France has been a country responsible for more masterpieces than we actually realize. I picked up five of them during my B&N shopping spree, all of which are vastly different, emotional, cool, and painful.
39. Hiroshima Mon Amour
One of the biggest films of the French New Wave, Hiroshima Mon Amour (directed by Alan Resnais) is a powerful testament to the new style of filmmaking. Following an affair between a French actress and a married Japanese architect, the film delves into the immense, dark tone that followed the bombings of Hiroshima. It is a film about memory and forgetfulness, and this is shown through the often obtrusive jump-cuts that appear at an instant and drastically alter the flow of the film. It is an interesting technique, especially for those who are familiar with the erratic editing of Breathless, which surely borrowed heavily from this film.
From the director of Eyes Without a Face (Georges Franju) comes an extremely cool, fun, and subtly haunting crime caper with an incredible soundtrack. Judex is a mysterious avenger, a sort of Robin Hood-esque character, who seeks to have a corrupt bank manager return money he has tricked his clients out of.
The film is a tribute to the characters/remake of a serial that was released in 1916 by Louis Feuillade, a prominent silent-era director. With subtle references to the balletic films of Feuillade, Judex is as fun to simply watch as it is to follow the great story.
45-47. The Three Colors Trilogy (Blue, White, Red)
Famed Polish director Krzysztof Kieślowski crafted this masterful trilogy. It would be the last films he made as he announced retirement after the third, but then died shortly thereafter. In film history, he is one of the great masters who is never quite given enough mainstream credit unlike other greats. Already in his career he had created groundbreaking works like the 10-hour Decalogue (10 short films based on the 10 commandments.) But the Three Colors would be his final, raw, and emotional set of masterpieces. Each of the films represents a color from the French flag and their individual meanings (Liberty, Equality, and Fraternity,) which is then translated to each film by having the majority of the sets and props having the color of the movie.
With Blue, we are given what is essentially grief on film. After the death of her husband and child, Julie (Juliette Binoche) finds herself wanting to entirely liberate herself from everything around her. She isolates herself from all emotional connections, but as the film progresses, we come to find her not able to fully separate herself from everything. The film is utterly raw, with some extremely powerful moments of sadness and grief, but it is hopeful in the end.
White involves a French woman, Dominique, and her ex-husband Karol. They divorce within minutes of the film opening, and Karol loses everything. He is forced to beg on the streets, but soon finds illegal ventures. His strive is to get revenge on his ex-wife, to regain the equality in his life for what she did to him. The film ends with a bitter, unresolved moment that you can only understand if you know sign language (or you can just google it.) Though darkly humorous, White definitely leaves a more haunting impression.
Closing with Red (Fraternity), Kieslowski connects the themes with a powerful story about seemingly unrelated people slowing finding connections. What is most important, is that all of these films share the same universe but you can watch them in any order. Red is considered the true masterpiece of the trilogy (though they are all masterpieces.) When it was first released, the Academy refused to let it be nominated for best Foreign film due to some loophole. Sixty major figures in Hollywood signed a petition to get it nominated, but the Academy denied them. Yet, The Three Colors is still heralded as one of the greatest cinematic achievements in the history of cinema.
Up next we’ll be moving slightly east to Germany where we will be looking at 4 films of Rainer Werner Fassbinder, a major figure in the history of cinema, and one I have never had the pleasure of viewing before.