Why is it that essays bring out the worst in me? Strictly speaking they don’t, but I’ve had all summer to write as much as I please on this little blog, but when I sit down to start my first 3rd year essay, I find myself distracted ever so easily. Maybe this blog isn’t the outlet for my creative pursuits I’d first envisaged, but a tool of procrastination. Aa well the less I dwell the better. I’ve been excited by a lot recently. Photos of the 1930’s depression, Dorothea Lange especially, she’s an amazing photographer with a keen eye for desperate resignation; The haiku – A Japenese verse of 17 syllables – I’ve tried to write a few recently. It’s difficult as with poetry I tend to follow Kerouac’s dictum to ‘remove literary, gramatical and syntactical inhibition’, yet they’re fun none the less; Films – or French films to be more precise. The past week I’ve binged on films, and three stood out to me that I’d like to talk about.

The first is one that I actually watched for the first time last year, but took time to give it another viewing this week, is Jean-Luc Goddard’s ‘A Bout de Souffle’, or Breathless to you and me. One of the inaugral films of Nouvelle Vague, Goddard’s masterpiece epitomises 1960’s European culture. Jean-Paul Belmondo plays the protagonist Michel, who on styling himself on Humphrey Bogart, steals a car, shoots a cop and plays out the rest of the film on the run from the Police with his girlfriend Patricia played by Jean Seberg. Fast, witty and painfully cool, it’s an iconic film admired as much for its look as its substance.

Fastforward a decade to the 70’s, and we have another masterpiece Les Valseuses. It is the film that shot Gerard Depardieu to stardom, and his performance is exceptional. Basically it is uninhibited sex and violence, conveyed through two big brutes who constantly fuck, terrorise and steal from the French bourgeoisie. They hit a brick wall with Marie Ange played by Miou-Miou, a girl they ‘steal’ from a wealthy pimp who despite their best efforts, cannot come. It is her search for unattainable sexual pleasure that emasculates our two thugs. Les Valseuses does verge on porn, yet it’s the casting of Depardieu that makes it so memorable. A throwback to the decadence of the fin de siecle, a sexual deviant and true Libertine for the nouvelle generation.
That moves me onto my next film, from a slightly different mould of the previous two, but arguably as innovative, intelligent and ‘French’ as the other. La Haine, written and directed by Matthieu Kassovitz, shows one day of life in the Parisian banlieues in the aftermath of a riot. Vincent Cassel (above – you’ll know him as Toulor in Oceans Twelve and Thirteen) plays Vinz is a Jewish teen -part of the group of three the film focuses on- who models himself on Travis Bickle from Taxi Driver, and and vows to kill a cop if their friend Abdel (in a coma) dies in hospital. The film as a social commentary is powerful, pinning down the underbelly of Paris in the 1990’s through the eyes of those seen to be the problem. Yet it is the cinematography that strikes me as the most illuminating facet of La Haine. There are some shots of genius that show the true ability of cinema as it moves toward the 21st century. The most memorable part for me has to be the ‘Cut Killer’ scene (below)…The characterisation is superb, the realism emphasised with the entire film being shot in black and white, the soundtrack is quality and the ending is masterful. In essence the film embodies hip-hop and it’s acute understanding of racial and social tensions conveyed through American and French hip-hop consciousness make this a masterpiece I urge you to watch it and see for yourself.

(Disclaimer – Not own images)

One thought on “Bonjour

  1. This was a pleasure to read since you conveyed your excitement in viewing. The first film reminded me of going in the 60s to the Academy Cinema in Oxford Street (one of the few arthouses in London around then) to see many undubbed French black and white releases. Why don't you review more of that era? Feel like tackling a Jean-Paul Belmondo retrospective?

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