Daily Archives: Thursday, February 20, 2014

  • Lift to the Scaffold (L’Ascenseur pour l’Echafaux) Louis Malle (1958 Fr)

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    Lift to the Scaffold (L’Ascenseur pour
    l’Echafaux) Louis Malle (1958 Fr) Jeanne Moreau; Maurice Ronet

    Viewed: NFT London; 7 Feb 2014;
    ticket: £7.50

    Change in the Rules of the Game.

    Nineteen years on from Renoir’s The
    Rules of the Game, after a world war the German Occupation and the
    infiltration of Coca-Cola culture, Louis Malle makes The Lift to the
    Scaffold. At it’s simplest his film states simply and objectively
    that the rules of the game have changed: it’s a new game, with
    shifting ambiguous rules.

    Lift to the Scaffold is a shock wave
    that jolts us out of the cosy world of traditional social hierarchies
    and the striated conventions that define them. It shakes us out of
    class bound notions of ownership and personal relations into the post
    war world of the 1950’s which is already being shaped by
    contemporary modernism. A world always on edge where money defines
    identity; a world with fluid boundaries defined by personal desire
    accelerations separations and object fetishism. A world that at
    that time of the film’s production was in embryo but projected by
    Malle into its maturity.

    And like Renoir’s movie, Lift to the
    Scaffold is also a satire on social relations.

    Renoir’s satire in keeping with the
    times is a gentle probing. He puts into relief the strange,
    sometimes hypocritical amusing contradictions that result from the
    different behaviour codes followed by two classes of people living in
    close proximity as masters and servants. Malle’s satire is more
    savage and pitiless. Renoir’s protagonists, in particular the ruling
    class, are able to control events by containing them within their
    world. Malle’s protagonists have no such power and the satire
    derives from the manner in which actions by the protagonists veer
    completely out of their control resulting in exaggerated unintended
    effects that overwhelm them. Effects enlarged and given greater
    visibility by the cool detached acting style that gesturally
    characterises the playing out of the scenario.

    This difference between the two films
    is highlighted by the killings that are important but not necessarily
    defining events in the two scripts. In Rules of the Game the murder
    is a crime passionel, motivated by jealousy: an old fashioned sort of
    provocation. It is viewed in the film as an embarrassment rather
    than a crime, a mistake that can be justified contained and explained
    away. The killing in ‘Rules’ is done from a distance without the
    killer and victim being in close contact: Andre will have had no
    idea who shot him. Contrast with Malle’s script. Here the two
    murders are close up and personal, with eye contact between the two
    parties. As if Malle understands that within the new social matrix
    sexual and murderous relations will be two unpredictable sides of the
    same coin: power. Malle’s killings are in complete opposition to the
    bungled events of ‘Rules’: political assassination (perhaps mediated
    by passion) and kicks. In Lift to the Scaffold the killings are acts
    of individuated will. And both murders satirically spin out of
    control of the perpetrators exposing them to the capricious forces of
    fate and satiric irony.

    Renoir’s script is devised using the
    classical unities of time and place: events unfold at a leisurely
    pace building up to the climax. In Malle’s script the lack of
    unities gives brilliant defining form to the movie. The protagonists
    although fatefully entangled are physically separated in time and
    space. Two of the main characters Florence and Julien, never meet
    face to face. Their unseen actions effect each other from a
    distance. Just as today the wild interplay of separated individuals
    on social networking sites can set into motion accelerated forces
    moulding possibility into certainty, so the actions of Malle’s
    protagonists just as certainly accelerate them into the precipitation
    of the events that eventually consume them.

    Of course Malle works with new social
    types: arms dealers, disaffected rebellious kids, veterans with a
    grudge and sets them against a new emerging milieu of incessant
    motion and transience: highways, motels, modernist office blocks, the
    city streets (Moreau’s endless mythic walk through night time
    Paris)or any place whatever. Malle locates his characters in a
    world not only in relation to their social strata, but more in
    relation to objects (or absence of objects as in the interrogation
    scene). Objects burrow into the course of the action, not just the
    cars, which are caressed and admired like a lover, but pencil
    sharpeners, cameras, card filing systems, revolvers. Louis Malle
    directs out attention to object fetishism and the world of Vuitton,
    BMW, Apple etc waits in the wings.

    In filming Lift the the Scaffold Malle
    used his camera in a way that builds on the expressive ideas of
    Rossellini de Sica Visconti and other Europeans. The Camera as
    directed by these film makers doesn’t only work to create affect
    perception or movement; it is not a slave to story or the manipulated
    affects of emotion. It might do some of these things but its
    principle function to enable the audience to see, to be invested as a
    seer. The audience is not asked to invest in fake emotional
    symbolism. The cars the guns the bars the highways the clothes the
    office blocks can all be read as signs, not so much part of the
    narrative but signifiers connecting the film to the world we live in.

    Before ‘Lift’ Malle had worked with
    Bresson on ‘A man escaped’ ( Un condamne a mort s’ est echappe;
    1956) . And one of Bresson’s formal concerns carries over into this
    film, his determination of a specific type of acting style needed to
    make films that were about seeing. The role of the actor is to
    reveal something to the audience. This cannot be achieved by the
    actor flooding out the audience’s emotional channels, overwhelming
    them by manipulations. It is achieved by the actor building a certain
    type of relation to their role which is not a becoming. The actor’s
    task is to show, in one way or another, how their character is a
    construct in a particular situation. The scenario the script and the
    structure of a film are an apparatus which allows the actor to take
    up varying positions in relation to the material allowing the viewer
    the spac to be a key interpretor of the material.

    Adrin Neatrour