Friday, February 26, 2021

Elsa la Rose

Pet Names / Code Names

"Je suis / Le fou d'Elsa / — Aragon."

"Woman is the future of man." –Aragon, Le fou d'Elsa [Elsa's Madman, 1963]

Elsa la Rose [Elsa the Rose, 1966] is a kind of collage essay portrait film by Agnès Varda that examines the decades long marriage relationship between the writer-poets Elsa Triolet (née Kagan, Mayakovsky's lover) and Louis Aragon. Stretches of the couple's verse, read by Michel Piccoli, comprise the soundtrack. 

The consummate artist coupling, their writing a vow to keep the past tethered to the present. At their first encounter in 1928, Triolet recalls that Aragon's suit "was all shiny. Like a piano." "From that day on we've never been apart."

There's an urgency to Piccoli's recitations — indeed, Varda remarks in her 2007 video introduction that she encouraged the actor to read faster as the film went on, to gain speed like a hurtling train. For that matter, this vitesse is a natural component of Aragon's verses.

Elsa's eyes are, for Louis, everything. "Memory without recollection / And wound without dagger." Varda captures in a 20-minute flash the ungraspable mystery of love (the notion of the mystery; the revelation proves impossible), and in Elsa and Louis we might find echoes too of Agnès and Jacquot.


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]

Elsa la Rose [Elsa the Rose, 1966]


Wednesday, February 24, 2021

Smile of the Summer Night

Eine kleine Nachtmusik

About the title: to the best of my sleuthing, Bergman's Sommarnattens leende [1955] translates from the Swedish to Smile of the Summer Night. In America and the western lands, it metamorphosed upon theatrical arrival to Smiles of a Summer Night, and that has stuck. One wonders whose instinct found the latter more parseable. As in all varieties and degrees of employment-life, it seems there's seldom an item that, presumably, some higher-up can just leave be without editorial monkeying.


"No, cry our patent technicians, it's old-fashioned, it's not cinema, after all the cinema is a craft.

"Well, it isn't. The cinema is not a craft. It is an art. It does not mean teamwork. One is always alone; on the set as before the blank page. And for Bergman, to be alone means to ask questions. And to make films means to answer them."


"Wishing won't make just anyone a goldsmith."

—Jean-Luc Godard, "Bergmanorama," Cahiers du cinéma no. 85, July 1958. Translation by Tom Milne.

The lawyer Fredrik Egerman (Gunnar Björnstrand), absurd in his affected dye-propriety, is married to Anne (Ulla Jacobsson), a 19-year-old virgin. He's had studio photos taken of him and her which speak to his vanity and his pride in his prize acquisition, but which also suggest the tarot. All the scenarios depicted throughout a deck might be found in this masterwork, set in the early 20th Century, which seems to encompass a particularly wide range of the human experience — its folly, its fortune, and Providence for good measure.

Thus for now end my notes pertaining to Smile of the Summer Night. I had previously been planning to collaborate on a piece on the film with Uncas Blythe, but our posterns got jammed, logistically speaking. (We'll be working together on another text on Bergman some time in the future.) I've seen the film so many times its clockwork and symmetries seem not only natural but by now inevitable, so I'm less inspired to put down in words what makes the whole thing tick. Suffice to say that with Summer with Monika it's Bergman's greatest achievement up to this point in his career. Two lines I wrote at the end of my notes whose context I don't remember:

"The language of music is widening out." -Elvis Costello

"Contrary to common thought, Shakespeare doesn't rush you to the end."