Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Week End

Let's talk about the French New Wave for a moment, since today we're looking at Week End, which is by Jean-Luc Godard, one of the big names in the movement. I'm not an expert in the movement, but the basic idea was that a bunch of French critics, taking a break from eating croissants and surrendering, started cooking up a bunch of theories about film, probably the most famous being the auteur theory, which is that the director is the ultimate author of the film. I've expressed my feelings on the theory before, so what else did they do? Well, they started to play around with form and visual style, breaking rules and goofing around with editing, text, and pretty much everything. In essence, they decided they would be Orson Welles except more French, and they both reinvigorated world cinema and ruined it in France.

That last bit might be surprising, but ever since the 60's, French movies have been terrible, because the directors have bought in to France being important and vital in filmmaking. Once the initial burst of creativity were lost, the directors got steadily worse, leading to something like Catherine Breillat, making movies like Fat Girl which are utterly terrible and objectionable, that probably wouldn't have been made (or well regarded) without someone believing that the French were still relevant. One gets the feeling that Godard has realized his countrymen had lost the plot, since he's pretty much made a movie about how he hates everyone and everything. Especially you, Curtis.

What's it all about then? The story, supposedly, is about a couple (Mireille Darc and Jean Yanne) who want to kill a parent for lots of money, and then kill each other for more money. After Darc makes a stop to describe an increasingly bizarre orgy (involving eggs), they go off on a road trip, encountering a famous tracking shot, an improbable amount of wrecked cars - apparently the French have surrendered to the urge to drink and drive - lots of speechifying, and a band of cannibals, because why the hell not? It goes completely off the rails in a complete planned and calculatedly chaotic way.

It becomes obvious that Godard hates everything. He hates cars, he hates capitalism, he hates communism, he hates materialism, he hates men, he hates women, he hates film, he hates filmmakers, he hates scripts, he hates world affairs, he hates the situation in Africa, he hates civilization, he hates barbarism, he hates absolutely everything you can think of, and develops an entire movie to exhibit just how much he hates these things, turning his sneering camera on pretty much everything to look down on it and the people involved.

It's an incredibly infuriating film to watch, taking a long time on lengthy elaborate tracking shots and technical flamboyance just to prolong the frustration. The most famous scene in the film is the lengthy tracking shot in a traffic jam, as wacky things happen, punctuated by constant horn honking and going on for an interminable length of time. It's just a frustrating sequence, making its point in the process of making you aggravated at the situation. It's difficult to watch, on purpose, so you begin to share Godard's fury at everyone and everything.

In a sense, it's successful, since you're placed into the mind of a very angry and frustrated man. If you hate the film, you get the sense that Godard means you to, calling it "A film found on a scrap heap" at one point and ending with the credit "End of Cinema." There's a sense that he's quietly flipping you off, while noisily chewing on a baguette and wearing a beret. Indeed, this film was the end of his most prolific and acclaimed period, and there's a sense of career suicide, making a point in a flamboyant and pissed off manner. He's burning bridges here, seeming to intend on making people glad he's fed up with film and also delivering an essay about why they should be as well.

So it does what it sets out to do, but I can never watch it again. It's a disturbing look into the mind of someone disenfranchised with everything. It's often visually interesting, and there's no doubt Godard can move a camera, but do you really want to see someone so mad at the world that he's got to shoot an assortment of ruined cars to get his frustration out?

1 comment:

  1. If you're saying "Gee, I sure enjoy MaR but I wish you would cover a movie I've heard of," I promise that on Friday there will be a movie everyone has heard of.