Wednesday, June 05, 2002

A MAN AND A WOMAN (1966) and WEEKEND (1967)

These are both French films from the 60's that were art-house sensations here in the States. I remember hearing about them when I was a kid but I never saw either one until this month. From todays' vantage point, both are rather baffling in very different ways.

A MAN AND A WOMAN is about a widow with a daughter who meets a widower with a son; they flirt, fall in love, and face some romantic obstacles. That really is about all there is to the plot. It's not very different from the typical Hollywood romantic melodrama, except for a nude love scene (although we don't see anything much lower than their shoulders). The particulars are moderately interesting: the Man is a race car driver whose wife killed herself when she thought--erroneously--that he had been seriously injured; the Woman is a script girl whose stunt man husband died doing a stunt. The style is interesting, with some lovely compositions and odd shifts in color and angles. The characters' backgrounds are presented in flashbacks that are mostly without dialogue. The twists and turns of their affair come off as unmotivated soap opera plot developments . And there's way too much footage of racing cars. I'm glad I saw it, but after all these years, it was a bit of a letdown--and there's no subtitled version available on video in the U.S., so the dubbing didn't help matters.

Describing WEEKEND as a 60's movie directed by Jean-Luc Godard might tell you everything you need to know. I'm not a Godard fan and this didn't change my opinion. A married couple (both of whom are carrying on affairs and wishing death on in-laws) head off for a weekend trip and wind up caught in what seems to be the total collapse of middle-class society. It's a satire, not meant, on the level of narrative, to be taken seriously--at several points, characters break the fourth wall and talk directly to the camera, and occasionally comment about being in such a ridiculous film. The much talked-about setpiece, a 10-minute tracking shot of a horrendous traffic jam, complete with cars on fire, llamas, and dead bodies, comes very early in the film and is definitely the highlight. All the critics say the scene is one uninterrupted shot, but I swear I saw at least one break about halfway through. Eventually, the action of the movie (such as it is) gets bogged down in endless political harangues from various characters, often delivered in monotonous voiceover. I wish it had been about 20 minutes shorter, although the last shot is worth seeing. But overall, it feels too much like a 60's time capsule movie, interesting in context, but tedious and lifeless on its own.

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