9.20.2012

Portrait of a village



Pictured: one of the many stray cats that inhabit the French fishing village of Agnes Varda’s La Pointe-Courte (1954), her debut feature film.  It’s an odd piece; a mere 80 minutes long, it cuts together moody, Bergmanesque scenes of a marriage on the verge of collapse with neo-realist footage of the village’s fishermen and their wives, many played by non-professional actors, as they work, eat, and gossip.  The two halves of the film are ostensibly related insofar as the husband, one of the village natives, has brought his Parisian wife home for the first time.  But their mororse, angst-ridden marital quarrel, accompanied by unsettling atonal woodwind music on the soundtrack, sits uneasily next to the earthiness of the scenes set among the other villagers.  Perhaps this disconnect is meant to mirror that of husband and wife?  I rather got the sense that Varda was contrasting the cerebral, urbane, neurotic relationship of the central couple with the unfussy “naturalness” of the salt-of-the-earth locals, a binarism that began to bug me more and more as the film went on.  (No atonal music accompanies the scenes of the villagers; they are associated with folk tunes performed by their own local band of amateurs.)  At the end, when the married couple decides to reconcile and join in a dance being held in the town square, I suspect that we’re supposed to feel that they’ve decided to let go of their big-city hang-ups and embrace love in all its simple joys.  Instead I found myself taking offense to the notion that the love lives of middle- and upper-middle class people would be a lot less tumultuous if they just got in touch with their inner peasant.

Where La Pointe-Courte does succeed is in its evocation of provincial life, probably due to Varda’s on-location shooting and use of the village’s real inhabitants as actors and extras (Varda had apparently developed a long kinship with the people and places used in the film).  It may not say anything profound about love or marriage, but it’s an ineffable portrait of a community.                          

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