Masculin Feminin (AKA: Masculine Feminine) (1966)

Masculin-Feminin

Masculin Feminin (AKA: Masculine Feminine) – 1966

Director – Jean-Luc Godard

Starring – Chantal Goya, Jean-Pierre Leaud, and Marlene Jobert

Films by Jean-Luc Godard seem to play by a different set of rules than do other films from the French New Wave.  Sure each of them relies on the real settings, the fresh, often non-actors filling out the roles, and the same sort of do-it-yourself aesthetic that embodies the style, but Godard seems more interested in holding up a mirror to his audience than in weaving them a story.

Godard’s commentary on the people, places, and events of 1960’s France, are often times quite contrary to some of his peers such as Francois Truffaut, Jacques Demy, Claude Chabrol, or Agnes Varda.  Whereas these same ingredients played heavily on the stories of these other directors, Godard seems content to treat them AS the story with a loose narrative tying them together.  While this can make his message a bit blatant, it does nothing to remove any of the impact.

Masculin Feminin follows the rocky relationship of Paul (Leaud) and Madeleine (Goya), through a series of  encounters in seemingly mundane and everyday situations.  The characters are vain and selfish at first, flitting from one topic to another at the drop of a hat, but over time these conversations lay bare the real issue, fear.  Consumerism, politics, women’s rights, socialism, each topic is disscussed with a violent fervor, treated with the casual idealism of the Pepsi Generation before being discarded for the next cause.  Importance is gauged on the here and now, the past is history, and in the future the present has become the past.   Despite their posturing and opinions, Paul and Madeleine are afraid of what is to come, in both their relationship, and in their lives.  Each does their best to keep themselves distracted to such a degree that they don’t have to deal with their worries.

The modesty of the settings is often times punctuated through fantastic sequences of sudden violence.  A husband preventing his children from being taken by his estranged wife, gets gunned down outside of the cafe our main characters are sitting in, a man in an arcade knifes himself in the stomach after a confrontation with Paul, passengers on the same train as Paul are shot by one of the members of their own group.  This violence references the tumult in France at the time.  Mentioned at various points, the conflict in Vietnam (which in 1966 had started a year earlier in an official capacity for the Americans after being passed off by the French) must have played a huge role in defining the meaning of that violence, which was also being informed by issues as diverse as the re-election of Charles de Gaulle, the introduction of birth control, the end of WWII, and French women finally being given the vote.

One of my favorite parts of any movie from the French New Wave Era is the depiction of 1960s Paris.  The tone of these films ride heavily on the unwritten character of city in which they are filmed.  Seemingly, this Paris is perpetually wet, active, and alive.  The somewhat nostalgic black and white photography allows for a depth and dimension that partially comes from the guerrilla filmmaking methods of filming real people in real locations, and partially from the new-found mobility that comes with lighter and more portable camera gear of the time.  Another element unique to the 1960s is the merging of future and past design elements in everything from clothing, to cars.

Godard is a love-him or hate-him kind of director.  His work was definitely his own vision, and often times flies directly in the face of commonly accepted practices in terms of movie making.  Each plays with it’s medium, editing, sound, plot, or character, to punctuate and draw attention to the fact that you are watching a movie.  Masculin Feminin is an example of all of these, often referencing itself, it’s director, and it’s actors outside of the story and the characters.  If you’re intrigued by this, you’ll probably love it.  If, however, the thought of this annoys you, it’s probably not your cup of tea.

Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (1969)

ButchCassidySundanceKid

Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid – 1969

Director – George Roy Hill

Starring – Paul Newman, Robert Redford, and Katharine Ross

Growing up as a kid, I would visit my dad on the weekends.  Together we would watch shows like “Bonanza”, and movies like “The Outlaw Josie Wales”.  To my dad, the western was a big deal, and as a result I got pretty burned out on watching them.  So I stopped.  All through high school, and some of college I avoided them.  To me, they all seemed the same.  Gritty, boring, long, and worst of all, un-interesting.  It was in college that I began my love of foreign film, from the French new wave, to Italian neo-realism.  The angry young men of British films, to the heroic samurai from Japan.  It was one samurai film in particular that caught my attention (Akira Kurosawa’s “Yojimbo”), and eventually led me back to the western through the work that it inspired (A Fist Full of Dollars).

Despite this rather circuitous route, I’ve since come to embrace the western as the praise-deserving genre that it is.  With these newly opened eyes, I’ve seen some real gems that I would have otherwise missed, among them, Once Upon a Time in the West, 3:10 to Yuma (the 2007 version, as I have yet to see the original), The Proposition, and now…Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid!

Newman and Redford are positively magnetic as the titular pair of outlaws in this late 60’s film by George Roy Hill.  Redford in particular stands out for me.  He is quiet, introspective, dangerous, and complex.  He has an intensity as well as a light-heartedness, all conveyed through “simple” posturing, or through a smouldering stare.  Before this, my only real knowledge of Robert Redford came from a small selection of his acting resume (Three Days of the Condor, Sneakers, and Spy Game), none of which gave a consistent feel for his ability.  In Butch and Sundance, I feel that I got a much clearer glimpse into why this actor became as popular as he did.  As the Sundance Kid, he is the calm, cool and capable partner of Butch Cassidy, the smooth-talking, idea-man played by Paul Newman.  Despite Butch being more of the main character, and having more dialogue, he was continually out shone by the quiet, almost Harry Lime-esque character of the Sundance Kid.

Don’t get me wrong, Paul Newman is great in the role of Butch Cassidy, but since I expected less of Redford, I was left with a more lasting impression from his performance.

Both characters seem wholly entranced by, and are ultimately slaves to the impending future.  They are living through the events of the present, with their eyes firmly forward, ever planning the next heist, fleeing the current town for the next one, and orchestrating the next caper.  As the film progresses, they slowly become aware that this shiny future they admire has no place for them, that they are a dying breed.  In every aspect of their lives, there exists strife.  From the dissent in their own gang, to the special posse contracted to deal with them, to the overwhelming odds they face by the end of the film, it becomes clear that their time is through.

The thing about this impending doom, though, is that they are seemingly un-willing to change in order to stop it.  While trying to escape their pursuers, they are told “It’s over, don’t you get that? Your times is over and you’re gonna die bloody, and all you can do is choose where.”  Throughout the film, they are given multiple chances to turn away from their destiny, but they never do.  The glamour and and excitement of this lifestyle is all they know, and it keeps them constantly committed to their outlaw trade, looking for fresh starts, second chances and new hideouts (New York, Bolivia, Colorado, etc.).  The eventuality of their communal fate, illustrated in the scene where Butch Cassidy is riding his brand new bicycle, doing tricks, and taking risks, only to end up in front of a stampeding bull.  And so it is with Sundance too.  The railroads are bringing civilization and law to the once lawless terrain measured and ruled by the gunfighter and his gang.  They are literally and figuratively being driven to extinction.

Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid is a fantastic watch, and is well deserving of it’s place on the list of 1001 Movies you Must See Before You Die.  Highly Recommended.

“What the shit, bicycle montage?” – Ashley

Down By Law (1986)

Down By Law

Down By Law – 1986

Director – Jim Jarmusch

Starring – Tom Waits, John Lurie, and Roberto Benigni

Just like with each other Jim Jarmusch movie, I wasn’t interested in seeing Down By Law based on the cover art, the description, or the actors involved, and just like with each of the other Jim Jarmusch  movies that I have seen (Ghost Dog, Dead Man, Night On Earth) I really, really liked it a lot.

I’m not sure what it is about the marketing or the set-up to this particular director’s movies, but I’m never ever excited about them, and that is exactly where the disappointment ends.  I always love them when I force myself to sit down and watch them.  Strangely enough though, each time I’m done with one, I resolved to go forth and watch all of his stuff with my mind open and ready.  Somehow that never works out.

This particular movie centers around 3 men, all of whom fall into the down-and-out-loser category, and their introduction and consequent relationship with one another during their stay in, and their escape from prison.  Jack and Zack (Lurie and Waits respectively) both see themselves as being better than their current predicament, despite one being a pimp and the other being a drunkard who can’t hold a job.  Bob on the other hand, played charmingly by Roberto Benigni, fully admits to his wrong doing, seems to accept his punishment, and despite all that has a cheerful disposition on top of it.  At first both Jack and Zack scoff at, and make fun of Bob, but ultimately both end up relying on him to a great extent, and really appreciating him by the end.   It is during their escape, when they are trudging through the wilds of Louisiana, and their future looks bleak, that Bob through his intelligence, and fortitude manages to save them from the elements and get them on the path to salvation.

The most stunning part of this film, has nothing to do with the acting, it’s the cinematography!  It is shot in a gorgeous black and white, showing a gloomy, somber side of the traditionally cheerful New Orleans that you’ve never seen and aren’t likely to see again. Almost any shot in the movie could have been used as a poster, or for the DVD box.  The film is almost as sparse as it is filled with details.

This one is a must watch!  Of the Jarmusch movies that I’ve seen, it isn’t at the top (behind Ghost Dog and Dead Man), but seeing as how I loved each of his movies, that doesn’t actually mean anything.

On Tom Waits…”I’d rather watch him act than listen to him sing.” – Ashley