SOMETIMES DURING the course of Agnes Varda's Les Creatures, the hero and villain of the piece sit down beside a series of television screens and begin to play and odd sort of futuristic chess. The game's pieces represent characters in the village of the film. When two of them meet on the chess board, they meet in real life and are observed on the television screens. The villain has at his disposal a trap which, when it hovers over any one of the characters, permits him to play havoc with that character's emotions.
Traps and games abound in Les Creatures, and if you have found yourself puzzling over the probable significance of the game described above you have already fallen into one of them. Les Creatures is a film of instant significances, a jumble of insane metaphors. Anyone who takes it at face value would necessarily conclude that Mlle Varda is a woman so obsessed with making a profound statement that she is incapable of anything beyond pretentious babbling.
For example; there is the question of the Reality of the Situation. Michel Piccoli plays an author who is writing a science fiction novel about an electronic device that controls people for a minute at a time. Is Piccoli living the story he is writing? Or is he dreaming that he is living the story? Or is what we view merely a psychotic fantasy resulting from an auto crash? There there is the problem of the actors themselves. Why does Michel Piccoli play a character named Edgar Piccoli? And is it significant that Catherine Deneuve plays someone simply referred to as Catherine? Is this a comment on Cinema and Life? And don't forget that glorious game. what a storehouse of symbols we have there.
The whole thing becomes absurd, of course, and that's just the point. More than any other director alive, Agnes Varda delights in giving an audience her euphoric joy in movie-making. Setting up all these apparent symbols is her slightly less than gentle way of chiding audience for their hyper-serious attitude upon entering the moviehouse.
Take another look at the examples and I think you will find that they destroy many accepted postulates of filmmaking. The writer-reality problem, for example, effectively eliminates narrative point of view, that cherished mainstay of the narrative form. The confused character-actor names go a good way towards breaking down the wilful suspension of disbelief which every audience is supposed to have. The game itself serves to destroy the scared concept of the inviolate frame. At one point, Piccoli looks at the television screen, sees his companion running towards a window, rushes off-screen to save him and immediately appears himself in the center of the frame due to the position of the television set.
OR TAKE Mile Deneuve's pregnancy. At one point she is about three months pregnant. Three cuts later she is six months pregnant, and not many cuts after that she is ready to give birth. Before you decide this is a skillful condensation of time through montage, let me assure you it is abundantly clear that no more than one day has elapsed between the first and last shot described. So much for montage and continuity.
This kind of film is very hard to pull off, since a few moments of excess and we are trapped in an atmosphere as pretentious as the one being chide. Thankfully, Agnes Varda's style is clear and elegant, perfect for the balance necessary to make Les Creatures work. Her frames are clear and simple and her cutting so clean that the most outlandish of sequences (an indescribable interrupted eating scene) seems logical.
Nevertheless, there are value judgements in this film. Agnes Varda is for love, good, and light, ambivalent about game playing, and against cynicism. Above all, I think, she believes in the ultimate endurance of live within the human spirit as a redeeming value, a force which transcends isolated relationships and permits us to continue to live.
So go to the Orson Welles (where, come Sunday, Les Creatures will be playing along with Jerzy Skolimowski Identification Marks: None) ready to have fun, to relish that essential joy of sitting in a movie house, sensing the lights dim, and watching white magic light up the screen.