Fragments of fine cinema

The French film festival that just concluded in the City was a mixed bag. It was not disappointing, however.

Ferdinand: "Why do you look unhappy?"

Marianne : "Because you talk to me with words and I look at you with feelings."

(From Jean-Luc Godard's Pierrot le fou)

WORDS, FEELINGS, action! Bangalore received an early Deepavali gift this year — filled with images of dreams, illusions, emotions, and drama.

Les 50 ams des Cahiers du Cinema, a festival in homage to the famous French film review, was brought to the City by Alliance Francaise and Embassy of France in collaboration with Bangalore Film Society, Suchitra Film Society, and Deep Focus between October 29 and November 3.

The event showcased six films which included works by acknowledged masters such as Chabrol, Godard, and Truffaut. Produced during the last 42 years of the last Century (1958 to 2000), each film, in its own way, set out to provide to the viewer, a unique celluloid experience.

The festival opened with Claude Chabrol's Le Beau Serge (Handsome Serge, 1958).

This black-and-white film which weaves a tale of tangled relationships, is credited to have been a frontrunner of the New Wave movement.

Fran�ois returns to his hometown in the country to convalesce.

He notices, with regret, that the passage of ten long years has taken its toll on the people he left behind. Fran�ois gets embroiled with his friend Serge, Serge's wife (Yvonne), an old man (Glomand), and Glomand's daughter Marie - so much so that everyone (including the local priest) regard his presence in the village as unwanted.

Despite the alienation, Fran�ois stays in the village with hope of becoming an agent of transformation. In the final dramatic climax (a cinematic delight), when Yvonne goes into labour, Fran�ois sees himself pushed into the centre stage only to fall by the side, as the cries of the just-born baby find an echo in Serge's delirious laughter.

Jean-Luc Godard's Pierrot le fou (Crazy Pete, 1965) has been celebrated a ballet of "colour and design" and "a lyrical poem".

A complex love story, it begins with Ferdinand meeting his ex-lover Marianne after a hiatus. The journey they embark upon promises love, fun, and unbridled freedom, but on the way, they become partners in crime, coercion, cheating, violence, and death. Although deeply involved with each other, they are like two parallel lines that can never meet. Marianne loves Ferdinand so much that she considers him worthy even for betrayal.

Jean-Paul Belmendo comes up with a stunner of a performance powered by sheer athleticism and a dynamic body language, complimented by a near-expressionless (yet eloquent) face that hides (yet reveals) a simmering internal restlessness.

He is matched, frame by frame, by Anna Karina as Marianne. The intricate collage-like presentation of sequences is finely tuned to enhance the pace, tension, and overall impact of the narration.

Fifth in the series of "Six Moral Tales" made by Eric Rohmer, Le Genou de Claire (Claire's knee, 1970) sets out to investigate the physical and non-physical dimensions of man-woman relationship. Jerome (to be married to Lucinde soon), gets involved first with the teenager Laura and later, with her half-sister Claire whose knee becomes the object of his obsession. Scenes of Jerome's romantic engagements and entanglements are peppered with an array of witty, clever, and intellectual dialogue. In a beautifully picturised rain sequence, Jerome succeeds in touching, caressing, and fondling Claire's knee and sees the act not just as a personal triumph but also as a "liberation" for Claire from her bondage.

Jerome's "victory", ironically, is no more than a mere illusion, the viewer realises at the film's conclusion.

Despite a visually and intellectually stimulating experience, today's audience could get a little peeved at the verbosity and easy pace of the film.

The exploration of the same male-female relationship, gets intensified in La Femme da Cote (Woman Next Door, 1981), a film by Fran�ois Truffaut. Ex-lovers Bernard (Gerard Depardieu) and Mathilde (Fanny Ardant), both married to separate people and leading separate lives, meet after eight years, when they become neighbours by chance.

Predictably, life would not allow them to be the same again. Desire, love, lust, passion inevitably lead to confusion, desperation, mistrust, suffering, and melancholy. Bernard's reckless conduct and Mathilde's nervous breakdown are dramatic but cannot offer them an escape route.

Fragments of fine cinema

They ask me to turn a new leaf," says a bitter Mathilde, on the hospital bed, "but the leaf weighs a ton!" Finally, during an intense act of passionate lovemaking, Mathilde's bullet provides them with deliverance.

Death, unlike love, desires and deserves no foreplay. Unlike the intentional rough-cuts of Godard, Truffaut's narrative is smooth as silk. The last two films of the festival are relatively recent ones.

Brilliant in concept and execution, one is a feature film made in documentary style, while the other is a documentary itself.

While Irma Vep (1996) by Olivier Assayas, starring Hong Kong's action star Maggie Cheung (as herself) has been hailed as "a flash of cinematic brilliance ... one of the most playful French movies in years" by the New York Post.

Agnes Varda's Les Gianeurs et La Glaneuse (The Gleaners and I, 2000) is a "part documentary, part personal essay, part unguided tour" about people who pick up what others leave behind.

Both these films differ in both content and intent, but in their own way document different facets of the same contemporary reality. Irma Vep is a radical comedy "focussed on the bustle and excitement of urban life" and Varda's documentary finds inspiration by depicting women picking up leftover grain from the fields.

By the time the curtains came down, after the six-day festival, the "committed" viewing public of Bangalore, present in fairly good numbers (despite the inclement weather), definitely got a few glimpses of good cinema.

The frugal and indifferent screening facilities notwithstanding, it was still possible to rejoice, several dimensions of the "exuberant, experimental, informal, and even disorderly elements of the new wave".

In both sense (value) and sensibility (feeling), the event did not disappoint in bringing together a few new perspectives of "pure" cinema. Sure, the offerings were uneven. Some films were more rousing and provoking, while the others looked a bit jaded.

But, in the end, they all seemed to echo the words of Ferdinand:

Life might be sad but it is always wonderful!


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