26 January 2009

Thinking and Feeling, Could it Be French Cinema?

Movies make me think.

Sometimes they make me think things like: I can't believe I spent $8 on this piece of crap. Or, that's two hours of my life I could have spent doing something useful.

Movies make me feel.

Sometimes they make me feel ill at the the waste of $8. Or they make me feel I'm wasting too much watching utter rot.

However there are more occasions that I think about themes and ideas introduced intentionally or incidentally in the film. Other times I feel. Things like joy, humor, optimism or less identifiable emotions.

I suppose the point of all this is that movies at there worse are like so much else in our disposable empty calorie culture. At their best they inspire our intellects and touch our souls.

All these rather heavy musings were occasioned by two parts of my day. In the first part I was being bored silly at an utterly useless workshop for substitute teachers (my day job while I take classes at night is as a sub). I distracted myself by concocting a post for this blog that was to be about French cinema with 15 examples of outstanding films from France. The second part was in the afternoon when I watched Francois Truffaut's, Jules and Jim (1962). (Pictured above.) It was on TCM last night and I DVRed it. Sadly (and this is a whole other story) my recording ran short and I missed the last five minutes. My fault entirely. Will now have to rent it.

In any event both the mental construction of the list and the viewing of Jules and Jim brought home to me how the complete raving success that is French cinema. This success being manifest by the manner in which so many of their films are designed, not to make a buck, but to make one think and feel.

Jules and Jim had me thinking about the nature of relationships (and not incidentally my great fortune in finding a life partner I actually want to spend my entire life with). Relationships are subject to the very fluctuations that cause our life to ebb and flow. How do we maintain a love for a friend, or even a relative, let alone a lover for years and years? Especially as our interests change as do our viewpoints, outlooks, goals and dreams. Is it not more natural to flit from one partner and friend to the next? Then again sometimes we meet someone with whom we grow together. Or have friendships that are built on such solid foundations (the love of the same sports team, for a silly but real example) that they are destined to last.

There was a conversation in the film about war and the war that people often wage within themselves. Are men natural born fighters? If not in actual battle, then in sports? If not there do they channel this aggression in other ways? Eternal struggles? Is it so much harder for males to tame their inner fighter? Is that at the heart of so much conflict? Are we really just battling ourselves? Is it us we are really having a hard time coming to terms with? Our mortality? Our sexuality? Our weaknesses? Or our very souls and questions of our existence? How do find peace with others when our battles are within?

This is just part of what Jules and Jim did to me or for me. I also marveled at the way Truffaut told the story of the two friends and the woman who does not come between them but exists between them. The story has, at times, a bit of farce to it but is grounded in real human conditions and circumstances. Everything from camera angles, use of stop action, shrinking part of the screen, make the story a joy to behold.

Truffaut, like so many other French directors was a master at using the medium of the film to create powerful, exhilarating narratives. Just a few other names: jean Renoir, Jean Pierre Melville, Louis Malle, Max Ophuls, Jean-Luc Godard, Marcel Carne, Rene Clair and so on.

I have to confess I didn't really need to include all those names, it just turned me on to type them. Doing so called to mind some of the lasting images they've committed to celluloid.

Think how excited I'll feel when in my next post I name 15 great French films. Think of the dilemma I've created for myself in selecting so small a number.

Thinking feeling, theme of the day.


Roberto Cardona said...

I`ve been trying to get my hands on Jules et Jim for a long time now, but being native to a small central american country (Honduras) it`s been almost imposible to find it in any form.Own a DVD copy of The 400 blows though, and ur blog has inspired me to a repeat viewing of it tonight.

R. D. Finch said...

Riku, some intriguing thoughts on relationships and war in this post. I love French movies too and only regret that I haven't been able to keep up with the current French cinema. Truffaut and Renoir are both in my director's pantheon. Truffaut directed what are for me five unequivocal masterpieces and several near-masterpieces. His first three movies are a 1-2-3 punch that has rarely, if ever, been equaled. I recorded "Jules and Jim," which is on my list of 20 favorite foreign films, the last time TCM showed it but haven't watched it yet. After reading your post, I'm going to make a real effort to get to it soon. I can't wait for your complete list.