April 21, 2008

La Pointe Courte: Early French New Wave


Reviewer: James van Maanen
Rating (out of 5): ***½

There are those who feel that Agnes Varda's film La Pointe Courte represents the true birth of the French New Wave. After finally viewing this forgotten film (practically unseen by the world since its debut back in 1954), I would tend to agree. Every bit as ground-breaking as Truffaut's 400 Blows and Godard's Breathless, it has it's own measured pace and quiet inquiry--due, no doubt to its being made by a woman, and a woman as unusually gifted as Ms. Varda.

The movie comprises two stories in one and almost two movies in one, yet its success lies in the fact that both stories/movies complement each other so well that they finally do become one. The first tale is that of life among the relatively poor but industrious people of the seaside fishing village of La Pointe-Courte and their brushes with the law (the government wants to control where and when they fish; the villagers, who have long fished as they needed and wanted, resent this intrusion), a death, a possible marriage (if the pig-headed father-of-the-bride would only agree) and a delightful water festival. Into this comes an ex-villager who had moved to Paris. Now he's back with his Parisian wife in tow. She, not surprisingly, finds the place--and its pace--a little slow.

The movie's pace, too, is slow but never flaccid or uninteresting. This is partly due to the utter fascination that Varda and the viewer find in La Pointe-Courte. The people, played by the actual citizens or the place, are fabulously interesting, and Varda has somehow coaxed lovely performances from one and all. The "actors" on view seems different, but rightly so. Their characters have tasted Paris: They're now philosophical, perhaps overly intelligent, and unsure about each other and themselves. As played by the late Philippe Noiret (as young as I have ever seen him) and the late Silvia Montfort (a striking actress, seven years' senior to Noiret), the two argue, laugh, make love, argue some more (but pleasantly: Edward Albee had not yet come upon the dramatic scene) and mix, somewhat distantly, with the locals.

Filmed in gorgeous black-and-white (and edited by Alain Resnais!), the film clocks it at less than 90 minutes. Every one of these is well spent. As with the other films in this new collection, extras are worthwhile, too: a relatively recent interview with Varda about the making of the film and excerpts from a 1964 episode of the French television series "Cinéastes de notre temps," in which Varda discusses her early career.

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Posted by cphillips at April 21, 2008 11:16 AM