“The parent system’s no good. Pa grumbles while Ma’s sweet and silent…”

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Fair haired girl, Pauline, 17, she sings – her ex-neighbor Suzanne, 22, doesn’t. In the early 60’s, strong-willed P is having trouble with her parents, so she visits S, who is having trouble with her boyfriend Jerome, married to another woman. S also has two kids and is unintentionally pregnant. There’s illegal abortion drama, Jerome kills himself, and a title card says “ten years later”…

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For those who didn’t get Le Bonheur and thought it was asserting male dominance and endorsing cheating on your wife, here’s Varda’s explicitly feminist movie – exploring the joys and pitfalls and terrible music of 1970’s feminism. Unfortunately, explicit feminism (or explicit anything) doesn’t work as well for me as Varda’s more ambiguous movies have… movie is kinda obvious and messagey at times, but she still takes a multifaceted story approach to her message.

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Anyway, ten years after the suicide, the women meet at a women’s rights demonstration. P is calling herself Apple now, sings a cheesy “my body is mine” song, playing the worst kind of acoustic guitar and tambourine folk. Actually I kinda liked the piano song she sings on an Amsterdam canal boat with her fellow abortion patients later on. S runs a women’s clinic, while P tours her music and theater group, and the two keep in touch sporadically over the years through the mail. Suzanne eventually marries pediatrician Pierre and Pauline goes to Iran with her man Darius (an economist?), and now the two have to cope with being wives and mothers while trying to keep their values uncorrupted. P finds it’s tough to be feminist in Iran so she ditches her guy and returns home. Ends with a lingering shot on Suzanne’s grown daughter, looking troubled at the thought of taking over the plot.

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P. Kael said “Varda brings a Disney touch to women’s liberation.” Otherwise there isn’t crap about it on the internet, besides saying it’s from France, Belgium and Venezuela, which doesn’t even seem to be true.

an Apple performance:
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Every movie released in 1977 looks dirty and cheap. Did the entire international film world’s budget go into the first Star Wars? Dialogue is in French, but credits and voiceovers are in English, hmmm. Maybe all this is because of my shady videotape copy.

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Pauline (Valérie Mairesse) was in Tarkovsky’s Sacrifice and Lucas Belvaux’s Trilogy and Suzanne (Thérèse Liotard, above) was in a Bertrand Tavernier sci-fi flick with Harvey Keitel and Harry Dean Stanton – must see that. The composer shows up as an actor, with four-year-old Mathieu Demy in tow. Assistant camera (in the Iranian scenes?) is appropriately by Nurit Aviv, France’s first licensed female cinematographer.

“I have enough joy for both of you. Happiness works by addition.”

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Francois is so happy, because he has a wife (Therese) who cares only for him and their two lovely kids. He has a rewarding job as a carpenter, and a good relationship with his brother. One day he meets lovely postal worker Emilie and starts an affair with her, and now he’s even happier. Francois has so much joy that he can’t contain it all, so he tells his wife how happy he is to have two lovely women in his life, and an hour later she goes off and drowns herself. A few months pass before Emilie moves smoothly into the role of wife/mother, and Francois’ happiness continues as before.

Explaining the situation to the wife:
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The movie, with its bright colors, prominent music, and unsettling focus and editing tricks, is amazing – probably my favorite Varda movie so far. I’d heard it was a deeply ironic, very unhappy movie but I don’t think that’s true, despite the death (not explicitly a suicide). Varda’s got happiness (in feeling and appearance) on her mind, but isn’t cutting it down or saying it doesn’t exist.

Fade to red:
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Varda: “I imagined a summer peach with its perfect colors, and inside there is a worm. And impressionist paintings, which emanate such melancholy though they depict scenes of everyday happiness. I listened to Mozart, I thought of death’s preponderance. I wrote the film fast, and shot it fast, like the vivid brightness of our short-lived summers. At the time, it provoked much commentary. I said: ‘In a world full of prefabricated images of happiness, it’s interesting to take apart the cliches.'”

Agnes says at the time she hadn’t seen another film called Happiness and she liked the word. I guess Marker didn’t get the Medvedkin reissued until a few years later.

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Lead actor Jean-Claude Drouot would go on to appear in Chabrol’s La Rupture and Klein’s Mr. Freedom, and his wife would continue not to be an actress, never appearing in another film. Marie-France Boyer (Emilie) had a couple starring roles after this, but fades away after 1970.

A few film references: they go to see a Louis Malle comedy (not giving the title or director, so it took some sleuthing), and watch a scene from Renoir’s Picnic on the Grass (an appropriate title, and another impressionism reference) on television. Then there’s the poster below, advertising Wilder’s Irma la Douche, John Wayne in McLintock, and is that Wyler’s 12-year-old Detective Story?
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Movie got a silver consolation prize in Berlin after being beaten to the gold by Alphaville.

The New York Times didn’t get it (and called it Varda’s second feature – I guess if La Pointe Courte didn’t play NYC it doesn’t exist).

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I want to quote the entire Amy Taubin essay because it’s great, but I’ll restrict myself to this bit about the final shot: “When we return in the last scene to this same patch of countryside, it is already late autumn. All that’s left of the sunflowers is their dry stalks. Just as François has replaced one wife with another, Varda replaces the late woodwind quintet with an even later and darker Mozart chamber work—a transcription for strings of the melodic themes of the original piece. The dirgelike sound suggests that as the family, holding hands, walks away from the camera, into the shadowy recesses of the forest, it is already entombed.”

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The DVD extras are all by Varda herself – only other director I can think of who does that is Peter Jackson. Includes an interview between the two lead actresses and Varda’s daughter, which looks like it was edited by a crazy person. Short interviews with the people of Fontenay about their ideas of happiness. Writers’ quotes on happiness (“He who speaks of happiness always has sad eyes” – Aragon), interviews with two people with the last name Bonheur, a doc of lead actor Jean-Claude Drouot visiting the town of Fontenay and talking with locals about their memories of the film shoot, a 1964 documentary of Agnes on the film shoot (below, with husband Demy)
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And four intellectuals discuss the film and its ideas of happiness, from which the following:

Michele Manceaux:
“If [the death] was an accident, it was psychosomatic. I think we can say it’s suicide. But it’s hard to fathom how something as serious as suicide could be treated in a story which is like a fairy tale.”

Frederic Bonnaud:
“Max Ophuls made a wonderful film called Pleasure, not Happiness. And the last line is ‘Happiness is not gay.’ That’s it, someone says, ‘But sir, happiness is not gay.’ And I think Agnes’ film is pretty much an analysis of that line.”

The liner notes say that Cleo’s real-time progression through Paris is very accurate, and that the only cheat is that the 90-minute film wasn’t titled Cleo from 5 to 6:30. This was more documentary-like than I’d remembered. Somehow I’d turned it into a Godard film in my mind (possibly because of his appearance in the film-within, or maybe because I saw Breathless the same week), but it’s really quite naturalistic, the long travel segments in buses and cars reminding me more of Rivette than Godard.

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Katy actually liked it – the first French movie she has liked in a year and a half (Amelie doesn’t count). She was especially happy about the guy Cleo ends up with at the end – an army guy on leave about to return to Algeria. They share a sense of foreboding in the park. He listens to her (unlike Cleo’s rushed boyfriend who visits her apartment) and accompanies her to the hospital, where her diagnosis is not so serious. Katy thinks the two of them will meet again, or at least that he will write.

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I haven’t seen Cleo (Corinne Marchand) in anything else, though she’s in Demy’s Lola. I loved the scene where her composer (Michel Legrand!) and lyricist come to her apartment to try out some new songs – Cleo sings one and gets lost in a close-up.

Trapped inside the song (where the nights are so long):
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Shut up, Michel Legrand:
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Cleo’s maid Dominique Davray had small parts in Any Number Can Win and Casque d’or, and her nude model friend Dorothée Blank is still acting today, appearing in Resnais’ new Wild Grass. Her boyfriend/lover José Luis de Villalonga was in Malle’s The Lovers. Varda (along with Antonioni with L’Eclisse and Bunuel with The Exterminating Angel) lost the golden palm to a Brazilian realist movie about a sick donkey.

Cleo with maid in awesome apartment:
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Dorothée Blank’s backside:
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Cleo with Villalonga:
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