Les Enfants De Bazin
Paris Vu Par...(Six in Paris); Not Reconciled at the Orson Welles Wednesday through Saturday
THE magazine Cahiers du Cinema is as noted for the filmmakers which it has produced as for its critical reevalution of the world's cinematic output. With the exception of Andre Bazin, Whose explanation of the dynamics of the frame and the importance of cutting made him the most important theoretician in the history of film criticism, the people on Cahiers were all striving to make films, writing criticism only so long as they were unable to obtain backing for their projects. The first round of Cahiers critics became the first major group of filmmakers to start as critics became the first major group of filmmakers to start as critics, a background which has continually influenced their work. About four years ago, a film entitled Paris Vu Par (literally "Paris as seen by...") was organized. By including three "established" directors (Chabrol, Rouch, and Godard) along with three young directors (Douchet, Pollet, and Rohmer) and by shooting in 16mm rather than the more expensive 35mm, an economically feasible means was found to give the second generation Cahiers critics a chance to follow the path of the first. The result is surprisingly successful, containing two films (by Chabrol and Rouch) whose stature can only be termed monumental, two films (by Douchet and Rohmer) which are honest and successful in a smaller way, and only two films (by Godard and Pollet) which disappoint more than they interest.
Claude Chabrol's "La Muette" is a work as precise and beautiful as any of his features. Chabrol deliberately modified his style to suit the limitations of a 16mm camera and a stock whose grain texture cannot hold the details that commercial 35mm film can. Thus the frames do not have the astounding depth and dominance of background objects which we have come to associate with recent Chabrol. At the same time, however, the frames retain a three dimensional quality and a precise interaction of parts that has been the basis of all of Chabrol's work. Unlike Godard who uses short films merely for diversionary anecdotes, Cabrol has used this short film for a major statement on the content of is work.
The young boy who is in the center of the film is caught in a home of pervading ugliness and static emotional vacuity. Trapped in the background at a dinner table which serves only as a battleground for his parents (a grotesque self-parody these since they are played by Cahbrol himself and his beautiful actress wife Stephan Audran), he tries to escape first by minor acts of destruction and finally by placing plugs in his ears. After he does so, Chabrol repeates scenes we have witnessed earlier, only this time without sound. As expressed by a slightly closer camera, the visual ugliness which lurks beneath the monied elegance of the boy's surroundings becomes all the more pronounced. The boy finally retreats to his room, with which he has no rapport, and cuts himself off from anything else happening in the house. Unfortunately, his mother has fallen down a long flight of stairs. Having no further ability to hear sound, the boy descends in an elevator, unaware of his mother's dying moans. In the final sequence Chabrol cuts from the flashing light by the elevator's door to similarly flashing street lights. The camera moves away from the boy and towards an ever-growing city.
Chabrol as been far too often accused of being a misanthrope, accused of being concerned only with people who are evil and ugly. Chabrol shows that to ignore the evil and ugly. Chabrol shows that to ignore the evil and ugliness around us becomes an act of unwitting moral degeneracy, emphasizing this by the final analogy between all of Paris and the house of "La Muette."
OF THE OTHER films, Jean Rouch's "Garedu Nord" is perhaps equally stunning and disturbing. Rouch who, along with Chris Marker, invented Cinema-verite (the difference between Maker and Rouch and the recent American copies is roughly that between the incredible Hitchcock of Vertigo and the bankrupt Polanski of Repulsion) is a master at forcing an audience to change their sympathies. Fantastically aware of the possibilities of a frame, Rouch can totally confuse a complacent viewer by having an actress turn her body about thirty degrees and in so doing undermine her earlier sympathetic position. In "Gare du Nord" these abrupt shifts of sympathy are used to tell the story of trapped people. (Obviously, American romantics who think of Paris as a city of escape and freedom will find no support in this film.) We first see a wife arguing with her husband, both of them trapped within a tiny but status situated apartment. After running out she is accosted by a man who, using the same banal fantasy she had earlier expressed to her husband, tries to induce her to run away with him. This dialogue takes place on a bridge overlooking the yard of the famous train station, and the bars of the bridge reinforce her own knowledge that the freedom she might feel would soon dissipate into a new version of her present life. The man finally tells her that if she does not go away with him he will commit suicide, that it was only the sight of her which prevented him from doing so moments earlier. After she refuses him once more, he jumps off the bridge, leaving her screaming behind its bars, trapped finally by her surroundings and her own body.
Of Paris Vu Par's younger directors, Jean Douchet is most successful with a story about an American girl who, after trying to "find herself" through adventures with Paris and two boys, is forced in a final frontal head-on shot to confront herself.
Also on the program is a short feature by the young German Jean-Marie Straub. He has obviously read enough Bazin to know that objects and settings are crucial to films. His application of this, however, is to give the audience a shot of a setting, have the actors walk in and perhaps rearrange some objects, and finally leave the audience to contemplate the setting some more. Straub apparently does not like to cut within a scene, the result being a tremendous number of disconnected short sequences which leave one with no sense of what one character is trying to do or be in relation to the next, or any sense that what they are doing was once (in Heinrich Boil's novel Billiards at Half-Past Nine) a plot.
Unlike all the directors of Paris Vu Par, Straub has never developed a dynamic sense of the frame, one which puts people, settings, and objects in a framework where they interact. The critical consciousness of the French directors literally make their films what they are. For Straub it is not critical consciousness but self-consciousness. The difference between Paris Vu Par and not Reconciled is the difference between well applied film theory and hastily applied Ideas About Film