Friday, December 28, 2007


Though I saw CONTEMPT first, this is the earlier film that made Jean-Luc Godard's name as the godfather of the French New Wave. Almost 50 years later, even though the plot twists and stylistic frills (mostly the frequent use of jarring jump cuts) are no longer new, it retains its power to hold an audience's attention, and it doesn't feel "old" at all. It's dedicated to Monogram Pictures, the Poverty Row studio known for its quickie crime and western movies. Jean-Paul Belmondo is a small-time thug, charming but amoral, not conventionally handsome but sexy, who consciously models himself on Humphrey Bogart. When he's chased through the French countryside for speeding in a stolen car, he kills a policeman and flees on foot. In Paris, he meets up with an American girl (Jean Seberg) with whom he had a casual sexual relationship in the recent past (and who is pregnant by him, though neither he nor we know that yet); her means of support seems to be hawking copies of the Herald Tribune on the street, though she's also trying to get a start as a free-lance journalist. The rest of the film follows Belmondo as he drifts about over the next 24 hours, stealing cars, trying to get money owed him by a friend, and trying to bed Seberg. As in CONTEMPT, there is a long and drifting conversational interlude in the middle of the film; the shirtless Belmondo chats with Seberg about everything but sex; at one point, she quotes Faulkner: "Between grief and nothing, I will take grief." He responds by asking to see her toes, then says he would take "nothing" because grief is a stupid compromise. I think they have sex, but we certainly never see it. By the time he leaves her apartment, his picture is on the front page of the newspapers as the "Highway Killer." When he admits his crime to Seberg, she seems unconcerned; when the cops talk to her, knowing she was seen with him, she protects him, but later, for no discernible reason except to see if she really loved him, she calls the police and tells them where he can be found. As far as I know, we never find out if she loved him or not, but he does meet his fate like a Monogram version of Bogart, shot in the streets, making a "cute" face at Seberg, and pulling his own eyelids shut with his last breath. I didn't feel anything for any of the characters, except maybe a bit of lust for both of the sexy leads, Belmondo, all twitches and snarls, and Seberg, cool and composed. The film doesn't feel improvised but it does feel casual, like the moments of Belmondo's day that we're shown were chosen largely at random. What I've read about Godard's later films doesn't make me think I would like to see much more of his work, but I did enjoy this one. I'm torn about seeing the Richard Gere remake from the 80's--on the one hand, it couldn't possibly be one-tenth as interesting as the original, on the other hand, I hear the Gere character has a thing for the Silver Surfer, and so do I. [Sundance]

No comments: