Monday, August 13, 2007

Le Bonheur (1965)

Agnès Varda started out as a photographer, and if you didn't know that you'd have figured it out by the end of this fascinating film. Le Bonheur is, on the surface, possibly the most observational and non-judgemental infidelity narrative one could conceive -- happily married Francois (Jean-Claude Drouet) is driven to cheat on his wife primarily because he's so happy that he's got to spread his love around, and for a long blissful while it doesn't really affect his life or relationship with his wife. The characters speak to one another, couple and uncouple with little friction or emotional turmoil. What Varda keeps tamped down in her characters, though, gets expressed through her vibrant mise-en-scene, whether through placement of characters (such as the dance scene bisected by a foregrounded tree and expressed through several long back-and-forth pans across both sides of the tree, behind which characters drift together and apart) or careful use of color. The latter is especially noticeable -- from the wardrobe to the scenery right down the the colored fades used to break scenes, this is a film of color. The majority of it takes place across a single summer, and as such the pallete is bright and vivacious, serving thus as a reflection of Francois's joyful state of existence. The timeline necessarily shifts to fall after Varda's sole narrative event (this event signaling, as it were, the end of summer), and this isn't by accident: Despite the veneer of regained happy normality, there is something melancholic in the autumnal browns and yellows that dominate the last ten minutes of this; after so much lush green and blazing red, it's a reminder that something along the way was lost after all.

Grade: B


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