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 Replies

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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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