JLG GOGOThough many great directors from the French New Wave have passed, it has been fascinating to have Jean-Luc Godard as long and productive as we have. Just this year, his first 3D film premiered at the Cannes Film Festival. I’ve already expressed my affection for the director’s contemporary work in a review for his previous film, Film Socialisme. While Godard could be seen as a curmudgeon who has long declared cinema dead, he is also one of the form’s greatest champions by making such a bold statement. He practically reinvented movies while trying to subvert them. He made it apparent as early as his first feature film, Breathless (1960), well-known for it’s startling jump cuts and disorienting shot/reverse shots. He said it was never supposed to be hit, but it became that and so much more.

Godard has never relented in his quest to demolish expectations along with the rules of filmmaking. His new 3D film, Goodbye to Language, is supposed to be as amazing and revolutionary as one could expect from JLG (check out Scott Foundas’ review in “Variety”). But before that arrives in my South Florida neighborhood (and I already witnessed the enthusiasm for it by two local art house programmers ready to bring the equipment necessary to host the 3D version), the Bill Cosford Cinema, located on the University of Miami Coral Gables campus, will host a series of retro Godard films on 35mm (click for all the details).

Calling it “Godard À Go-Go,” the program features his more recognizable and easier-to-digest films, from the early part of his career. They all also feature his famous muse and ex-wife, the always-game and mercurial Anna Karina. Even if she appears in all of these films, she inhabits very different characters. Watching all three will offer insight into her range as an actress who always seemed overshadowed by the panache of her director husband.

The series begins this Sunday, June 22, at 5:30 p.m. with Vivre Sa Vie (1962). Karina plays a rather tragic figure. In this episodic film, Nana dreams of becoming an actress but ends up a prostitute. Some consider it one of Godard’s most sympathetic films. His concern for social tragedy probably has never been more human than with this film. It has less sly stylistic turns than his other films, but if anyone has only thought of Godard as some hardhearted intellectual deconstructionist, they will find his heart very much on display in this film.

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The next film, and the only of the three in color, screens Sunday, July 20, also at 5:50 p.m. I have been asked to introduce it by the theater’s programmer. I hope I can do justice to the greatness of Pierrot le Fou (1965). Though Vivre Sa Vie is the most tragic of these three, Pierrot remains the darkest. Brilliant in its play with color and light, I expect the film will look amazing in 35. But make not mistake, a grim, nihilistic undercurrent haunts this story about two lovers on the run. Appropriately, the narrative is the more fractured of the three, but even though character motives and actions may seem obscured, a sympathetic existential angst shines through. It’s also the only one of the three films featuring the star of Breathless, Jean-Paul Belmondo, in the titular role.

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Again, 5:30 p.m., on a Sunday, this time on Aug. 24. Bande à Part (1964), or Band of Outsiders in English, is that famous Godard film featuring the impromptu dance sequence in the cafe, cited over and over in many films and other mediums since (most recently in Le Weekend). Forget the caper that seems to drive the film. The characters seem to constantly subvert it, anyhow. It’s all about that dance. It’s probably the liveliest of this trio of films, but the film still has that social awareness of the 1960s that Godard so consciously references in many a delightful scene.

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Hans Morgenstern

(Copyright 2014 by Hans Morgenstern. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission.)

Breathless poster artThe French New Wave (or La Nouvelle Vague) stands as one of the most productive movements in French cinema history. Characterized by focused, human stories that reveled in innovative film techniques and a narrative that placed emphasis on dialogue and the seeming “little things” in life, the movement was driven by young French directors who embodied a type of rebellion against established rules of film making and societal standards of accepted conduct. As you can imagine, the movement was not embraced by big studios.

Though it flourished in the ’50s and ’60s, the influence of French New Wave cinema remains a touchstone in the contemporary film world, especially with independent filmmakers. In the ’70s, some of America’s most influential filmmakers like Steven Spielberg and Francis Ford Coppola cited people like François Truffaut and Jean-Luc Godard as major influences during their early education in cinema. The movement would consistently appear as a reference in many independent film movements in America, from Quentin Tarantino in the early 1990s to Noah Baumbach and his most recent film, Frances Ha (Film Review: ‘Frances Ha’ reveals Noah Baumbach’s luminous lighter touch).

Most significantly, from the viewer’s perspective, French New Wave cinema invites the audience to grasp and experience the underlying principles of an era where social change was coming. We feel the revolution in the doorstep of most of these films.

The list herein represents some of the most influential films of that movement— although it is not meant to be exhaustive— and reflects some of our personal favorites.

The 400 Blows

Processed with VSCOcam with f2 presetPersonally, this the 400 Blows (1959) stands as one of my all time favorite films. The black and white aesthetics add a layer of grittiness to the already harsh coming-of-age story. Antoine Doinel (Jean-Pierre Léaud) grows up in a poor neighborhood of Paris. His parents don’t pay much attention to him, other than to make his life difficult, and at school his situation only seems worse. He gets pushed around and comes up with a plan (that backfires) to escape to the sea.

Antoine’s difficulty with his parents mirrors the situation of young Parisians coming up against the establishment that no longer makes sense for the social reality. The many blows to Doinel endures would make for an incredibly sad movie, instead Truffaut offers many moments of light humor to reveal the blows to Doinel’s spirit as a naive adolescent. In one scene, he devises a plan to raise money by stealing a typewriter to sell on the black market. The montage makes for a funny sequence where he and an accomplice break into his father’s office. They then struggle to carry off the monstrous typewriter that shrinks them further in this world. The adventure also showcases the kids’ mentality and the difficulty with which Doinel has been thrown into a grown-up world.

It all culminates with an off-focus look straight at the camera where we understand Antoine has nowhere else to run, but at the same time has freed himself. The gaze is not that of a troubled child anymore but has more resolute quality behind him and the freedom of looking for his own path.

Ana Morgenstern

Last Year at Marienband

Processed with VSCOcam with b1 presetFor many, Alain Resnais‘ Last Year at Marienband (1961) is a difficult film to explain. But, actually rarely do films achieve so pure a level of cinema. Legendary Swedish director Ingmar Bergman famously equated films not to reality but to dreams. “No other art medium, neither painting nor poetry, can communicate the specific quality of the dream as well as the film can,” he once said. Dreams do not follow rules of time and space, just as film never does. From cuts in film splices to a warped sense of the passage of time, dreams and films, in their nature, have unmistakable clues that defy reality. Just as waking from dreams alters our sense of awareness, walking out of a movie theater becomes a reality check.

The character of Last Year at Marienband has gone in to inspire lots of art film mockery due to its obtuse narrative and stagey acting with shocking cuts and scenes that practically melt into one another only to crop up and repeat again. The film follows a man and a woman (Giorgio Albertazzi and Delphine Seyrig) during various encounters at a palatial château. He insists he has met her before, she cannot recall. A brilliant series of varied interactions that question reality, memory and identity unfold. This is a film not about people but about the elliptical nature of memories and their slippery, elusive quality. It’s one of the French New Wave’s most decadent films but also one of its purest.

Hans Morgenstern

Breathless

Processed with VSCOcam with b1 presetWith Breathless (1960), Goddard captured the essence of buoyant youth in revolutionary Paris. With a defiant attitude, Michel (Jean-Paul Belmondo) bursts onto the scene with a devil-may-care attitude that portended the summer of 1968. The brilliance of this film lies in how it called attention to cinematic techniques, most especially a rather obtuse editing style, to express itself beyond traditional moving images. Stylistic choices beyond abrupt cuts and extreme close-ups served as part of the film’s discombobulating narrative. The audience is challenged to see something more than what is presented and by doing so engages with the film and its characters on a deeper level.

The film is about Michel, who sees himself as a gangster and models his persona after Bogart but really is really nothing more than a petty thief, until a chance encounter with a police officer. His girlfriend, Patricia (Jean Seberg in her famed pixie cut), is an American living in Paris infatuated with Michel’s persona. They are both narcissistic and adolescent, have no regard for authority and little social concern of their behavior. On a meta level, the characters embody the rejection of traditional cinema, which had grown so dull to the filmmakers of the French New Wave. A classic and a must for any cinephile or youngsters who may be too enraptured by their own selfies or any other gratuitously self-involved declaration of look-at-me.”

Ana Morgenstern

Cleo from 5 to 7

Processed with VSCOcam with c1 presetThis film stands out because it was directed by a female filmmaker, Agnès Varda who centered on the character of Cleo Victoire (Corinne Marchand), an up and coming singer. The film develops as Cleo awaits for a test result of a biopsy. The brilliant nature of the film comes in an ability to capture time, as Cleo waits we feel with her the heavy burden of time going slow, the images then speed up as if time was going by faster as well. Not only our relationship with time is a matter of perception, but as Cleo reveals not long before the wait is over, our perceptions of ourselves also vary quite dramatically. While she starts frightened and thinking the test results will show that she is dying, she accepts by the end of the film her own mortality and sheds that fear. The film’s images also comment on the feminine experience. Shots of Cleo removing frilly clothing and revealing herself in the mirror portray the different perceptions of feminine constructs. She sheds the clothing associated with a famous singer and reveals herself in the mirror, two different images in one person. As she walks though the streets of Paris she sees poster of her as the famous singer; it looks like Cleo and it is not Cleo. Later, as she browses through the streets of Paris, she sees mannequins and clothing that both offer a look and a critique on the emphasis is placed on physical appearance and the female experience. Although the movie was filmed in 1962, not much has changed. A lot of emphasis is still placed on women’s physique rather than on the contents of their character. Varda’s take on life rings as true today as it forcefully did in 1962.

Ana Morgenstern

My Night at Maude’s

Processed with VSCOcam with c1 presetThe most infamous comment characterizing the work of Eric Rohmer are that his films are the equivalent of watching paint dry. The sad fact is, the mis-characterization came from one of those early new Hollywood pioneers of the late ’60s/early ’70s, Arthur Penn, who was quite influenced by the French New Wave. It was Gene Hackman’s character Harry Moseby in Night Moves reacting to Rohmer’s 1969 film My Night at Maude’s, and it’s far from an insult as explained here.

Rohmer’s films revealed how entrancing and dynamic it is to watch two people talk. The magic of this film is how true dialogue, conversation can inform action, contrary to so many films that use dialogue as a crutch for exposition. So many of Rohmer’s movies have brilliant moments of dialogue but none as sustained and fascinating as the night-long chat between Jean-Louis (Jean-Louis Trintignant) and Maude (Françoise Fabian). The man, who has reserved himself to propose to a young woman he has eyes for at church, and the divorcee share an enchanting talk that goes beyond their perspectives of marriage while offering revelations of their past that will have echoes in an understated ending that speaks to the slippery illusions that define our lives.

Hans Morgenstern

And one extra, for good measure…

Day For Night

Processed with VSCOcam with g3 presetTruffaut’s Day for Night (1973) provides a whimsical and entertaining look at the world of filmmaking. A self-referential and self-conscious work that commented on the relationship of filmmakers with art as a process rather than a completed product. Truffaut plays the movie director who can barely keep together the many issues that happen on set. The real-time drama between the different characters begins to emerge as the male lead suffers a nervous breakdown from a romantic liaison during the shoot. Another actress also suffers from emotional instability, and the complexities of interpersonal relationships in this imagined ecosystem boil over. As if that was not enough, technical problems arise, complicating life on set even more. It’s a satirical look and perhaps a symbol of the end of the New Wave time period.

More deeply, Truffaut shows us that films are an imperfect illusion. The director’s control is limited and audience engagement may sometimes not be as directors intended it. Therein lies the magic of a good film.

Ana Morgenstern

Of course this short list does not cover the many films encapsulated by the French New Wave (Where’s Chabrol or Rivette or Demy or even Marker!?), but these are some of the favorites of the Independent Ethos. Leave us a comment with your personal favorite of this influential period in cinema history or share your journey of discovery through the French New Wave. It has been an exciting ride for us!

Ana & Hans Morgenstern

Hans Morgenstern will further delve into the French New Wave when he presents Truffaut’s The Last Metro as part of the Miami Jewish Film Festival’s Masterworks of Jewish Cinema series at the Miami Beach Cinematheque on Oct. 24, at 6:30 p.m.

frances-ha-posterDirector Noah Baumbach is one of the most honest filmmakers working today. Often quixotically summed up as misanthropic or angst-ridden, Baumbach’s films actually feature an astute sense of humor that is not afraid to explore the deep emotional wounds we incur while growing up. It’s a difficult thing to turn humorous, and he has always handled it with masterful finesse.

Baumbach has directed films starring Ben Stiller (Greenberg, see my original review: Greenberg: The Great Projector) and Nicole Kidman (Margot at the Wedding). His screenplays stand out as offering refreshing new challenges to stars like Stiller and Kidman, who sink their teeth into these titular characters with heavy, damaged personalities to sometimes disturbing lows while offering a mordant sense of humor. It’s a fine line to walk as far as entertainment, but it’s a testament to his craft that he can attract such figures to his work despite the rather dark humor.

With Frances Ha, Baumbach finally seems to reveal a lighter touch. The film follows a young woman (Greta Gerwig, who also co-wrote the script) learning to let go of her best friend Sophie (Mickey Sumner, Sting’s daughter) frances-ha-still-3while figuring out how to make her own opportunities in her career choice: modern dance. The film is a testament to the oft-neglected stage of growing up in one’s later years, sometimes referred to as the quarter-life crisis. It’s not far off the mark from what makes the current buzzy HBO series “Girls” so popular, but Frances Ha is much more tidy and heartfelt. It has a charm influenced beyond concerns of the current generation usurping interest in current media. Both French New Wave and early Woody Allen are more relevant as influences than Gen Y malaise.

Maybe it’s the luminous black and white cinematography and setting, but a comparison to Allen’s Manhattan would not fall far from the mark. However, it’s how Baumbach has channeled French film— from Nouvelle Vague influences to a contemporary master— that will appeal to most cinephiles. Over all, 87the film has a tone recalling the bright but resonant personal dramedies of François Truffaut. Then there are specific scenes that pay conscious tribute to the wardrobe of Bande à part by Jean-Luc Godard and the more contemporary Leos Carax, involving the hit David Bowie song “Modern Love” and Frances running in the street, a la Mauvais sang.

More subtly, Baumbach employees a smart soundtrack featuring music by Georges Delerue, whose scores accompanied many films of the French New Wave. Witty cues and flourishes pepper the closing of many scenes in distinct homage. However, beyond the black and white cinematography and the music, the nostalgia ends there. In fact, it’s representative of the titular character’s condition who has found herself in a rut because she cannot seem to let go of her own past. Her inner child still seems to claw its way out from inside her despite put downs from a friend who blithely calls her “undatable” and a boss who has grown tired of stringing her along for some permanent position in a dance company Frances seems only half-invested in.

Gerwig dives into the character physically and facially. With her forced smile, raised eyebrows and furrowed brow, she plays Frances with an awkward charm that buoys her throughout the film’s many dramas. frances-ha-580Frances is so desperate for relevance, as her friends seemingly glide through life, be they “artists” with indulgent parents or lucky career climbers, she decides to charge a weekend trip to Paris, so she might “grow” a bit. Succumbing to jet lag and a friend who won’t answer her phone calls, the highlight of her trip may have been catching Puss in Boots in a movie theater off the Champs-Élysées.

As with any Baumbach film, the director knows how to pile on the witty, if sometimes sardonic, scenes at a break-neck pace. But the reason the script, which Baumbach co-wrote with Gerwig, feels so smart is not that these are jokes looking for easy laughs. They provide a charming avenue to develop Frances’ character while also making her relatable. The audience is not meant to look down at her state of arrested development but sympathize with it. The film has a wonderful way of piling on the moments of fleshing out the character without feeling redundant and still upping the stakes of the drama as her career becomes on the line, and her friendships drift away. It’s a valid fear everyone knows.

The brilliance of the film is how it can take a character in such a state and make it not only entertaining but also earn a sense of hope in the end. As much as she loves having friends and cannot seem to let go of her appreciation for animated movies (She says, “Animals have to talk or be at war for a movie to be interesting,”) or play fighting in the park, any growth ultimately has to come from within. You can give as much affection to your friends as you want but never neglect the friend you should be to yourself.

Hans Morgenstern

Frances Ha runs 86 minutes and is rated R (frank talk, including sexuality). It opens today, May 24, at the Coral Gables Art Cinema and the Regal South Beach Stadium 18 in Miami Beach for its South Florida premiere run (IFC Films provided an on-line screener for the purposes of this review). It also appears in West Palm Beach on May 31 at Living Room Theaters, Regal Shadowood and Regal Delray and Cinemark Palace. Miami will see AMC Sunset Place adding the film to their line-up on May 31, also. Nationwide screenings dates can be found here. Update: “Miami New Times” has published my interview with the star of this film here (that’s a hot link; more on this to come). Update 2: Frances Ha will arrive at the Miami Beach Cinematheque Friday, July 5. Update 3: Frances Ha finally arrives in Broward County thanks to the Cinema Paradiso starting Friday, July 12. Update 4: Frances Ha has also made its way to O Cinema beginning Thursday, July 4.

(Copyright 2013 by Hans Morgenstern. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission.)