Le Bonheur

Le Bonheur

A part of this view­ing list: Criterion Collection Spine #420: Agnès Varda’s Le Bonheur.

After quite a long hia­tus from watch­ing Criterion Collection films [and an abortive reen­try with Noah Baumbach’s Kicking and Screaming], I got back into the swing of things with this charm­ingly men­ac­ing film by Agnès Varda. Foremost, the film is beau­ti­ful to watch, with shifts in color sig­nal­ing shifts in theme, and a sub­jec­tive cin­e­matog­ra­phy that fur­ther re­fines the viewer’s at­ten­tion to ex­actly the bits that Varda is in­ter­ested in us be­ing in­ter­ested in. Often a se­ries of zip cuts will alert us to a character’s state of mind by show­ing us at what they are look­ing. For the most part those swift bits of ephemera are ex­actly what the char­ac­ter isn’t pay­ing at­ten­tion to, like the first time François vis­its Emilie’s apart­ment, he looks at every­thing but her, though we know she’s the only thing on his mind. A sim­i­lar tac­tic with a dif­fer­ent re­sult is used the first time they go on a date. He stares at her chest while all else is out of fo­cus and she speaks to him, he is out of fo­cus while talk­ing as she ob­serves the cou­ple be­hind him. 

Le Bonheur

But for all of the quick cuts and strange uses of fo­cus, the film pro­ceeds at a stately pace and seems to cover much more diegetic time than one short sum­mer. I think much of this feel­ing is ac­com­plished through the edit­ing, short sce­nes that con­sist of long takes re­sult in cuts that elide time only, leav­ing space to be filled by the mo­ments on screen. At one point a se­ries of ex­treme close-ups il­lus­trate the ping-pong pro­gres­sion of François from wife to mis­tress and back. The grace of the edit­ing is fur­ther en­hanced by the use of still lives. shots are framed and held in such a way that the mise-en-scène be­comes a char­ac­ter; a rum­pled bed, a kitchen win­dow, a flower arrange­ment, all are sig­ni­fiers for the true state of things. Lastly, an en­tire pa­per could be writ­ten on the use of Mozart; he isn’t a char­ac­ter in the film, but his mu­sic serves as nar­ra­tion and un­der­score for the emo­tional as­pects of the sto­ry­line. I’ll leave it at that. It is bet­ter ex­pe­ri­enced than de­scribed.

Le Bonheur

The story starts out in mun­dan­ity and con­tin­ues in this vein for the ma­jor­ity of the film. This fo­cus on every­day ac­tiv­ity is the strongest emo­tive force; it sucks the viewer in with recog­ni­tion and be­trays the viewer with the in­sid­i­ous same. It is a story about a happy fam­ily and the happy husband/​father who hap­pily starts a happy af­fair be­cause he is so filled with hap­pi­ness. It even­tu­ally all comes out in the wash, with fairly pre­dictable con­se­quences, but the fi­nal few bits of the film turn the mun­dane into a psy­cho­log­i­cal hor­ror show for the viewer [but not for the char­ac­ters]. This mas­ter­stroke acts some­thing like a warn­ing for those who are look­ing for one, but seems more akin to doc­u­men­tary than moral­ity play to me.

Le Bonheur

3 thoughts on “Le Bonheur

  1. What’s a “zip cut?”  I just spent two and a half years in film school and this is the first time I’ve heard the term.

  2. Hi Jeff, it is a term that my old film his­tory pro­fes­sor Don Crafton coined to de­scribed cuts that are so sud­den and short that the mind barely reg­is­ters them.

  3. Helloooo Adam!

    Seems like an in­ter­est­ing film. I’ve been look­ing for some­thing for­eign. As U.S.ers, we can’t be ex­posed ’nuff to for­eign views of life and love… imho. Checking in to see what you’ve been about lately. Hope all is well on your end.

    All the Best,
    Steve

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