Directed by: Agnès Varda
Starring: Silvia Monfort, Philippe Noiret
Agnès Varda’s La Pointe Courte (1955) is nothing if not an oddity. Apart from its status as part of the French New Wave (a status I find a good bit dubious), the movie’s 80-minute running very nearly encompasses two movies. By far the more successful aspect of the film is its simpler attempt to present a kind of slice-of-life character study of the inhabitants of the poor fishing community where the story takes place. This part of the film — using nonprofessional actors — has a charming, almost poetic quality. The little scenes of drama — including a truly masterful and quietly tragic sequence involving the death of a child — dealing with the locals are much more effective than the marital drama they surround. The film’s central drama — in a narrative sense — follows its only named stars (Silvia Monfort, Philippe Noiret) as a couple on holiday. Their marriage is in trouble — something they discuss in preposterous quasi-existential dialogues throughout the film. Their conversations land somewhere between an Ingmar Bergman parody and Jean-Luc Godard at his most pretentiously impenetrable. (We can tell it’s very important, however, because Varda intercuts shots of things like a partially submerged dead cat that’s apparently been being eaten by crabs or some other opportunistic sea creature.) Late in the film, one of the villagers remarks that the couple can’t be happy because they talk too much. If the woman only knew what utter tosh they were talking, she’d know just how unhappy they must be. On the plus side, these scenes are often visually striking (dead cat shot to one side), including one image that prefigures a very famous composition in Bergman’s Persona 11 years later. Whether this is enough to compensate is going to depend a great deal on how interested you are in Varda’s work.
Classic World Cinema by Courtyard Gallery will presentLa Pointe CourteFriday, Sept. 6, at 8 p.m. at Phil Mechanic Studios, 109 Roberts St., River Arts District (upstairs in the Railroad Library). Info: 273-3332, www.ashevillecourtyard.com
In Brief: Agnès Varda’s first film, La Pointe Courte (1955), has somewhat mystifyingly come to be viewed as the first New Wave film, but this assessment has more to do with its low budget and being made outside the industry than for any aesthetic reason. In terms of style, the film is more connected to the Italian Neo-Realists by way of Jean Vigo’s L’Atalante (1932). It’s virtually two films in one — a poetic look at the denizens of a fishing village and a fairly ponderous marital drama. Parts of it are charming, but it’s ultimately of more interest to Varda completists than a general audience.