Posts Tagged ‘les mistons’
The word auteur is simply the French word for “author.” The essential idea behind auteur theory is that a filmmaker exercises an authorship over his work, and this authorship is present in every film he (or she) makes. The theory was born with the French New Wave cinema, from 1958-1962, with a group of French filmmakers headed by Francois Truffaut. I’ve previously analyzed two of his short films, Antoine et Collete (1962) and Les Mistons (1957). The French New Wave was one of many film movements that sprung up around the world in protest to Hollywood’s monopoly of popular film in the post-World War II years. You can read more about post-war cinema and the anti-Hollywood sentiment on Eric Elie’s blog.
At a mere twenty-one years old, Truffaut wrote the defining article for auteur film, titled “Une Certaine Tendance of Cinema Francaise” (“A Certain Tendency of French Cinema”), first published in the magazine Cahiers du Cinema in January 1954. Since then, a horde of scholars and critiques have added their thoughts to the tenets of auteur film, and a even greater horde of filmmakers have added their mastery to the history of the art. Here I hope to highlight a few of those scholars and many more of those excellent filmmakers.
Truffaut’s “Certain Tendency”
When he originally wrote the article, Truffaut was writing in protest of the filmmakers who were receiving critical acclaim at the time for their well-crafted, however voiceless, literature adaptations. He termed this group of screenwriters and filmmakers who translated the ideas of previous writers the French “Tradition of Quality,” complimenting them for their adept filmmaking as he also criticized them for having no personal vision to deepen their films. Truffaut says in the article:
“The war and the post-war years have transformed our cinema. It has evolved through internal pressure and in the place of “poetic realism” – which can be said to have died out, closing behind itself The Gates of Night (The Portes de la Nuit) – “psychological realism” represented by Claude Autant-Lara, Jean Delannoy, René Clément, Yves Allgret and Marcel Pagliero, was substituted.”
He was advocating for filmmakers including their own experience in their films, their own “psychological realism,” rather than the work of literary masters. Film, as its own artform, deserved storylines and themes that were crafted specifically for visual storytelling. Truffaut condemned the tradition of the screenwriter having the greatest control of the story a film told; he thought the director should have more creative power. He saw the creative process as so emotional and personal for a filmmaker, he should feel himself as if he were on display. He goes on to write:
“The artist cannot always dominate his work. He is sometimes its God, other times its creature. One knows the modern play whose main character, in peak form when the curtain rises, finds himself fully amputated as the play ends, as a successive loss of each of his limbs has marked the changing of acts.”
As with many artists, Truffaut was advocating for total mastery of the filmic art. Just as a painter cannot help adding his own personality to his work through his paintbrush, Truffaut saw a filmmaker as having no choice but to displaAs with many artists, Truffaut was advocating for total mastery of the filmic art. Just as a painter cannot help adding his own personality to his work through his paintbrush, Truffaut saw a filmmaker as having no other choice but to display his deepest emotions onscreen for the judgment of an audience. Thus, he condemned the soulless process of literature adaptation not for its lack of technical skill but for a lack of psychological truthfulness. One last quote from Francois:
“I do not believe in the peaceful co-existence of the Tradition of Quality and the cinema of auteurs. At base, Yves Allegret and Jean Delannoy are but caricatures of Henri-Georges Clouzot or Robert Bresson. It’s not the desire to cause a scandal that leads me to deprecate a cinema so praised elsewhere. I remained convinced that the unduly prolonged existence of ‘psychological realism’ is the cause of the public’s incomprehension when confronted by works as new in concept as…”
… and he goes on to list several underappreciated films by his friends and colleagues that he feels defines his outline of an auteur. His analysis of good filmmaking seems a bit self-serving, but it is his ideas and films we remember and study today, while those of the “Tradition of Quality” he comdemns have fallen to the background of film history.
Truffaut’s manifesto: La Politique des Auteurs by Harry Tuttle
Next up, I will outline some of the critique and further development of auteur theory.
Similar to Les Mistons (1957), Francois Truffaut once again focuses this short on the pains and miscommunications of young love. Truffaut obviously felt adolescence very intensely. This film is part of an omnibus collection L’Amour à vingt ans (Love at 20), and is also the second of five films the director made starring his alter ego, Antoine Doinel. Culture Cartel describes more of the context of the film.
Colette was of more interest to me. Unlike the typical Hollywood female roles of the time (I’m thinking of Marilyn Monroe in Some Like It Hot), Colette (played by Marie-France Pisier) is an independent, educated girl. She weilds all of the power in her friendship with Antoine, and whether or not she is purposefully toying with his emotions is unclear, though probable. Even though she’s the reason the film does not have a “happy” ending, I can’t help but like her. I also cannot help being reminded of a more recent film with the same themes, 500 Days of Summer (2009), starring Joseph Gorden-Levitt and Zooey Deschanel. The female lead in that film, Summer, fosters a relationship with the male lead while spurning his romantic advances, just as Colette does with Antoine. Independent female aside, the trials of young love are obviously a theme filmmakers return to continually and explore in a myriad of personal ways.
This film is interesting for the narrative distance the audience has from all of the characters. We feel for the “brats” as they express immature love for a woman, we feel for the woman as she loses her first love, but we feel all this sympathy in a way so removed that we do not experience any of the usual immersive qualities of a film. It is almost as if we are watching an animal documentary: “See how the native Frenchwoman falls in love in her natural habitat…” An article on Senses of Cinema makes the point that this story was one with deep personal connections for Truffaut, making the distanced narrative all the more curious. The article also discusses many of the film tricks used to play up the story’s innocence sensuality:
Truffaut used every possible device to make the film as sensuous as possible; it is a catalogue of trick effects, from reverse motion (in the scene in which the young boys play cops and robbers) to slow motion (the lover’s final kiss on the balcony; the shot of one of the young boys kissing the seat of Bernadette’s bicycle in innocently sexual adoration).
FilmsdeFrance.com also discusses how this film is a shining example of the French new wave cinema movement.
Les Mistons heralded a much needed return to the age of the free-thinking independent film directors of the past, when film-making had been an art, not just a shallow commercial exercise.
So though I may not appreciate a film where the audience’s sympathies for the characters are only perfunctory, the film still has a timeliness and artfulness that is important to consider.