At first blush this feels like a very typical leeringly sexist film, as our title character Haydée (Politoff) is introduced in a bikini walking in the surf, reduced to shots of her body, not speaking. It is instead the two men, the suave Adrien (Patrick Bauchau) and the bookish repressed Daniel (Pommereulle), who get to talk. The former is heard at great length as the narrator, presenting his opinions, flirting then arguing with Haydée, and reflecting on his own growth as a person — the film is set during a period he spends away from his girlfriend, at a friend’s mansion in the south of France. But the crux of the film seems in fact to be the way that Adrien has his own view of Haydée and lets it run riot in his mind; he acclaims himself for not falling for her, and constantly implies that she is trying to lure him, but all we actually see is him initiating contact, being obsessed, stroking her creepily. Her interior thoughts are never heard, but she has to be pliable and friendly because of guys like Adrien who expect women to put out, and who think the moral strength is all in their own (as it turns out, non-existent) resistance. So the film focuses on these typically wordy self-obsessed French cinema men and takes them apart, albeit slowly and subtly, because it allows them the rope to hang themselves with (or at least, so it seems to me). Perhaps Haydée isn’t fully developed as a character after all (it is still a French film of the 60s), but in part because she’s just a projection of Adrien’s desires, and that’s what the film is focusing on.
- On the second disc, as an extra to the film above, is Une étudiante d’aujourd’hui (A Modern Coed, 1966). This is an odd little film, a documentary which just watches a number of young women and marvels at their increased visibility within the academic system. It’s a little condescending, it feels at times, but seems to come from a place of interest.
FILM REVIEW: Criterion Collection
Director Éric Rohmer; Writers Patrick Bauchau, Haydée Politoff, Daniel Pommereulle and Alain Jouffroy; Cinematographer Néstor Almendros; Starring Patrick Bauchau, Haydée Politoff, Daniel Pommereulle, Alain Jouffroy; Length 86 minutes.
Seen at home (Blu-ray), London, Sunday 9 August 2020.
There’s a reason people make austere black-and-white films about relationships, and it might just date back to this film. Well, maybe not (as themes go it’s a mainstay of the art cinema canon), but clearly this film forms a sizeable chunk of what people think about when they think about French cinema. Four people in the city of Clermont-Ferrand intersect with one another, but never at the same time, and slowly the ties that bind each of them become clearer — never explained exactly, but they become like a shadow across the other relationships, fracturing them in perhaps unexpected ways. It’s all very subtle and it follows the format of a series of dialogues, explicitly linking itself to Pascal’s Pensées in expounding on the moral questions that are at its heart (this is, after all, the third in Rohmer’s “Moral Tales” series). An attractive engineer played by Jean-Louis Trintignant has a reputation as a bit of a player, and falls for a woman at church (Marie-Christine Barrault), but then via a school friend gets to know another woman (the Maud of the title, played by Françoise Fabian), and must essentially choose between them, and this perhaps is his Pascalian wager. Maud is, secretly, the tie between all of them, and the way Rohmer unveils this all is exquisitely structured. I think perhaps it’s a film whose complexities only deepen upon rewatching, but clearly it is formally precise and beautifully shot. It’s also, presumably not insificantly (given that Rohmer made this third of his moral tales after the fourth because of his insistence at shooting at the right time of year), a Christmas film.
- Rohmer’s short film Entretien sur Pascal (On Pascal, 1965) — an episode of a rather dry French TV series called En profil dans le texte — is attached to the film above on Criterion’s disc, and that makes sense because Blaise Pascal and his famous wager is discussed within that film, and indeed forms something of the backbone to the ‘moral tale’ it tells. Here we get a dialogue between a philosopher and a priest touching on this wager, and it’s fairly dry stuff, but not uninteresting.
FILM REVIEW: Criterion Collection
Director/Writer Éric Rohmer; Cinematographer Néstor Almendros; Starring Jean-Louis Trintignant, Françoise Fabian, Marie-Christine Barrault, Antoine Vitez; Length 111 minutes.
Seen at home (Blu-ray), London, Sunday 2 August 2020.
Cécile Decugis (1934-2017) has never really been a prominent film name, which is a shame. She may have only made a handful of short and medium-length films as director (which I like well enough), but she makes it to my Women Filmmakers’ feature for her more prominent work as a film editor. She worked on some of the most important French Nouvelle Vague films of the 1950s and 1960s, films which were known particularly for their innovative editing (usually ascribed to their more famous directors). These films include many of the works of Éric Rohmer (she worked with him through to the 1980s), as well as a few other minor works you may not have heard of like À bout de souffle (Breathless, 1959) and Les Quatre cents coups (The 400 Blows, 1959, along with Marie-Josèphe Yoyotte, another editor, of Martinican heritage). Her activism on behalf of Algerian independence began in the late-1950s with her first short film, and ended up costing her two years in prison from 1960-62. Her own films were often about people in a certain existential confusion, it seems to me, and I got a chance to see them at the invaluable Il Cinema Ritrovato festival (though I only caught half of the full programme).
Continue reading “Women Filmmakers: Cécile Decugis”