Sunday, July 5, 2009

The Automobile as a Inconvenient or Advantageous Extension

Les Amants (Louis Malle, 1958)
** (Worth Seeing)

Louis Malle's Les Amants played at the Canadian Library and Archives as part of the Canadian Film Institute 50 years of the French New Wave 1: Louis Malle. They have already played his breakthrough hit Ascenseur pour l'échafaud (1958) and on Saturday July 19th at 9:00PM they will be screening Zazie Dans Le Metro (1960).

In Les Amants, Jeanne Tournier (Jeanne Moreau) is a uninspired Continental housewife who habitually leaves her, newspaper owner, husband Henri (Alain Cuny) for Paris on weekend long trips to visit her long time bourgeois friend Maggy (Judith Magre) and polo champion lover Raoul (José Villalonga).

Part road movie, the story only picks up when people are driving, on a venture to invite her debaucherous Parisian friends to meet her husband, her car dies on the way back to Dijon. The failure of her automobile is the catalyst towards getting picked up by a good samaritan Bernard (Jean-Marc Bory), prolonging her drive home (Bernard is a slow driver and stops to pay a visit to a ill companion), getting passed on the road by her friends, and finally being introduced to a simpler way of life.

When she finally arives home she becomes disasfied anew with her husband and lover. She becomes moonstruck at nightfall with Bernard, they share their love with each other both spiritually and physically (at the time of the release this sparked a american obscenity case). In the morning Jeanne decides to leave her life, including all material goods, kinship and friends and gets in the car with Bernard. As she is driving away she expresses her doubts of a sustainable future and wonders where there is to go from there.

Through the film the automobile becomes a symbol of inconvenience, it represents a loss instead of a gain. Jeanne is so uncertain about what she wants that with each escapist attempt she gets closer to a unsustainable future and further from acknowledging a personal identity. The car becomes a dehumanizing vehicle which temporary lets her forget who she is and what responsibilities she has to mount up to.

Louis Malle's at times can be a sententious filmmaker. His treatment of Jeanne in Les Amants is a good example of it. This might be an attempt at dealing with a serious subjet like adultery but it is doing so through unjustifiable means. The film is intellectually naïve and emotionally ignorant in its plastic treament of Jeannes motives on having extramarital relations and as a object of pity when she is leaving her dedicated husband and children to pursue a foolish love affair. A better example of a upper class milieu dissatisfaction would be Michelangelo Antonioni's L'Avventura (1960) whose treatment of individuals is more existential then exploitative. Finally what redeems the film is the beautiful cinematography by Henri Decaë, the capturing of the bumpkin and bourgeois in their respective french local and Jeanne Moreau catapulting performance.-David Davidson

Mad Max 2 (George Miller, 1981)

On July 4th at the Mayfair Theatre, under the flamboyant programming of Lee Gordon Demarbre (his new film Smash Cuts is premiering at the Fantasia Film Festival in Montreal and you can get your tickets here), occured the most important event this city has seen pertaining to alternative filmgoing experiences. The Dusk ‘til Dawn movie marathon!!! started out at 9:20PM and went on until 6:20AM. Following in the 1970’s and 80’s grindhouse filmgoing tradition the night was a celebration of the exploitation genre. Starting off with Daryl Duke’s The Silent Partner (1978) from a screenplay by Curtis Hanson, a exquisite Toronto noir which became immanently timely due to our recent economic digressions in its potrayal of a banker as being a conniving-greedy-corupt-murderous individual, followed by John Hough’s Incubus (1981) starring John Cassavetes, a mistery movie which turned out to be George Miller’s masterpiece Mad Max 2 (1981), and finally a women-in-prison double bill including Bruno Mattei Violence in a Women's Prison (1982) and Paul Nichola's Chained Heat (1983).

What makes George Miller’s Mad Max 2 (a.k.a. The Road Warrior) such an interesting post-apocalyptic road movie is how Max Rockatansky (Mel Gibson), continuing his role of the original Mad Max, vehicles the advantageous relationship man has with his automobile. It is set in Australia which lends its desolate and empty landscapes to be driven upon with such solitude and purpose. Max is such a hardened and embittered individual who is only after receiving gasoline (a dire resource in a unfertile baren landscape) that at first when he unites with a community being devastated by a band of marauders he is even untrusting of them until he slowly is touched by their needfulness, regains his lost humanity and decides to help them out.

Dean Semler's widescreen cinematography of Australia's vast desert landscapes (Silverton, New South Wales) creates an ideal atmosphere for the taking of place of action on the mass scale of a post-apocalypse highway. In such a vast space it is the smaller actions that start to matter the most. Exhilaration arises from the mobile camera placement, varying from bird's-eye view to bumper shots, and technique. While well executed choreographed movements of vehicles and people, smooth-pacing and fast-editing leading up to the climactic chase sequence manages to instill insurmountable feelings of awe and admiration in its creation of pure beauty and greatness.

Max's fast black-painted muscle car, a modified Pursuit Special, or any driving automobile becomes an extension of Max and signifies a means to overcome a chalenge. Max’s brutish masculinity is accentuated by the strength of his set of wheels. Throughout the film it is with his car that he can confront his aggresors, fulfill his first mission of returning a corpse to its respectful community, retrieving a truck to help the stuck desert inhabitants move their gasoline, helping everyone escape, and enabling good to prevail over evil. When he finally decides to leave the caravan at the end of the film is it with the realization that his journey does not end with them, and that his search for authenticity and redemption must go on. Max Rockatansky principally emerges as a prototypical road movie, or pre-road movie, hero with the likes of other greats including Ethan Edwards (John Wayne) in The Searchers (1956) or Travis Henderson (Harry Dean Stanton) in Paris, Texas (1984).-David Davidson

No comments: