Monday, April 6, 2009

Random thoughts: La Pointe Courte

La Pointe Courte (1954 Agnès Varda)

La Pointe Courte is was Agnès Varda's directorial debut. A slow and carefully crafted movie, it tells two seperate stories, both of which occur in the same small and impoverished fishing town somewhere in France. One plotline has the town's fishermen having to deal with not only their personal economic hardship, but with the intervention of health inspectors who claim, rightfully so even, that the fishermen are using illegal and ecologically harmful practices to perform their trade. The second story sees a couple discuss the strength and merits of their marriage, which is seemingly on the rocks. The husband is originally from the small fishing town, whereas the wife is a business type woman from Paris. Scenes from each plotline are cut and interspersed throughout the film.

First and foremost, I admire the openng few minutes of the film. There are several elements, both in terms of filming style and storytelling technique that are set up in the early goings. The relatively slow and long shot down the street at la Pointe Courte showing how desolate this town is is a strong introduction since it that kind of information to sink it. Then the viewer notices a rather well dressed man standing in the shade. His clothing tells me that he probably isn't from around here, and therefore his presence should stick out. What is he doing however? Well, he is waiting under a tree in the shade. Now that may be only because it's a warm day to be wearing that kind of clothing, but because the lighting and shadowing has the upper part of his body almost hidden from view, I had the impression that it was a strange attempt at hiding away. Silly agency man.

There were many, many other visual cues that struck my eye and displayed Varda's skill as not only a story teller, but as a visual artist also. She captures the plain and beat down physical nature of the town as well as the sometimes jovial, sometimes frustrated nature of the townsfolk. I felt director Varda often captured scenes from the right angles, which therefore meant avoiding needless cutting and editing. As I mentioned earlier, it's a slow moving story, but it's interesting to watch unfold.

It turns out he is an fishing inspector, a man sent from 'the system', a man from the outside whose presence in the town, as we soon learn, is not appreciated. I thought that was a great setup. This notion of an agency, an outside force, trying to apply rules which were probably created far away from this town who arrive against the will of these fishermen was intriguing. What made it more so was the fact that the fishermen themselves are clearly not following the rules and regulations nor are they using wise and safe practices to perform their trade. There's this dynamic at stake in the film in which a hated agency is trying to stamp its force onto these people, and yet the fishermen are not so easy to cheer for since they're constantly circumventing the law and using some kind of weird unsafe product. No one here is really a good guy essentially, but everyone has to make a living nonetheless. Life is sometimes hell and we all have to do what we do. I thought that was interesting.

Juxtaposed with that plotline is the reuniting of the married couple. Right from the first scene, I sensed that there was a certain nervousness between the two. It doesn't last that long, with the couple eventually playing a cat and mouse game of 'breakup or not', but those first few moments were great. The conversations feature dialogue that was at times odd to hear and at other times felt quite right. It was strange how the film toyed with the characters' emotions and how those emotions were relayed through the dialogue. It was pointed out earlier by someone how a fair bit of it feels unrealistic, and I would tend to agree in fact. Many of us had gone through this type of discussion/argument and I don't remember ever talking like that. The reason I thought it worked however was precisely because of the nature of this plotline in comparison to the other one. Here we have a married couple whose relationship may be on the brink of extinction. It seems terribly at odds with the harsh reality of the rest of the town. I'm not saying a marriage on the rocks is unimportant, on the contrary, but it is idiosyncratic nonetheless. There is a problem affecting almost everyone living in this desolate little town and here are these two people engaged in this 'trouble in paradise' discussion invovling some rather theatrical dialogue. They don't even seem to notice or comment on the reality of the town's situation. In fact, the husband even mentions how he is content with his life here (or work, I don't quite recall). Harsh economic reality versus this romance dilemma, both played in different styles.

The cats, those darn cats. I was really curious about them. No home, or maybe everywhere was home? The fishermen are looking for a way out of their troubles as are these little felines? Then again, I have the suspicion I'm over-thinking the presence of the cats. Maybe they simply 'are,', notthing else. Still, I find there to be several great shots of them, as though Varda made considerable effort to shoot them carefully and make almost everyshot involving a kitten look interesting.

The film, while simple to the naked eye, demonstrates a certain structural and thematic maturity from director Agnès Varda, a reality made ever more impressive when one considers that this really was her first ever feature length movie. I'll be watching more Varda thanks in part to a world cinema marathon taking place right now over on the Filmspotting message boards.

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