Archive for the ‘French New Wave’ Category

Hiroshima Mon Amour (1959)

September 11, 2011

Upon my first viewing of “Hiroshima Mon Amour” ten years ago, I didn’t like it. It got better in my second viewing. Having watched it again recently, I’ve developed a strange connection and admiration for this film, the first feature of Alain Resnais. Perhaps one could only connect to it with enough experience and understanding of the subject matter.

The film tells a story of an unnamed couple of a French woman and Japanese man, who are having an intense love affair in Hiroshima fourteen years after Little Boy was dropped on Hiroshima. The woman is simply called “Nevers” where she grows up, and the man called “Hiroshima” where he lives. They talk, wander, talk more, and wander again. In the night, against the backdrop of Japanese neon signs and empty streets. The emotions are resonant with those of Wong Kar Wai’s “In The Mood For Love”, although it’s strange to say that because that movie wouldn’t exist without “Hiroshima Mon Amour”.

Having done “Night and Fog”, now an important documentary about the Holocaust, Resnais was asked to make a documentary about the atomic bomb. In “Night and Fog”, Resnais illustrates the horror not by facts and evidences, but by juxtaposing images and a poetic account of a Holocaust surviver. In “Hiroshima Mon Amour”, he takes this one step further by telling the story of Hiroshima without discussing at all the atomic bomb. The film is full of hypnotic dialogues and music. Lost love, memories and forgetfulness are the couple’s main topics.

Stanley Kubrick once said that the atrocities of the Holocaust would not be able to be made into a movie without being humanized and turned into an entertainment one way or the other. In “Hiroshima Mon Amour”, we are asked to feel, to understand in the poetic sense, not literal.

The tragedy of Hiroshima is told in the analogy of the French woman’s personal tragedy. When she speaks of her dead lover and the madness, we feel her sadness that the memories have become nothing more than just an event without the emotional attachment. Or perhaps the emotions have been locked so deep inside, that she is not able to experience it without breaking the literals.

How long will the memories of the Holocaust and Hiroshima last until they become merely an event that we read in a textbook? By translating the emotions of Hiroshima poetically on films, the tragedy is recorded not by facts, but through a cinematic experience. In a way, this is a poetically true documentary of Hiroshima.

The film is described by many to be the catalyst of the French New Wave, along with “400 Blows” by Truffaut. It is beautifully filmed and uses many Nouvelle Vague methods such as jump cutting, non-linear story telling, etc. However, unlike its peers, “Hiroshima Mon Amour” ages better because the style here is only playing a supporting role, the protagonist is the poetry spoken by “Nevers” and “Hiroshima”.


Hiroshima Mon Amour” is directed by Alain Resnais, written by Marguerite Duras, starring Emmanuelle Riva and Eiji Okada (who by the way, could not speak any French, and was only memorizing every syllable in his lines.) Buy it on The Criterion Collection.


Happy Together (1997)

September 4, 2011

The films of Wong Kar Wai endure multiple viewings, not because they are beautifully photographed, which they are, and not because they have great romance, which they also have, but because they embody the common consciousness of Hong Kong in the period of pre- and post-handover so well, and in such voluptuous colors. “Happy Together” is my favorite among all his films because it is the final statement of Hong Kong in the 1990’s. It was released in 1997, the handover year of Hong Kong from Britain to China.

Lai Yiu Fai (Tony Leung) and Ho Po Wing (Leslie Cheung) are lovers. They arrive in Argentina from Hong Kong to debark a road trip for a holiday. They goes adrift, car is broken, so is their relationship. From that point, Yiu Fai and Po Wing are stranded in Argentina in a doomed relationship. That is my best effort to describe the storyline as there is not a clear one. The movie is more about the characters than a story.

Yiu Fai is the more quiet and sensitive of the couple, while Po Wing is explosive and seductive, bringing a balance to the duo. They run out of money. Yiu Fai longs for his homeland. He saves up for a return flight ticket from the modest income he makes from a Chinese restaurant, while Po Wing has no obvious plan and supports himself a lurid lifestyle by shuffling between foreign partners.

The two personalities draw an interesting analogy to the pre-1997 period of Hong Kong – the Hong Kong citizens who have been drifting for so long that they long to return “home”, whatever the home is, and those who still long for the foreigners during the colonization.

Po Wing is spontaneous and playful, at times explosive, the right mixture of a good lover until he goes beyond control. Yiu Fai struggles between Po Wing and a more stable life. A more realistic plan is to save up enough to return home and fix the existential crisis. His struggle interestingly suggests the internal conflict of the Hong Kong citizens before 1997. The eventual breakup between the couple, leaving Po Wing alone in Argentina and Yiu Fai returning home, illustrates the difficult breakup of the Hong Kong citizens from the british rule. The ending is that of a lost love, which is destined to doom, despite false expectation.

Whether or not Wong Kar Wai had these in mind during the making of this movie would be up to your imagination. The theme of lost time, obsession to a due date (1997 in the case of Hong Kong) and doomed lovers can be found throughout his work prior to 1997. His direction is changed after the 1997 handover and his later films illustrate a different consciousness that is analogous to that of the post-1997 Hong Kong citizens. Many viewers accuse Wong Kar Wai as a one off director whose films only contain style with little substance. Looking beyond the surface, one could find different meanings and motifs manifested by his characters which roam in the world of lost love and opportunity.

Happy Together” is directed by Wong Kar Wai, beautifully photographed by Christopher Doyle, starring Tony Leung and Leslie Cheung.

400 Blows (1959)

August 20, 2011

Much has been discussed about this French New Wave classic – the first film of François Truffaut, jumpstarting the French New Wave and the career of Jean-Pierre Léaud, the autobiographical elements of Truffaut’s adolescence, etc. It has become so monumental that the status overshadows the actual movie.

That being said, it does work great on the story telling level, because of its simplicity and clarity. The story is simple. Antoine Doinel (Jean-Pierre Léaud) is an adolescent boy who runs into troubles everywhere he goes and gradually descents to the path of an outlaw.

The guerrilla filmmaking style was new at its time and conveys an intimacy between the viewers and the characters rarely seen in other movies of the same period. The style also conveys Paris with an emotional accuracy. If you visit Paris today, it feels pretty much the same it does in this film despite the urban and architectural changes since.

The famous ending works so beautiful as a timeless metaphor of adolescence – Antoine escapes from the observation center and runs to the beach, seeing the ocean for the first time. He stands confused between the ocean and the land, frozen in uncertainty trapped in a frozen frame.

That one last frame is worth the entire movie.

400 Blows” is directed by François Truffaut, starring Jean-Pierre Léaud. Buy DVD or Blueray at Criterion.