Movie Journal – 3/22/2012

Breathless (1960)     5/5

Directed by Jean-Luc Godard (UGC)

Over 50 years later, it still does … well, you know. As Godard’s first feature, Breathless remains a fearless proponent of the French New Wave, in addition to an ideal balance of style and substance. Michel, played with fascinating effect by Jean-Paul Belmondo, is a small-time criminal who kills a cop, and then proceeds to roam the streets of Paris with his American, journalist girlfriend, Patricia (Jean Seberg). Michel worships the American gangster image, as exemplified by his love of Humphrey Bogart. Godard also alludes to his love of American cinema, yet makes it quite clear that he is not intent on making a studio product. Both Michel and Patricia occasionally break the fourth wall, but structurally, the film takes an even bolder approach.

The story is told mainly through jump cuts, rather than a traditional system of linear editing. Breathless was also shot entirely handheld (some shots captured via Godard’s rolling position in a wheelchair), on location in the City of Light, and accompanied by Martial Solal’s jazzy score, exuding as much charisma as the film’s protagonist. Yet most fascinating is the way Godard restrains Michel’s own fulfillment of the cool, criminal image. This was a movie that was truly the first of its kind, and because of such innovative cinematography, editing, and overall presentation, there is no room for Michel to become the idealized, American king of the underworld.

He, along with the audience, is instead left breathless; a result of cinema’s inevitable evolution. The New Wave has influenced cinema even to modern day, as Tarantino and others, such as Nicolas Winding Refn (director of Drive), continue to transform our conventions. Jean-Pierre Melville, another French director of the period (Le Samourai, Le Circle rouge, Army of Shadows), also plays a small role. And that ending, how … expansive. By expansive, I do not mean thorough, but rather, a combination of ambiguity and ceaseless profundity. These films do not end – they continue as FIN fades in. They force us to believe that these characters exist somewhere in the world, and that their stories will continue. We probably know a few of them. Some may even be us.

 

if…. (1968)     5/5

Directed by Lindsay Anderson (Paramount Pictures)

“There’s no such thing as a wrong war. Violence and revolution are the only pure acts.” “A man can change the world with a bullet in the right place.” Sounds to me like rebellion. And never has that idea become so fully encapsulated by a film. if…. is Lindsay Anderson’s story of a fantasy-driven revolt at a British boarding school, led by menace-to-society Mick Travis, and played by Malcolm McDowell (a few years prior to becoming Alex in A Clockwork Orange). The film coincides with the 1968 student uprisings in Paris, in addition to the counterculture spawned by Vietnam and a new era of sexual awakening.

if…. presents a world where everything is suppressed, and one in which even the oldest children are subject to beatings, although this form of punishment may resemble a far more vigorous form of torture. We are given an expansive look at the school, including a glance at the juniors and seniors, the rebels and the prefects, the religious leaders and the symbolic headmaster. There are homosexual interests, late night drinking sessions, a divine interest in sex and violence, and when the film finally allows it, the descent of these attributes into complete anarchy; an absolute overthrow of any sort of authority. if…. mixes black-and-white with color, refusing to blink an eye. As the film advances, this blend of elements soon becomes applicable to both reality and the darkly hilarious absurdism that would inspire the likes of Monty Python.

Taking reference from Jean Vigo’s surrealist work, Zero de conduite, if…. refuses to conform to any standard, and was considered quite graphic (and dangerous) at the time of its release. While it is unfair to claim Anderson’s work of art as inciting violence, it is undeniable that an overthrow of all that confines us is fantasized within each human mind, and how better to convey it than through violence? That is the great irony. These kids are growing up with these horrors all around them. So why not use them to their advantage? Or simply wonder about the possibility.

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