Monday, June 12, 2017

The Short Point

So I watched La Pointe Courte off my DVR over the weekend. It's available as part of a pricey Criterion Collection set, so I'm reasonably OK doing a full-length post on it.

The movie starts off with a bunch of people in a small fishing village in the south of France going about the daily things they do when they're on shore after having caught their fish; at least, that's what the men are doing. The women don't do the fishing but raise the families with lots of children in tiny homes. To add to the stress of such a life, the government is on their case as apparently they're fishing in an area the government has deemed unsafe.

None of the people in the above scene are professional actors; it's the people of "La Point Courte", which is technically not so much a village as it is a section of the French municipality of Sète, a real city on the western part of France's Mediterranean coast, and nowhere near as glamorous as the Riviera. Their little bit of land forms a lagoon, and it's in the lagoon that they do the fishing. The scenes of La Pointe Courte dealing with the fishermen and their families are pretty much like the Italian neo-realism style.

Into all of this comes a man (Philippe Noiret; his character's name is never given), who stops at the nearby train station to pick up his wife (Silvia Montfort, whose character's name is also not given; the two are referred to as "Him" and "Her"). The man was born in this town but moved north to Paris, which is where he met his wife. However, he's cheated on her and she's thought about cheating on him, to the point that she thinks the love may have gone out of their marriage and she might want to divorce him. He asked her down here to show her where he came from and presumably to help her gain a new perspective on him.

The film alternates between the lives of the villagers, with the married couple talking and talking and talking, sometime joining the two together as when the town has its water jousting festival (which is actually a real thing that still goes on to this day). Eventually the couple comes to an agreement about where their lives are going to go, and leave town while the villagers go on living as before.

La Pointe Courte is a movie that I find difficult to rate. That's largely because it's really two movies in one. Director Agnès Varda had gone down to Sète to take still photographs on an assignment, and found the place so visually arresting that she decided to make her first movie there, and this is the result. The scenes with the villagers are interesting, helped by outstanding cinematography; Varda's early career as a still photographer probably helped out in that regard. There's a lot of striking black-and-white imagery and camera angles.

But then we gets scenes of the married couple. La Nouvelle Vague translates as "The New Wave", and this movie is generally considered a precursor to the French New Wave. But the French vague can mean the same thing as the English vague, and scenes like the ones in this movie with the couple make me think that calling it the French New Vague wouldn't be so inappropriate. These scenes drag the film down and make it tedious to the point that you want them to leave so we can see more of the lives of the villagers.

If the DVD weren't so damned expensive I'd give La Pointe Courte a higher recommendation. But if you can do the streaming thing and it's on Filmstruck (I don't do streaming video thanks to a lack of bandwidth), that might not be such a bad option for watching. Because the movie really is worth at least one viewing.

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