La Pointe Courte (1955)
May 21, 2023 1:14 PM - Subscribe

Follow the story of a couple who goes to a small French fishing village to try to solve the problems of their deteriorating marriage.

A young man (Philippe Noiret) who is a native of the seaside village of La Pointe Courte, France is having a hard time understanding why his bored, Paris-born wife (Sylvia Montfort) of four years is unhappy with their marriage. The couple visit La Pointe Courte as they try to resolve their problems. Meanwhile, the locals of the rural community grapple with the hardships and tragedies of their daily lives: A young child dies, a government official hassles fishermen and a marriage is arranged.

Ginette Vincendeau: Yet Varda’s attitude is neither passéiste nor condescending. With respect and admiration, she charts the fishermen’s struggle with officialdom over environmental health issues. Her ethnographic gaze is also highly self-reflexive, another trait adopted by other new-wave filmmakers. In her book Varda par Agnès, she talks of how she was initially surprised that the villagers saw her as an “intellectual,” since she’d lived among them. Yet the film in several ways signals her cultural identity with the Parisian intelligentsia, and as a result her inevitable distance from what she is filming. The opening sequence introduces two health inspectors, seen poking around someone’s backyard and then roundly sent on their way by the garrulous Uncle Jules, a key local character.

James Turrell: Arguably the most revered and sublime part of the film is the sequence in which Lui and Elle walk around the town laying bare their marital problems with a brutal if poetic honesty. Over the course of ten stunning minutes, Varda combines lyrical, intelligent dialogue about love, marriage, and the meaning of happiness, with staggering compositions and non-linear editing. The dialogue is presented in a continuous flow, as Lui and Elle agonize over the creaking foundations of their marriage; ‘Do you love me or our love?’ asks an increasingly desperate Elle at one point. Even though their conversation has a linear progression, Varda rejects the then norm of linear sequential scene construction, instead crafting a series of shots that jump drastically from one place to another.

The shots Varda creates are some of the most astonishing in cinema and remarkably varied in their style. There are the jarring, close-up portraits of Lui and Elle together, their faces presented at jagged, almost Brutalist, and defiantly unromantic angles. Then there are more straightforward compositions; Elle and Lui standing on either side of a fence debating the merits of their marriage is beautiful in its pure simplicity.

Selin Sevinç Bertero: The intellectual, overwritten dialogue, coupled with erratic editing and an expressive music score sets the couple’s scenes clearly apart from the townsfolk’s. Varda, without seeming to do so, elicits commentary on life’s ironic contrasts with images, sounds and editing –the great weapons of film language– while remaining equally distant from both of her storylines.

From a modern perspective it is a hard task to enjoy a film like La Pointe Courte. It is remarkably slow-paced; performances are blunt; the plot is hardly engaging and the structure is fragmented. However, Varda’s invitation to step in and feel the film, as opposed to merely consume it, is a priceless gift for the modern film lover. Simply observing the ebbs and flows of a slice of life in a town called La Pointe Courte, and absorbing Varda’s artistic vision through images and rhythms is enough to appreciate what cinema has to offer.

posted by Carillon (1 comment total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Really stunning movie, made all the more impressive in that it was her first film ever! The overlapping shots of the couple at right angles really pop on screen, and I love how the couple in some ways symbolize exactly what's happening to the town. The town is under new and stricter fishing regulations due to bacteria, and is trying to navigate how to survive and keep their own traditions from increased attention from the metropole. It's no mistake the man is from the village and his wife is from Paris, I read their interplay as a trying to navigate a more modern world together.

Too, the government only seems to care about their production from the village, not about the citizens themselves. It's only the sale of shellfish that causes multiple trips by the state, no where do we see the state caring about the child that died for instance.
posted by Carillon at 1:20 PM on May 21, 2023

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