Just feeling a little bit lazy today.
So I am going to plagiarize myslef.
It’s a film critic I wrote for my Language of European Cinema course at The University of Vienna.
 
  A bout de soufflé  
                     Directed by Jean-Luc Godard
 

 A bout de soufflé offers a breath of fresh air to me, after heavily political film like October, and film such as The Bicycle Thief dealing with social issues at its time.  It does not offer political commentary, it does not shed light on class struggles, it only captures traces of life as poems do.   Director Jean-Luc Godard has turned cinema into poetry.

     And a groundbreaking poet he is.  The camerawork is rough and unrefined, the script and editing are “jumbled, rambling, repetitive and inconclusive, full of irrelevances and abruptly changing moods” (Armes, 179).  Yet the conversations between the main characters are so poetic and sometimes philosophical that you want to write them down and to impress someone with them when chance presents itself.

     What is great about A bout de soufflé is not its story, but how the story is told through the camera.  The story is rather simple: a young criminal named Michel Poiccard/Laszlo Kovacs is on the run from the police, after stealing a car and killing a cop.  While waiting in Paris to get his money, he also tries to persuade a beautiful American girl Patricia to go hide in Rome with him.  But in the end Patricia informed the police who then shoots him down on an empty street.  It is the almost always “on the move” camera, the innovative jump-cutting of dialogues and scenes, and the great performance by the actors that made the film classic, still capturing the imaginations of the audience almost fifty years after its first release. 

     Godard’s style of filmmaking was made possible not only by his artistic vision, but also by technique innovation and the awkward situation in which French cinema found itself.  Clever uses of lightweight cameras made it possible to shoot the whole film on site and on the run.  There was no need for floodlights, and in fact Godard wrote in one of his letters to a friend that his biggest job was “to keep the technical crew as far as possible from the place we’re shooting” (Kline,170). 

     Meanwhile, French film industry has suffered catastrophic decline since the end of World War II (Kline, 158).  The system of the industry had made directors mere technicians working for producers who had the money.  A director’s job was to provide beautiful images with high production values.  Personal styles were forbidden, for there were conventions to follow, big stars to catering to.  The huge influx of Hollywood films and their popularity amongst French audience added another layer of constraints.  But given the revolutionary nation France is, a group of young directors started to express their artistic views and criticism of the commercial efficiency dominated film industry.  They started to film low-budget films, by using little known actress, preferring on site shooting rather than reconstruction in big studios.  The result was a new genre of filmmaking: a more personal style that reflected a direct and immediate response to a particular time and place—the New Wave (Armes, 193). 

     Godard is the master of this distinct style.  In the opening sequence where the character Michel was driving while talking directly into camera, Godard has broken the 180-degree sight line rule and introduced jump-cuts within a scene (Kline, 171).  The disregard for scene and dialogue continuity and rough cameraworks are apparent throughout the film.  The simple storyline made it easy for audience to follow so that they could focus more on the Mise-en-scene and montage of the film.  These two things and the exchange of seemingly nonsense between Michel and Patricia are what made the film poetic.

     Godard also pays tribute to Hollywood through the characters and the plot.  The story itself is not so original—typical of American gangster films.  Michel is seen posing beside movie publicity shots of and imitating the manners of Humphrey Bogart who has starred in many American “B” pictures.  When Patricia was trying to get ride of the tailing detective by going to a movie theatre, the Film-Noir movie Whirlpool (1949) was shown.  It is directed by Otto Preminger.   And its tagline “Can a man make a woman do things she doesn’t want to?” (IMDB, Whirlpool) coincides with the storyline that Michel is trying to persuade Patricia to go to Rome with him.  Only later we know that the answer is no—Patricia became informer who informs the police, instead of lover who loves.  The director himself made a Hitchcock-like cameo appearance as an informer also.  But it is the last scene that shows Godard’s playful adaptation of the Hollywood style.  On the one hand, we know the genre-dictated death of Michel is about to come.  But the prolonged escape attempt by Michel before he hits the ground due to the gun shot is almost comical.  And his unexpected even hilarious last words are satiric commentary on the Hollywood ending where the anti-hero has to say something meaningful, something larger than life.    

     Here we have a less than original story that is completely transformed into a work of art, a poem if you will.  The French New Wave has in a sense redefined cinema.  Cinema in the New Wave directors’ mind is not so much about the story, not so much about the characters, but about the mise-en-scene and montage.  It is the roughness of camerawork, the innovative jump-cut of dialogues and scenes that disregards the rules of shot countershot grammar and usual narrative justification that created a dream-like quality for this film.  Indeed Godard has created a personalized fantasy for his characters and audience: we all live in our own worlds, and we get to choose how our life should look and sound like.

 

     

Reference:

Armes, Roy (ed), “New Wave 1958-62” French Cinema, 1985

Kline, T.Jefferson, “The French New Wave”, The European Cinema 2005 Biography, 2004

IMDB, “Whirlpool”, www.imdb.com/title/tt0053472/ 

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