La Pointe Courte is the second Agnès Varda (French New Wave director) movie I’ve watched and written about recently. The first was Cleo from 5 to 7, which mostly didn’t draw me in. I liked La Pointe Courte slightly better.
La Pointe Courte is the name of the fictitious little fishing village on a canal in France where the film takes place. The movie is an overview of life in this town. Most of the people are generic characters doing generic things, like a docudrama addressing “What was life like in a typical 1950s French fishing village?”
The people spend a lot of their time dodging the government health inspectors who are trying to enforce rules about not fishing in certain areas or not taking certain kinds of fish (due to bacteria content). There are also meals, dances, sports (a boat-based “jousting” tournament), romances, death, and various other components of people’s experiences in this town.
The closest thing to a plot, or to more fleshed out characters, is a young married couple discussing the state of their relationship and whether to break up. He is from this village, and she is from Paris. This is her first visit to see where her husband grew up.
There are some things I liked about this film, but for the most part it only held my interest modestly more than Cleo from 5 to 7, and significantly less than the typical movie I watch.
One thing that could have been an intense point of the film—the death of a child—is handled quite peculiarly. It comes and goes so quickly that you’d think it was an event of about the gravity of missing a bus. It’s as if the approach is “We’ll show you a hundred events that take place in these people’s lives, but we won’t put more emphasis on some than others or treat them as a bigger deal,” like some kind of odd principle of neutrality. Not sure what to make of that, but it didn’t work for me.
I also don’t get the bouncy soundtrack. It’s something between what you might hear at a circus, and the background music on a sitcom. An odd fit for this material.
The couple examining their relationship is something of a mixed bag. It certainly has a different feel from the rest of the movie. It’s all very highbrow stuff—exchanging bon mots, talking past each other with pontifical claims about love as they gaze sadly off in the distance, trying to top each other’s philosophical or pseudo-philosophical observations, etc. Much more like a foreign art film—or a satire of one—than like the simple, observational realism of working class life that makes up the rest of the film.
But while a lot of their dialogue comes across as pretentious and stagey, some of it did speak to me at least a little. It’s hit or miss, but some of what they say—like about a relationship having to transition from that early phase of extreme passion and fascination and physical attraction, or about how a person can be more committed to their abstract notion of being in love than to the person who is the supposed object of that love—had meaning for me. I’m not going to say it’s anything hugely profound or anything completely new to me, but not all of their dialogue is just bullshit and posturing.
I’m still not sure what to make of the wife’s looks by the way. She has a very odd face. My first reaction was that for a woman in her 20s or whatever she’s supposed to be, her face looks more like someone 50. From other angles at other times it doesn’t so much look old as just unattractive, perhaps in a mannish way. At yet other times her face started seeming appealing to me.
I tend to like unconventional faces. I’d say a good 90% of the time when my initial reaction to a woman is “She’s really different looking, but I can’t decide if she’s unusually attractive and sexy or unusually ugly,” I end up attracted to the person. So my guess is she would grow on me and I’d eventually find her unconventional face interesting and appealing. For now, though, she still looks odd to me.
In a way I like the docudrama realism of most of the movie. Granted, it makes for a mostly dull viewing experience, but at the same time I see it as having considerable value.
If you were to ask me what movies from the ’50s I think are most entertaining or would most like to watch again, this wouldn’t rank high at all. But if you asked me which I’m glad exist, which would have the most value to put in a time capsule, I’d rank this quite a bit higher.
Because I think documenting what life was like for people in this substrata of French society during this time period is a worthwhile enterprise. And while that certainly could be done with a book or nonfiction documentary or set of audio oral histories or whatever, I think a fictional film like this is also a legitimate method.
So, I wouldn’t want to sit through a lot of films like this, but at some level I appreciate that someone wanted to preserve this information in this form.
I also enjoyed the cinematography. Once in a while it maybe crosses the line to being a little too showy, calling a little too much attention to itself, but there are a lot of really interesting shots in this movie.
For instance in this seaside town there seems to be a plethora of cats, so it’s not unusual that in the background of a shot, a cat will walk slowly into view, look around, and have a little stretch or two. Or someone will carry a long pole across the shot in the extreme foreground, such that as you’re watching people talking or whatever, there’s this seemingly interminable pole passing under them.
Or the intriguing cavelike feel of how the married couple is shot when they’re conversing inside a large boat that’s under construction.
On the whole La Pointe Courte isn’t a movie that made a big impression on me or that I enjoyed all that much, but there are certainly elements of it that I admire.