LA POINTE COURTE (Agnès Varda, 1953)

Belgian-born Agnès Varda would go on to make some exceptionally beautiful French films; however, her first feature, La Pointe Courte, is a failed experiment. Far from launching the nouvelle vague, as some insist that it did, its desentimentalized version of Italian neorealism is its only connection with the French New Wave. Alain Resnais edited Varda’s film; but Resnais also had nothing to do with the nouvelle vague, was not one of the signators of the movement’s founding document, and pursued a more formally invested cinema, one more reliant on intricate editing than on the liberated long takes and camera movements—the sheer enthusiastic freedom—that most of us associate with the nouvelle vague. Resnais was admired by New Wavers for doing his own thing. He wasn’t the enemy; but he was also not one of them.
     Inspired by the alternating chapters given over to parallel material in William Faulkner’s 1939 novel The Wild Palms, Varda’s film alternates between a documentary approach to a fishing village and the conversations between a visitor and his wife, often while they walk, whose four-year marriage totters on the brink of dissolution. The man was born in this struggling village; the woman is a Parisian. Culture, then, divides them, and a confusion of identity grips the young man. (Philippe Noiret, who plays the husband, was 23 at the time—and slim!) This aspect of the film is very formal and stylized, very Resnais-ish.
     The village material is much more interesting, with its use of actual villagers and its portrait of lower-class life. Children get their faces slapped; a child dies; people work. At a full-blown village get-together, one soul remarks to another, “Parties don’t change a thing, but they make us feel good.”
     This film’s stylistic disparity doesn’t work.

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