Monday, August 24, 2020

Ô saisons ô châteaux

What Soul Is Without Flaws?

Pierre Braunberger commissioned Varda for 1957 to make a short travelogue documentary in color about the châteaux, or castles, of the Loire Valley: Ô saisons ô châteaux [O Seasons, O Châteaux], named after the title and recurring line of Arthur Rimbaud's poem. She films the still and semi-ruinous exteriors and interiors of the locations, and on the soundtrack a narrator intones the script. Varda won't be too irreverent in her treatment, but she won't be conservative. (Braunberger will get used to the temperament over multiple directors' commissions, cf. À bout de souffle.) The atmosphere is genial. "O seasons..." utters Rimbaud... Varda hasn't half-a-year or more for her project: she films autumn, the mutable season. Her speaker narrates the evolution of the castles' architecture across the centuries, from Château Montrésor to Langeais to Blois, to Villandry — it's at Montrésor that the models arrive.

What's happening? Well, Varda says in her 2007 Bonus (included on "Disc 2: Early Varda" in the Criterion Complete Films), it was a matter of bringing women in now who might stand in for the ladies of the early 20th century in their finery... A pastichey, or gimmicky, tactic? Of course not. By Varda's calculation, the 'last "ladies"' were the equivalent of this new 20th century social class, profession; additionally, the existence of the latter proves the once-proposed endurance of the strictures, ceremonies, and notion of The Court; it mustn't go unremarked that both they and the grounds-workers all sport châpeaux, hats, to rhyme with the châteaux; finally, perhaps, their presence predicts (to say "foreshadows" would seem less concertedly psychical) the 'use of the grounds' for all the photo-shoots, soirées de Maisons, cinema rentals, and vandalism-wandered-through, candlelit, in the parties of the children of Garrel, Assayas, Beatles...

Circa 1000: Fulk le Noir contre Thibault le Tricheur. — Like Resnais, Varda documents the traces of historical steps: e.g., the courtyard where Jeanne d'Arc stepped to her destiny.

"In Langeais, where Louis XI built, near the old dungeon, a fortified château..." — or, where Ronsard courted Cassandre Salviati — who "preferred her neighbor." I first came to know old Ronsard from the Gainsbourg song, "Ronsard '58" off SG's first record. My translation:

As long as you’ve got those handy assets, my dear, / You’ll have lovers, you’ll make it. / You’ll have vacations on the finest shores, / And bikinis that knock everyone out.

You’ll have vistas, you’ll have cars, / Well-dressed guys’ll scrape to kiss your hand. / You’ll flash smiles, you’ll play your role — / But you’ll only ever be a little whore.

Whore of the sidewalks, whore of the moviehouses. / For the guys in charge, it’s the same old shit — / You pay her price, you’re outta there. / She’s supposed to make love, and not a scene. / Besides, my excellent little babe, one fine day

You’ll realize you’re over it, / Then, sniveling, you’ll say, / Dumb-Ol’-Me / Had some talent as a writer after all.

That’s all you’ll have left of my pathetic lines, / My literature you didn’t give a flying shit about; / It’s all you’ll have left to remind you of the men, / Those past fuckwads of yours who’ll never look your way again; / It’s the only mirror you won’t be ugly in —

It’s guaranteed for eternity. / Good old Ronsard was no fool / When he said that to his stuck-up bitch — /
To his stuck-up bitch — to his stuck-up bitch. •

— Serge Gainsbourg, 1958, Du chant à la une!...

There's François I with Queen Claude in Blois — retaken by Charles d'Orléans, who in turn took up poetry and held competitions, to which contributed François Villon.

Clément Marot lived there.

In Villandry, "[t]he maze is hornbeam" (no article) — four quadrants: topiary representing tragic love, fickle love, tender love, and mad love (which makes another maze).

Agnès Varda, Sunday painter sublime.


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