Monthly Archives: May 2020

  • Une Femme est Une Femme J-L Godard (Fr 1961)

    Une Femme est Une Femme  J-L Godard (Fr 1961) J-P Belmondo, J-C Brialy, A Karena

    Mobi streamed – viewed 22 May 2020 during the great plague


    film as delerium

    Godard’s movie, Une Femme est Une Femme (‘Une Femme’) of course begins at the beginning.  He uses the opening title sequence to not only to anticipate the themes of the film but to flaunt its wit, provenance, and his mastery in deconstructing cinematic form.   In the opening captions, we see written out in huge block caps across the Cinemascope screen and spaced over two shots, the formula that traditionally leads us into the fairy tale:  IL ETAIT /cut / UNE FOIS…(once upon/cut/ a time).  This opening is followed by a series of words (all in the same huge screen filling block caps a la Godard) that are invocations of the wild promises we see every week in the cinema interjected into the manic film trailers.  But instead of flashed excitor words such as: sizzling – hot – teenage sex – explosive – true story etc in ‘Une Femme’ we are hit with such as : LUBISCH – 14 JUILLET – GUILLMOT – COMEDIE – FRANCAIS – GODDARD – and many more..before…

     …off camera Anna Karena (AK) calls out: Lights! Camera! Action! (usually the director’s call), and the title Une Femme est Une Femme fades up over an interior shot of a Parisian café, a familiar setting used by Godard in this era, and picks up Angela  (sic.; AK ) as she swings through the door.   

    So what is ‘Une Femme’ about?  It seems to me that it is about Godard as the playful lover, playful lover both of Cinema and lover of his star.  His movie is both an infatuation with AK and an infatuation with Cinema.   Une Femme est une Femme is a delirium of infatuation.

    Using the American musical comedy as a tongue in cheek reference or ‘Homage’ Godard strips out the Hollywood film making bible and employs every trick in the counter-culture guerrilla cinema book to deconstruct the genre.  Yet, through script, colourisation, editing, wit and the performances – above all his camera’s love affair with AK – Godard maintains the energy vitality and innocence of his original model.

    The narrative, such as it is, is written to give full weight to the woman’s perception of the situation.  As such the script moves well outside Hollywood’s comfort zone (certainly in 1961), with Angela’s insistence to Emile that she wants a baby.  Given Emile’s intransigence on this matter, Angela’s solution to go and make love with Alfred to effect conception, prioritises her biological imperative over romantic faithfulness.   This solution and  Emile’s relaxed response are both outcomes well outside ‘The Code’.    The acting style is ‘cool’, the actors don’t invest in emotive charge, and the interchanges even when not mediated by book titles, tend towards a logic in which the words are owned by the actors but not possessed by them.   The dialogue has its own dynamic, in turns ironic radical and left field, it creates its own tensions and resolutions, and is delivered with gestural self possession but without affected commitment.  

    ‘Une Femme’ is characterised by random breaks in the flow of the film’s soundtrack, discontinuities which then resume pick up and continue as if nothing had happened.  These edits break into the viewer’s cognitive processes, putting them on alert that they are the targets in a game of manipulation.  Take care! It’s just a movie, anything is possible.   The script also gives the caste a part to play in breaking through the hallowed conventions of Cinema.   With nods winks and little looks they cut through the screen and collude directly with the audience.  Seated in the dark (the traditional setting for ignorance) the audience know they are being guyed by the directors simple stunts – absurd undisguised spacial contractions –  stunts that point up their complicity in the illusion yet earns their intelligent indulgence and admiration for the director’s filmic delirium.   Because Godard loves Cinema as a way of thinking, as a way of life, as a way of saying something about the world. As a way of being: ‘In Love’.

    The second delirium that makes up the substance of ‘Une Femme’ is that it is Godard’s ode to Ana Karina.  It is his portrait his sonnet his love affair with his muse.  He found her in the Cinema (interestingly the full name of AK’s part in Une Femme is: Angela Recame – Reclame is French for an advert and Godard was first smitten with AK in a Palmolive Soap Advert), and he will make her a star of the Cinema.   In ‘Une Femme’  AK, wrapped in ‘Minnelli’ red colourisation, is the subject of Godard’s delirium, a series of fantasias – housewife – stripper – child  – music comedy star (There is a Gigi sequence. But interestingly Minnelli, director of Gigi, is not one of the names seen either in the opening credits,  nor is he mentioned in the script – but Bob Fosse is) .  In Godard’s vision AK radiates through Une Femme.  Brialy and Belmondo both play out downbeat performances, wandering through most of the takes like clouds on a sunny day.  AK is the sunshine.

    Bunuel  Parajonov, Tarksovski, Herzog  Rossellini Resnais are some directors who immediately spring to mind who have made films that constitute a state of delirium.     It is of course a subjective judgement.  I wonder how Godard came to view ‘Une Femme’ as he moved into a more cerebrally committed mode of film making?  In some respects ‘Une Femme’  appears as an indulgence, a film that verges on being self satisfied and over content with itself, but in the end I think its innocence overcomes, its playfulness overrides reservations.  Its thematic feminine line, its pricking of male pomposity wrapped up in the bubble of film making justify the final lines of the script, the terrible pun spoken by Angela in bed as a reposte to Emile: “Non une femme n’est pas infame, une femme est une femme”.  Much can be forgiven if much is attempted.

    adrin neatrour

  • Germany Year Zero (Germania Anno Zero) Frederico Rossellini (It. 1948)

    Germany Year Zero (Germania Anno Zero) Frederico Rossellini (It. 1948) Edmund Moeschke; Franz-Otto Kruger, Ingetraud Hinze

    viewed YouTube 14 May 2020 during the Great Plague

    Like Raqqah like Homs – what lies behind these ruins…the death of Patriarchy?

     The opening title section of Rossellini’s Germany Year Zero (GYZ) is a series of establishing shots tracking through the smashed up streets of Berlin immediately after the war. The city’s face is shattered, its core reduced to rubble and the buildings, such as are standing, resemble broken teeth or gravestones. The images are overlaid by the rhythmic strident cacophony of the overture to Wagner’s Flying Dutchman as ironic counterpart to the desolate imagery.

    The question is what is this sequence establishing?

    I think it establishes that in GYZ Rossellini is looking at what is to live a life under the condition of total defeat. Conditions are situations that are all encompassing. They surround and press on us, as omnipresent as the air we breath.  Conditions are pressurised containers. Siege plague famine and total war create in extremis the conditions in which the human population tries to survive, at whatever the cost. The rules of survival permeate all behavioural responses, drilling down deeply into both the collective and individual psyches.

    Rossellini’s plot centres about one family and their survival. Like everyone else they live in buildings that are bombsites, sharing space with other families and penned into their rooms like hollowed out caves. Life is clearing rubble, digging graves, prostitution, theft, selling, hiding. The women walk out with the occupying soldiers, the children steal, sell, pimp, men cowed and frightened, hide from the authorities who are everywhere. Life is focused on getting to tomorrow. Life and death are familiars, but what Rossellini’s film excavates in parallel to the physical ruins are the reverberating echoes of life lived in the ruins of a shattered ideology: Nazism.

    These Berliners were the people who some five years earlier had cheered Hitler as the Fuehrer and embraced his fantasy that they the Germans were the superior race destined to bring the world under their heel. For Rossellini these Germans are a people psychologically adrift .   Scratch many of them, and just under the skin is National Socialism. Many still desire recourse to the old Nazi certainties but are unhinged by the evidence everyday life pushes into their faces, that they themselves are living proofs to the failure of these shibboleths of the Third Reich.

    A twelve year old boy Edmund sits at the centre of the scenario.   He is a luminous being who increasingly comes to dominate Rossellini’s attention. Edmund is a beautiful child: a physical embodiment of the Aryan somatic fantasy, but also the repository of a strange purity that stands out against the images of desolation. And Rossellini’s script marks him out for a specific purpose.

    Resourceful observant truthful Edmund plays a duel role in GYZ: one illustrative, the other mythic as the scenario plays out its sacrificial design.  

    As an illustrative figure Rossellini follows Edmund as he walks through Berlin. There are moments experienced of the city’s strange residual beauty, but mostly we see the conditions of destruction and relations of total defeat: the double crossing, the bullying, the black market, the dog eat dog situation in which the kids like packs of urban dogs play prominent roles. Rossellini also uses Edward to point up the sexual undercurrents of Nazism and its male dominated fetishism, the paedophile corruption underlying its racial ideology. Organisations such as the Hitler Youth, based on a glorification and glamorisation of the male body were tacitly based upon a certain a sexual dynamic between older men and young boys. This kind of sexual relationship is strongly suggested but not actively played out in the relationship between Edmund and his friendship with his ex teacher, a resentful unreformed Nazi.

    Edmund travels through all this with calmness of spirit aware of but not contaminated by the world in which he moves. And in this world Rossellini has reserved a particular mythic role for Edmund.  

    GYZ’s plot revolves about the sick father of the family and its desire to keep him alive.   There is a key scene after the bedridden father returns from hospital and talks candidly to his children about the Nazi past and his own failure, like everyone else, to have opposed Hitler. The camera comes to rest on Edmund as the father concludes:

    “We just have to acknowledge our own guilt…”  At some point in the development of the psychic and material strands of the film’s dynamic, Edmund comes to understand he will murder his father, he has been chosen as the agent of death.  

    Of course the narrative formulates a rational basis for Edmund’s killing: his father expressing his wish to die, so as not to be a burden; the teacher’s suggestion that the weak such as his father should be allowed to go to the wall. Edmund himself after the murder, tries to blame the teacher for the own crime. But these rationalisations as scripted linkages are weak, little more than pretexts for Edmund’s act as if his act of murder derived from a sort of cost benefit decision. Edmund’s impulse draws on a deeper psychic wellspring, the imperative to enact a rite of purification which takes possession of the boy and itself carries out the deed. And this is the reason Rossellini went to Berlin and made his film.

    Rossellini in creating his parricidal climax is pointing to mythic necessity as the way to expiation and hence the shot of Edmund over the father’s lines about the need to acknowledge guilt. Edmund is possessed by a force greater than and exterior to himself. The father must die by the hand of his progeny, his male offspring. Only this sacrifice will free people to move out of the patriarchal past and to come to terms with the terrible crimes that were committed in their name.

    But this is no trite Freaudian Oedipal story, where the son murders daddy, replaces daddy and then marries mummy.   This is another type of myth: a spiritual myth of self sacrifice. As Rossellini understands it, this killing this ritual murder must be carried out by the agency of an innocent being but one who accepts the guilt for his action and in reconciliation kills himself. When the cycle of death closes in on itself, the saga ends. Only through mythic death is there the possibility of renewal.

    In reaction to the still unfolding horrors of the Third Reich I think Rossellini in Germany Year Zero travels all the way to Berlin to make a film that will represent a rite of purification of behalf of Germany and its people.  It is film as liturgy and in the figure of Edmund he found his symbolic mediator for the necessary sacrifice. 

    The last year zero before this one, was the year of Christ’s Birth, another symbolic sacrificial figure who accepted the guilt of our sins and died to save the world. And as one of the architypal images of Chirst’s death is the Pieta, the image of the dead crucified Christ attended by his mother Mary, so in the last shot of Germany Year Zero Rossellini composes his own version of the Pieta, as a woman prays beside the crumpled body of the dead Edmund. Another spiritual death before camera tilts upwards towards the ruins.

    adrin neatrour







  • Ema     Pablo Larrain (Chile; 2019)

    Ema     Pablo Larrain (Chile; 2019) Mariana Di Girolamo, Santiago Cabrera.

    Viewed Mubi Streaming 3 May 2020 during the Great Plague.

    Sign of the times

    Girl Power is the key note of Larrain’s movie ‘Ema’, which is set in his native Chile but like girl power movies in general involves a lot of shots of the protagonist Ema looking directly into or towards camera with an affect image, a sort of pout into which we might read anything, but into which we are likely to read a sense self rightiousness. Although set in Chile, Larrain’s movie could have been made in any country with a Western cultural background as it plays out its convoluted and sometimes tortuous scenario.

    Confusion is characteristic Pablo Larrain’s film, confused state of minds, that in many respects reflects the times: gender/sex confusion, male-female role confusion; political confusion and climate anxiety. Larrain’s movie exploits confusion to create a series of dramatic images: ‘Ema’ has a little bit of everything: groovy modern dance, fire; lots of sex AC/DC; girls with fun earrings and cunilinctus; disputed child custody; targetted seduction and a claim by the hero, Ema, to be evil.


    And this claim to be ‘evil’, made in an intimate exchange with her new lover, the fireman, epitomises the vacuous nature of Larrain’s movie. Ema says she is evil…. but she might as well be saying she is dyspeptic or Sagittarian for all the difference it makes. Her line is just a line, words in a script, a pose that is inconsequential and empty, an outward display.

    ‘Ema is a film that exploits image for effect and affect without shame. In this too ‘Ema’ is of course very much a film of its time. It has nothing to say and serves notice only of its desire for fame and fortune, at any cost to be noticed.

    ‘Ema’ opens with our eponymous hero having fun with a flame thrower. Standing in the middle of the street directing her stream of fire at the overhead intersection traffic lights. The traffic lights perhaps symbolise the male ordering of the world, a world where public life is regimented by cars and their control systems, a world she wants to destroy or simply impress her rage upon, by pissing fire on it. ‘Ema’ is regularly punctuated with Ema’s use of fire as destructive force. But I don’t think Ema’s use of fire endorses her claim to be evil, even in the movie’s own disoriented terms. In classic psychiatry fire razing often relates to some forms of sexual dysfunction, but classic psychiatry is not fashionable these days. More probably its symbolic use here implies the idea of destroying the past, the idea of taking control of life through elemental intervention.

    However viewing ‘Ema’ these ideas don’t sit easily with the film.   They are not grounded in Ema herself or in the material of the movie; rather the use of fire seems simply played out as spectacle a gratuitous gimmick to sell the movie. Looks good on the poster; in the trailer.

    The opening half of the movie is punctuated by elaborate dance numbers. The dances are played out and filmed as referents to energy, body power, freedom. These qualities resonate with Ema’s persona: funky woman, and uninhibited.  But trying to stretch a practice dance leotard over Ema’s varied intentions, the garment simply splits. The dance is simply another distraction, a spectacle.

    There are attempts to integrate the dance into the scenario: Ema’s break up with the impotent choreographer with whom she has adopted a little boy – she rejects him as a lover and as an artistic director. But this narrative strand simply goes flaccid, there’s nothing left to dance out. It’s in competition with too much else – the pack of girl power digressions – the seduction of the fireman who is the new adopting father of the little boy. The scripted machinations multiply relentlessly, until at last Ema embraces a biological destiny of pregnancy and motherhood, finally taking her place amongst her enlarged family group of lovers and a lover’s wife and adopted child.

    The last shot of Larrain’s film is particularly dishonest. We see a medium shot of Ema at a gas station filling up a gerrycan of gasoline, the fuel for her toy flame thrower. For all Ema’s primping and pouting Larrain’s script simply leads Ema into a dead end. But like Ema, Larrain wants to have it both ways: tight and loose. Rebelling against this dead end Larrain has decided to open up the finale to suggestion: that Ema is waiting for ‘Ema 2’ to be financed, or that he is available should Hollywood call. Larrain is saying he can rock and roll as good as LA.

    adrin neatrour