Saturday, January 23, 2021

Le bonheur

Dread Resplendence

Begin by citing the short works that Varda made in 2006 to accompany an initial restoration of Le bonheur [Happiness, 1964].

(1) Agnès parle du Bonheur [Agnès Speaks About Le bonheur]. Actually reconfigured in 2006 for DVD release from its initial 1998 broadcast on ARTE, which as Varda explains accounts for the German-speaking boy-reinterpreter of AV's words. She uses the phrase, quoted too by Michael Koresky in the Criterion book in the Complete Varda, in characterizing the film as "a peach with a worm inside."

(2) Les deux femmes du Bonheur [The Two Women of Le bonheur]. Six minutes, also shot in 2006, it's an interview between Rosalie Varda and Claire Drouot and Marie-France Boyer discussing their roles in Le bonheur. "Can we accept pain to make someone else happy?" "We used to talk about that apple tree a lot..."Le bonheur as a matter of the Garden of Eden. Le bonheur ran for a year in Japan — should that surprise us?

(3) Propos sur le Bonheur [Remarks on Le bonheur]. 2006. A conversation filmed by Varda between four intellectuals as they're called: Michèle Manceaux; Frédéric Bonnaud; Gérard Vaugeois; Fadela Amara. Amara: "Is it kitsch?" — The Garden of Eden gets mentioned explicitly. — Bonnaud: "False naïveté — and, frankly, truly perverse." — Le plaisir by Ophuls: "Le bonheur n'est pas gai."

(4) Le bonheur? Réponses des Fontenaisiens [Happiness? Responses from Fontenaysians]. 2006. In which the question is put: "What is happiness?"

For me, happiness is "Happiness Is a Warm Gun."

Happiness too is a woman who looks just like Brice Parain. (see Vivre sa vie, J-L Godard)

(5) Bonheur: nom propre ou concept [Bonheur: Proper Name or Concept]. 2006. It ends with Aragon in an Agnès graffito: "He who speaks of happiness always has sad eyes."

(6) Jean-Claude Drouot revient à Fontenay-aux-Roses et parle du film tourné en 1964 [Jean-Claude Drouout Returns to Fontenay-aux-Roses and Speaks About the Film Shot in 1964]. 2006. Drouot had actually studied to be a carpenter, and built Varda a table. — Reflecting upon his role: "It's not adultery; I think [my character] François has an incredible knack for happiness." 

(7) Fragments et météorites d'un documentaire tourné pour l'ORTF en 1964 [Fragments and Meteorites of a Documentary Shot for ORTF in 1964]. Varda adds new intertitles in 2006 to an INA clip from 1964 directed by Jean-Claude Bergeret of her directing on the set of Le bonheur. The title of the original episode is Agnès et le bonheur.


"Happy Father's Day!" — but who cares beyond this family: a set of autophages. and an abstract obstruction to an ostensible "heart of the movie." It's a Sunday, the most disgusting day, the most abstract day of everyone's week unless you're a server or auto-mechanic and it happens to be your single paid day off. Morrissey did not sing "Everyday Is Like Sunday" in vain. 

Should there be nuclear families? It might be a hot-button question from the biologist's point of view but the millstone hangs heavy and low. Swinging the little girl up into the carpentry truck, isn't this a kind of violence... to no-one? This is how Le bonheur proceeds... step by step, an incremental scientific rethinking of every moment that preceded the last, and this produces an illusion of Normalcy, the great imaginary French region. It is 1964 and no-one onscreen mentions the wars in Algieria or Vietnam — but the planes pass overhead nevertheless. Is there outrage? As with the entirety of Le bonheur, there is much ambiguity. Which is so stupid and stupidly obvious, to say the least. I was saying, as with the entirety of Le bonheur

Renoir's Le déjeuner sur l'herbe plays on the television. "Did you enjoy your Sunday?" "Yes, and you?" "Yes!" As Fadela Amara asks in Propos sur le Bonheur, "Is it kitsch?" I don't know but I have Moleskine notes which read: "disgusting clockwork life — nightmare before it begins — several days work in a new building — retirement so long as papa does the paperwork." Last time I checked, I wasn't getting paid for this.

55 minutes in we hear Jean-Luc Godard's voice, doing the looping for a common dinner conversation en plein air. Around this time JLG would have been readying the releases of Bande à part, Une femme mariée, or Montparnasse et Levallois. Sundays are not, for artists, days of respite or reset. Take the found-dead sequence, when the film jump-cuts in quick rewind: Varda repeats a jump-cut technique used in Cléo from 5 to 7, as when Cléo descends the staircase from the medium reading at the film's beginning. What is it that makes me think of Pialat in some of her cuts?

"Under my skin" — that's the phrase used by someone in one of Varda's 2006 shorts about the effect the film has on me. "Nothing goes wrong besides the drowning" is a hell of a thing to take away. I know what I think now of Le bonheur (not Medvedkin's, L'Herbier's, or Solondz's), and the fact of the matter is it's a film maudit. The fact of the matter is it's a film parfait.  


Other writing on Agnès Varda at Cinemasparagus:

La Pointe-Courte [1955]

Ô saisons ô châteaux [O Seasons, O Châteaux, 1957]

L'Opéra-Mouffe, carnet de notes filmées rue Mouffetard par une femme enceinte en 1958 [The Opéra-Mouffe: Diary Filmed on the rue Mouffetard in Paris by a Pregnant Woman in 1958, 1958]

Du côté de la Côte [Around the Côte, 1958]

Les fiancés du pont Mac Donald, ou (Méfiez-vous des lunettes noires) [The Fiancés of the Pont Mac Donald, or: (Beware of Dark Glasses), 1961]

Cléo de 5 à 7 [Cléo from 5 to 7, 1962]

Le bonheur [Happiness, 1964]


Monday, January 18, 2021

I vitelloni

The Un/Happy'ish Boys

I vitelloni [The Loafers / The Fellas, 1953] is, if not Federico Fellini's darkest film, certainly his most melancholy. Absent are the extreme physical tragedies of Il bidone or Nights of Cabiria; and it's not a crime story per se (a centerpiece robbery aside); is rather a parable about Duty in the face of an acute isolationism. — The pandemic is Rimini itself, the hometown of Fellini. — I vitelloni, one of the most personal films in a body of work that is nothing but eminently intimate, enacts for the Maestro the story of a wish-fulfillment that actually came to pass: that is, an escape from the sticks to the big city and the initiation of a brilliant career in cinema (and cartooning).

The vitelloni are as follows:

• Fausto (Franco Fabrizi)

• Moraldo (Franco Interlenghi)

• Alberto (Alberto Sordi)

• Leopoldo (Leopoldo Trieste)

• Riccardo (Riccardo Fellini, Federico's brother)

Each vitellone is given an episode that corresponds to his talent, aspiration, or personal flaw, although to be sure, the five men (six, in fact, but we'll come back to that shortly) represent a refraction of Fellini himself.

• Fausto: the ostensible candidate for the film's lead. Believes he's owed the world. A potential case study for the notion that the vitelloni's fates are mixed up as much with the remoteness of Rimini as with their parents' generation's own inertia (socio-economically speaking, maybe through no fault of their own) and their survivalist falling-back onto the old Italian morés that impels them to keep constant stock on their children, even belt-whipping them as deemed necessary despite Fausto's being 30 when he receives papa's flagellation. The trigger of the film's storyline is Fausto's impregnating and shotgun-marrying Sandra (Leonora Ruffo) before his libido wanders wide.

• Moraldo: Sandra's brother. The moral conscience of the fellas. It is he who will escape at the end on a train for Rome, after earlier asking himself the central question: "What if I left too?" Galvanized in part by a chance meeting with a young boy named Guido who's setting off for work at the railroad station at three in the morning.

• Alberto: The worse for wear following the carnivale sequence. Loyal to his mother. Perhaps the highest bourgeois of the friends. But an inveterate money-beggar. His sister Olga absconds with a mysterious man who is either leaving his own wife to be with her, or is acting as part-time pimp with Olga in his employ.

• Leopoldo: An aspiring playwright. Has sent his work-in-progress to Signor Natali, a hackish actor whom for whatever reason Leopoldo hangs a future on, perhaps given his Sheik-of-Araby-shaded variety troupe's passing through Rimini. Natali makes a pass at him, and Leopoldo learns a lesson in life.

• Riccardo: An aspiring singer, and the least focused-upon among the group. Performs at the "Miss Mermaid" competition in the film's opening sequence, where Sandra takes home the prize. The resemblance to his brother Federico is startling.

I mentioned a sixth vitellone. This would be the narrator, whose voice belongs to none of the five, but yet who refers to the gang as "we" and "us." Peter Forgacs in his essay in Criterion's Essential Fellini release remarks that we never see this man, but this is not the case — he's only slightly indiscernible. He's the thin man with the black moustache who fills out the five when Fausto has left for his honeymoon. Fellini keeps him in the background of the shots, usually literally blocked. His fate would remain unknown, were it not for his supposing, his cementing, I vitelloni, a voice-off in a picture that announces: "Mine is the body..."



Other writings about Federico Fellini on Cinemasparagus:


Thursday, January 14, 2021

The White Sheik

Presenting Wolfango A. Mozart

// The vulgarity of cinema! Cinema, comprehensive art! Il cinema, l'art du peuple?? — Che cosa! //

Federico Fellini's movies fold together like cake mix the crust of the poltroons and the bronzer of the snobs. The White Sheik [Lo sceicco bianco, 1952], Federico's first solo feature (with a double-entendre easier to locate in 2021 than in 1952 perhaps) traffics in the emotional undercurrents of these modern media insofar as their receptive connections with a largely female-targeted demographic go: theirs not being only the romantic movies and a conditioned-plethora-else but the monthly periodicals too that went known as i fotoromanzi — photo-novels, or photo-romances... These publications split the difference between movies (or rather movie-novelizations) and comic books; they gradually travestied both artforms while exuding a certain appeal of their own. In the same stretch of time that I was rewatching The White Sheik in the Criterion Essential Fellini box (twice in the last week), I also happened to be reading Luc Sante's new and truly outstanding 2020 collection Maybe the People Would Be the Times; literally having chronologically landed by chance, during reading, on his essay dedicated to the fotoromanzi. I'm going to quote a few passages here which won't abuse fair use. The originary essay, "Fotonovela," first appeared in the Paris Review Daily in 2019:

"Fotonovela, fumetti, roman-photo — the terms betray the face that the form never got much traction in the Anglo-Saxon realm. There is no word for it in English, exactly. You could say 'photo-comics,' but risk being misunderstood when you are referring to narratives, often but not always romantic, that are conveyed by means of photographs arrayed in panels on a page, with running text often in talk balloons. Their impact has been almost entirely restricted to countries that speak Spanish, Italian, or French; their readership is overwhelmingly female, at least in Europe."

This might be the point where one interrupts to cite probably the most famous example of the photo-roman in the world, Chris Marker's La Jetée, which will soon find its way onto this blog as my Marker coverage continues... Of note to track down too, via a citation from Luc in the same essay, is: "La Folle d'Itteville, the collaborative photo-novel by Germaine Krull and Georges Simenon, from 1931."

In section "II" of his book Luc Sante investigates the perils (travails might be the more accommodating term) of early matrimony. This slice in personal history appealed to Fellini throughout his filmography, we see it over and over again. Such great material for the young newlywed reader to adhere to the stock reconfigurations of the fotoromanzo's plots — the Hallmark movie-medium of their time, except not as bad and (somehow) less cynically produced? It was Michelangelo Antonioni who wrote the original 24-page treatment for Lo sceicco bianco, although his version involved a man going to Rome with big hopes of starring outright in a fotoromanzo, a power-up of the photo-romance's coaxing toward real-world aspiration. The resulting film saw Fellini and Pinelli, with assistance from Flaiano, mixing the material around such that the young wife (Wanda, Brunella Bovo) heads off to find the protagonist of her waking dreams (Fernando, Alberto Sordi) as the husband (Ivan, Leopoldo Trieste) embarks on desperate pursuit of her trail.

I'll stop for a moment, because my notes are scattershot, due in all likelihood to my feelings about The White Sheik as a whole. I want to pause to say that Nino Rota's main theme prefigures that of Fellini's 8-1/2 eleven years later on which he did some of his most brilliant composition. With Rota, it was always reused themes if not outright 'variations.' (You can detect this in at least three or four of his Godfather themes for Coppola.)


The couple arrived from Viterbo on the express train. The first word spoken by Ivan in the movie: "Rom'..." — he's of a certain accent, maybe of a specific dialect too. He's immediately established in The White Sheik as a neurotic. His (relative) wealth is suggested when he forgoes the opportunity by the front desk hotel clerk to use a postcard for writing his family, in order to engage the telephone instead, — expediency's sake in 1952 seemed ostentatious to everyone with a chip on their shoulder about class — and everyone a rung or more below Signore X-Rung(s)-Up carried that chip. ...Ivan needs to announce his arrival to his well-off Roman relatives. (Uncle is "an important figure at the Vatican... If he snaps his fingers in Rome, all of Altovilla Marittima jumps...")

Wanda wants a bath, it gets Ivan off her back to slip down ten minutes away to the fotoromanzo office: fatal mistake: Wanda leaves the tub of water running. There she meets the publisher/sceneggiaturista Mariela who emphasizes, in her art-bedecked, marble-hewn classic Roman office setting (these books don't do bad, and neither does family capital): "Real life is the life of dreams."

From here the narrative splits, alternating between Ivan and Wanda as the latter goes off in the company of the fotoromanzo crew 26km outside of Rome, including Fernando the White Sheik himself. — (While Wanda kicks her heels around beforehand inside the Rome office, a strange grace note of business finds one of the extra actors in close-up sniffing and looking above, as though prescient of the bathwater overflowing in the next scene at the hotel....?) Around the same time of which Ivan finds floating on the floor the letter from Fernando the White Sheik to Wanda saying stop by if you're ever in Rome...

The greater portion of the second half is devoted to the question: How will Ivan and Wanda get back together, which outcome is a foregone conclusion — one amusing love night aside on Ivan's part with an encounter with a couple of mommy'ing prostitutes, one of whom (Giulietta Masina) is "Cabiria."



Other writings about Federico Fellini on Cinemasparagus: