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]


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