the week, Jacques Demy's “Bay of Angels” (1963) in which she also plays a capricious minx and Louis Malle's “Lift to the Scaffold” (1958) where she conspires with her lover to kill her husband. The thrill of seeing Anna Karina and Jeanne Moreau on large screen as they play out their challenging roles is to feel an inner joy. But when you see Corinne Marchand acting as a singer in Agnés Varda's “Cleo from 5 to 7” (1962) who grapples with the uncertainty of what might be an impending death, you know that no one has made women look more beautiful than the directors of the French New Wave.
A couple of the films that were screened were marred by the bad projection at Fun Cinemas, with either the subtitles missing or the actors' heads lopped off. But it was still worth it to see such large crowds gathered for a celebration of pure cinema, which, as Godard put it, “is the most beautiful fraud in the world”.