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Film Analysis: Breathless

Breathless (1960)

Directed by: Jean-Luc Godard

Michel Poiccard- Jean-Paul Belmondo

Patricia Franchini- Jean Seberg

Breathless is a product of the The French New Wave that emerged in 1959 and expanded through the 1960s. Turmoiled by politics and economics, Breathless is a low-budget black and white film, with a loose and lyrical style. It blurs the line between reality and fiction with a shift of the traditional narrative conventions. Breathless is shot with natural lighting and wheelchair dollies. There are also a couple of instances when the characters (Michel- when he looks into the mirror and Patricia- the closing scene, CU) direct address the camera, meaning they look right into the lens, a very unconventional technique. This awakens the audience, reminding them they’re watching a fictitious narrative. I’m not too sure if the entire film was post-synchronized with sound but there were several scenes in which it sounded like direct sound. For instance, when Michel and Patricia are sitting on her bed having a conversation, you can hear an emergency vehicle (probably an ambulance) passing in the street and the volume of its sirens increases as it gets closer drowning out Michel’s voice. There is also a lot of static and background noise which imply live sound recording.

Breathless is about a French adolescent car thief named Michel, who ends up killing a policeman and tries to persuade his lover/girlfriend Patricia to flee with him to Rome. Reluctant to go with him, he confesses his crime and decides to go with him but eventually betrays him in the end. Michel is extremely possessive and selfish and makes everything, especially their conversations, revolve around him and his needs. Almost all their conversations are sexually explicit and consists of Michel trying to get to Patricia to sleep with him AGAIN. The sequence I have analyzed is that of Patricia’s return home the next day from a lunch date she had the day before. Confused to find her key missing from her mailbox, the lobby clerk suggests that she probably left it in her door keyhole. To her surprise she finds Michel laid up under the covers.

Patricia is immediately annoyed to find Michel in her apartment and unable to have alone time (which she verbally expresses to Michel). She walks into the bathroom, only to have Michel following pursuit. He calls her “sour apples” while she is brushing her hair in the mirror and he stands in the doorway. He shows her the three comical facial expressions associated with the phrase sour apples and she mimics him, which can be seen in the image below. His stance in the doorway reaffirms his masculinity and role as a protector. His insult is taken lightly by Patricia which she says “suits her well”.

The next scene is when Patricia tries to make it clear to Michel to leave her alone but he completely ignores her request and questions her anyways. They’re both sitting next to each other on the bed facing the window (their backs to the camera). Patricia’s body language is that of head down, hands in-between legs, sitting straightforward while Michel’s sitting at a slant towards her, right hand on her left leg staring directly at Patricia. His body language in this scene is an indication of his concern for her.

Michel then gets back under the covers while Patricia is sitting facing him holding a teddy bear. Here Patricia is portrayed as a little girl, emphasizing their youth. Michel is extremely possessive and selfish. They have a hybrid relationship of father/daughter and boyfriend/girlfriend and/or friends with benefits. He questions her if she has slept with that guy she went on the lunch date with. Astoundingly she answers the question simply and nonchalantly with a “No Michel”.

Still motivated to sleep with her Michel tells Patricia anything she wants to hear which includes him wanting to sleep with her again because he “loves” her. Patricia is not at all moved or excited by his confession. She is in fact uncertain about her own feelings toward him. Dissatisfied with her response, Michel sits up from under the sheets and picks up a visually explicit women’s magazine and pressures Patricia by asking her when she’s going  to know she’s ready.

Patricia then brings up the notorious tragedy of Romeo and Juliet and idolizes over it, telling Michel she wants them to be just like them “unable to live without each other”.  He then tells her what she wants to hear, that he can’t live without her. They then play a game where Michel grasps his hands around Patricia’s neck (as if to choke her) so that she smiles before he is able to count to eight. She smiles after he calls her chicken then tells him she doesn’t want to play anymore. As she walks over him on the bed,  he lifts up the back of her skirt and she abruptly turns around and smacks him. Here she gains back her independence and authoritativeness, letting him know he is not in charge and that whatever he has said has not gone to her head whatsoever.

Patricia then goes over to the chair in front of the window to light a cigarette but since she is unable to light it on the first try, Michel calls her afraid. Unsure of what he’s talking about she continues till the cigarette is let, rejecting Michel’s provocation. She offers him a cigarette and he refuses because its not the brand he smokes and prompts her to get his jacket with his cigarettes inside. Patricia boldly reaches into his jacket pocket but he insists she hand him the jacket, implying his secrecy and doesn’t want her meddling through his stuff. Confused once again, she throws it lightly causing his passport to fall out. She picks it up asking if its his, which he denies because of the last name difference. After a sharp explanation he then grabs the passport from her and puts it back into his jacket pocket.

Patricia and Michel’s relationship is very immature because she suddenly tells him she isn’t talking to him anymore and two seconds later she turns back to him and asks him to tell her something nice. She plays hard to get. They play a staring game in which they gaze into each other’s eyes. They then kiss in the bathroom doorway, where she decides to hang her painting poster. As her back is turned and she is hanging the poster, Michel caresses her booty without any repercussion. As they discuss the painting Michel brings up his desire to sleep with her again. While Michel is standing in front of the basin (sink) washing his face/neck, Patricia is sitting cleaning her feet in another sink or tub and then confesses that she is pregnant and watches Michel for a reaction.

He asks if its his and if she’s been to the doctor. She tells him she “thinks so”. This response is another implication of their nonexclusive relationship, as if she has a number of partners.  He then tells her she should’ve been more careful in a stern voice then storms out the bathroom. She is left with a look on her face with one of sadness and confusion.

These last two images I incorporated are probably a couple of the most famous shots of Patricia and Michel. She rolls up a poster and looks at Michel through it with one eye. He then stares back with a modest almost charming expression. Its one of trust as well as uncertainty and mystery. Even though it meant to seem as if Michel is staring straight at the camera he is actually direct addressing the camera because he is making eye contact with the audience, as if to gain our trust also.

One of the major reasons why I chose this film to write about is because I speak French so I found most of the implicated dialogue to be very humorous because it often isn’t the same once its subtitled. The style of this film is very loose and improvised but works in its favor. I also feel the right characters were chosen for this film which made it an overall phenomenon.

Pather Panchali: Song of the Little Road (1955)

I’m not sure why there was a sudden change in film screenings but this film was very heartbreaking and my expectations of what I was going to see were completely diminished after the first 30 minutes. I probably wasn’t the only one that anticipated grand musical performances throughout the film to emphasis the genre of “Bollywood” but there was none. I’m not going to entirely bash this movie because I understand it is a trilogy and I hope the plot picks up in the other two sequels. From what I gathered, I believe the storyline/plot was the everyday life of a poor village family in Bengal and their struggle to make ends meet. Durga, the sister and the eldest, was notorious for stealing fruit from the neighbor’s garden. She refused to embrace her family’s poverty, she felt that if others could have, why couldn’t they? She was also responsible for looking after her younger brother, Apu. Apu was obedient and looked up to his sister. He was “just there”. The most distraught character would have to have been the mother. She went through various moods and was almost always depressed or angry. Even though her husband was the provider of the family, she basically was the head of the household. The aunt was an engaging character, you don’t see elderly women like that everyday so every time she appeared on screen I was fascinated at watching her gawky gestures. I was surprised to see how the mother scolded her elderly aunt and even kicked her off the property, like where is the love? (and respect). Both the aunt and Durga, fall victim to death which was a shocker because I only expected the aunt to die.

There were alot of fade to blacks, which suggests the passage of time. The fades were like a resting point, which allowed me to conceptualize and digest the sequences that just took place, since it only kept getting worse. The scene that stood out to me the most, which I also found to be the saddest, was at the end when Apu is preparing for school and is doing everything himself. These were the tasks Durga did for him, she even walked him to school and you can see him walking the same path alone (physically). Their move to a different city did suggest a rebirth for the family and their “luck”. This film was very similar to Early Summer, which revolved around the traditions and dynamics of a modest Japanese family.

Written on the Wind (1956)

Yay, color film! This film was awesome, I managed to stay awake throughout the whole thing. The cinematography and plot intertwined in a way that made the movie captivating in a sense. The vibrant colors added “life” to certain scenes and gave me a deeper meaning to the action of the characters. The mise-en-scene throughout the entire film was over-the-top. The characters were rich (upper middle class) consumed by problems that were futile and exaggerated. The themes of melodrama does come into play as well as that of good vs. evil. Mitch (Rock Hudson) was everything Kyle (Robert Stack) could never be. He was confident, strong and reassuring while I depicted Kyle to be an insecure crybaby that hid behind his fortune. Marylee (Kyle’s sister) was very manipulative and the ulitmate seductress. She had everything but at the end of the day still wanted what she couldn’t have, and that was Mitch. The film did come off as kind of cliche because evil- Kyle and Marylee- were defeated and the good – Mitch and Lucy- won, and lived happily ever after.

The musical scores also added to the dramatic effects of the sequences, especially the scene where Marylee is dancing wildly in her room while her father simultaneously plummets to his death down the stairs. This ironically suggests that she killed him even with the lack of her physical presence. I did sympathize with Kyle when doctor revealed his incompetency in the bedroom, that was like a “real” issue.

Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956)

I enjoyed this movie alot.  I now see where  many of the modern day “zombie” sci-fi films originated. There was suspenseful action from beginning to end. Dr. Miles was the obvious hero, who realized what was happening to the residents of the town (Santa Myra)  and resisted to conform to the alien cloning madness. Becky, his girlfriend, was the apparent damsel in distress, which I felt was the only person Miles thought he had control over. The only way to avoid turning into an emotionless zombie was to refrain from sleep. This concept reminds me of the Freddy Krueger sequels, where the vicious gruesome punk, attacks children in their dreams.

The pod scene where Miles, Becky, Jack, and Teddy discover their emerging duplicates seems somewhat realistic. It appears as a rebirth; thick soapy suds engulfed around the life-less bodies, which gradually disappear to reveal their dopplegangers. The ultimate twist for me was when Becky was transformed into an alien. I really wasn’t expecting that since she was practically glued to Miles throughout the entire movie. At that moment Miles confesses that that was the first time he felt “fear” – losing the woman he loved. There was a lot of fast-cutting accompanied by fast-paced music to intensify suspense and thrill. There were so many instances that Miles and Becky came to getting caught but managed to escape or prolong their fate.

Early Summer (1951)

I read a couple of posts on this film and it seems that quite a few people didn’t like it. I, on the other hand, enjoyed this “lagging” narrative. I found it very different from what we’re used to (American films) which intrigued me to observe the style from a different perspective. I’ve been exposed to Japanese films before – can’t recall the title- so I knew that all Japanese films don’t follow the same techniques as in Early Summer. It was an interesting choice of film though, very modest and humble to traditional family life. The entire storyline was based on Noriko getting hitched, which is an important milestone in any family/culture.  The concept didn’t seem to phase her much, being that she was 28 and still living in her parents’ house with her brother and his family. I think she kept her real thoughts and emotions suppressed until the opportunity presented itself – which it did. The arrangement didn’t even seem to be out of love but out of convenience and opportunity like Yabe’s mom says after Noriko goes for a visit.

Noriko’s and Koichi (her brother) wife’s relationship was kind of confusing to me at first but I understood who she was after her authorative gesture towards the little boys. They were like best friends, even though Noriko had her established clique of girlfriends. I felt that Noriko’s marriage was a huge loss for her sister-in-law because her main duties were focused around the home and the family and after Noriko’s leaves who would she confide in. My favorite characters were the little boys- the older brother and Isamu. They defied the traditional role of how children “respect their elders”. I realized a narrative ellipse in the film when the boys went missing, after being scolded from kicking the loaf of bread. We never find out where they went or how they are found, we just seem them at the very end for the family portrait.

There were a couple of “pillow shots” in which we are just staring at still life, like familarizing ourselves with the scene and surroundings (mise-en-scene). I found this to be a smooth break throughout the film which allowed us to digest the events that just transpired. I also enjoyed the way the scenes would start and then we would see the characters move throughout them rather than the camera following them. Since the camera was angled low or towards the eyeline, it gave me a sense of realness and intimacy with the characters. Ozu’s techniques are different and original, which is what filmmaking is all about.

Film Analysis: The Lady Eve

The Lady Eve Preston Sturges, 1941 Paramount Pictures

Barbara Stanwyck – Jean and Eve

Henry Fonda- Charlie “Hopsie” Pike

The Lady Eve is a film about a female con artist (Barbara Stanwyck) who tries to scam a wealthy ale/beer bachelor named Charles Pike (Henry Fonda) but is turmoiled when her emotions get the best of her and she falls in love. Engaged to be married Pike is warned about is bride-to-be  and confronts her. Jean confirms his skepticism, somewhat relieved to finally tell the truth.

The Lady Eve was produced in 1941, making it a post code film. In 1934 the Hays Office Production Code went into effect after the Motion Pictures Producers and Distributors of America (MPPDA) was formed. The MPPDA “organized censorship” and policed films and the stars in them. Infractions included strong sexual content – film’s title, scenes, or dialogue- profanity, nudity etc. The Lady Eve violates the Hays code through several of its sexually suggestive scenes of “passionate gestures and lustful kissing” (studio system part 2, lecture notes) and Jean’s wardrobe outfits.

The action is unraveled in about the third scene where Pike is at the Dining Hall on a boat, the S.S. Southern Queen on route to the U.S. from South America. Jean, who is seated a couple tables away, watches Pike through a small rectangular cosmetics mirror as desperate bachelorettes approach the famous ale brewer. Here the scene cuts between Pike and his overwhelming female dilemma and a close-up of the mirror held mid-air by Jean while she verbally illustrates the action and dialogue transpiring in the background. Fed up from all the attention, Pike tries to exit the Dining Hall when he is abruptly and purposely tripped by Jean. She accuses him of breaking her heel, making him obligated to “help” her back to her cabin to change her shoes, where she gets him to herself  for a successful seduction.

Pike is immediately awakened and woed by Jean’s perfume being that he’s been “up the Amazon for a year”. Jean is an obvious aggressor whose actions are premeditated and so calculating that she receives the exact responses she expects. For instance, she allows Pike to pick out the new pair of shoes and makes him put them on her- a subliminally seductive tactic that works in her favor. Jean then leads Pike to a cushioned chair, instead of her bed, where they both plop down. She then pushes him down to the floor, establishing her superiority and caresses his hair as she talks to him, cheek to cheek. Pike’s respect for women is portrayed when he modestly pulls down Jean’s skirt, hem to knees.

Jean instantly starts a conversation about her “ideal” future husband- negating and pointing out Pike’s flaws as traits she does not want her ideal to have. She then bluntly claims that she wants her ideal to be shorter than her- so that he can “look up” to her (literally), ultimately making her his ideal- and rich. This prosaic confirmation was an insight into her conniving persona. Jean plays the damsel in distress one minute then transforms into this fast, smooth talking golddigger seductress. Pike plays a vulnerable, passive role in which Jean’s charm and tricks overcome him like a witch’s spell.

Jean’s most revealing wardrobe outfit was that of the scene just discussed in which her mid riff is exposed, showing off her slender, petite frame. She also only wears white or black attire. Black to catch her prey, downplaying her beauty and white to attract attention and place her cunning plan into motion. Her outfits are almost always bejeweled, defining her status as Jean, an oil industrialist’s daughter or Lady Eve Sidwich, foreign royalty.

In general, the scene’s backgrounds were that of simplistic elegance, nothing too over the top to take away from the interest of the storyline. The simplicity can be linked to the economic struggles in which the film was made.  As a post code film, Sturges successfully violated the prohibition rules combining sexually suggestive scenes with wit and comical humor, known as a screwball comedy. Overall women take the cake in this film through a role reversal where they can be an aggressor and initiator of romance. It also shows that women can outsmart their male counterpart and even rob him blind, only if their emotions don’t ultimately affect their final card play.

The Public Enemy (1931)

I actually enjoyed the film, The Public Enemy because I love badass movies. My favorite part was in the ultimate beginning right before his beating when he asks his father “do you want em up or down?”.  I thought that was hilarious and his facial expressions weren’t out of pain but from urgency, like when is this gonna be over. Tommy was an obvious  delinquent since childhood. His friend Mack also followed in his footsteps and assumed the role as his wingman. I interconnected Warshow’s essay with the film and the role of the characters. For instance, a gangster is consumed by his own world. “His activity becomes a kind of pure criminality: he hurts people”. (578, Warshow) For Tommy there was no such thing as right and wrong, it was just his way or no way. He always did what he wanted to do even though he worked for a higher authority. His selfishness ended up getting Mack killed. Tommy was driven by revenge. He was always looking for his next counterattack as seen with the killing of the horse, that Nails was riding and was violently thrown off and killed.

He was very hostile and aggressive with women. He saw women as an entity — a means of pleasure. This was odd to me because his relationship with his mother was one of affection and overprotection. Whenever Tommy would visit his mother he would bring her wads of cash, a form of security and possibly to make up for loss time. Its funny how Mike, his older brother would always interrupt their visits and it would almost always get violent. What’s weird is that Tommy never fought back. I saw that as a form of respect despite their verbal relationship. As Warshow states, we play a double role as the audience because we enjoy the life and bad-doings of the gangster but at the same time we want to see justice for his victims. A quote from the last scene drew my attention and it says “We must solve the problem” which ties to the notion of the American dream. It’s the duty of the nation to eliminate the gangster in order for us to engage in one of our “chief political issues”, happiness. =)

Cherry Pop

Hey! posting to the qwriting blog for the first time. Be sure to check back on my insights on the various films we’ll be watching over the fall semester. Feel free to comment or disagree

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