Le Beau Serge (Claude Chabrol, 1958)
Le Beau Serge does present a peek into French country life, and there were a few interesting scenes. But in the end, the narrative falls flat as it works its way to a heavy-handed redemption/heroism story.
The most interesting aspect of this film was the strangely homo-erotic tone of the first half of the story, but it evaporated fast as the plot thickens. Anyways, according to a film scholar, these two men are merely an instance of a recurring pair of characters that represents two different sides of Chabrol himself.
Breathless (Jean-Luc Godard, 1960)
Let's face it. The film feels extremely awkward, especially in places where polished craftsmanship is required. Just look at the cop-killing scene. Even the famous jump-cuts are known to be a last-minute measure the director took out of desperation to fix the unintended slow placing. The film’s heavy reliance on, and overly explicit references to, other cultural artifacts—music, paintings, film, and philosophical discussion—may be appropriate, but is certainly sophomoric.
This must have been a notable work in the context of cinematic history. But I do have a sneaking suspicion that critics ascribe more intelligence to Breathless out of their reverence to its creator.
That said, I did enjoy the scene in Patricia’s hotel room, for its intimacy, its beauty, and the gutsiness (for goes on and on and on). The literary quote in this scene seems to be essential to the character and the story as well. (When Patricia quote Faulkner’s line “Between grief and Nothing, I will take grief,” Michel says Grief is a compromise and he will take nothing.) This seen may be burdened by gratuitous allusions to existential philosophy, but even these are wonderfully done. I loved the shot where the young "ugly-beautiful" Belmondo beams under the focused gaze of Patricia, as Patricia’s soft piano music gives way to his jazzy tune.
But here is some wonderful illumination from the great Roger Ebert (with emphasis added by myself):
When "L'Avventura" was released, it became a joke to refer to "Antonioniennui." At its premiere at the Cannes festival, the audience booed, but it won the Jury Prize and became a box-office success all over the world. It was the most pure and stark of several films about characters who drifted in existential limbo. In America, it came at a time when beatniks cultivated detachment, when modern jazz kept an ironic distance from melody, when it was hip to be cool. That whole time came crashing down later in the 1960s, but while it lasted, "L'Avventura" was its anthem.
I did not much connect with the film when I saw it first--how could I, at 18? These people were bored by a lifestyle beyond my wildest dreams. When I taught the film in a class 15 years later, it seemed affected and contrived, a feature-length idea but not a movie. Only recently, seeing it again, did I realize how much clarity and passion Antonioni brought to the film's silent cry of despair.
Why don't we have movies like "L'Avventura" anymore? Because we don't ask the same kinds of questions anymore. We have replaced the "purpose of life” with the "choice of lifestyle.” I used to think Peggy Lee's "Is That All There Is?" was the saddest song. Antonioni can think of a sadder one: "More."
Histore(s) du Cinema
But, I must say this film(s) present(s) a very interesting collage of images from film classics. Quite something to watch indeed.