Wednesday, September 02, 2020

Du côté de la Côte

An Idea of Eden ("It's Sunday in Peking")

Du côté de la Côte [Around the Côte, 1958], a film dedicated to the memory of André Bazin, marks the second travelogue documentary-essay of Varda's following Ô saisons ô châteaux (a film admired by the late critic, who remarked in some of his final writings upon the unfairness that the film couldn't take home a prize at given festivals because of a limit of three winning works from France!). 

If Varda's film has a central observation, it's "learning to live together" — the 'bumpkin' native-residents and the influx of tourists and campeurs; statues and the merely statuesque; the ancient and the modern. See the opening shot, pictured above, in which a saisonale is juxtaposed with the historical skyline, and looms like a blanker thinker of Rodin. Tombs around the Côte are fashioned with "the charm of existence." Shot sequences contain uniform, but still rhythmic, numbers of frames before and after each cut (a trademark of Varda's editing). Movement and stasis; movement prevails. Note the scene where the camera tracks forward and the shoots of vegetation, believed to be static, part to accommodate the apparatus, finally revealing a white horse in promenade drawing an empty carriage. I'm reminded of some Zen koan or other that I read years ago: white horse, or horsely whiteness? (cf. Moby-Dick, or: The Whale)

Varda recognizes (and as she affirms in the Bonus) the difference between open-Eden (Éden en plein air) and that Eden sequestered — a small shock — behind the gates of private property. (She includes a shot of one emblazoned: "Rosalia," in a small token and reminder to her newborn Rosalie). "But nostalgia for Eden is a garden.... a transplanted garden... the notion of a garden."


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