Breathless

There have been only a few selected foreign films that have captured my attention. Perhaps it’s not my preference to have to read words while watching a film. Breathless is one that’s extraordinary. I had no issue immersing myself into the film’s universe. I think what makes this film special is its unique trait that portrays the story in a realistic fashion.

My favorite part has to be the bedroom scene in which we watch 30 minutes of Michel and Patricia going back and forth in her bedroom. There was no prolific reason behind the lingering except Michel wants to have sex with Patricia. Coincidentally, this scene reminds me of what I used to do with my ex-girlfriend and her name is Patricia as well. I can relate to the movie very well. I guess this is probably the reason why I was hooked on it even though it’s a subtitled film.

I also liked the ending for its ambiguity. The director intended to leave all of the audience happy by leaving the conclusion up to us to define individually. Although the ending is vague, it is by no means a cliffhanger. The ending is a nice closure to the story arc and ends the journey of our protagonist Michel. If only Michel survives in the end.

Hence, I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend this movie to anyone who’s interested in unique styles of filming. “Breathless” is a great film that shows the distinct French New Wave culture and film-making style. Everything is spontaneous. It’s definitely in my top three list of foreign movies. Fantastic movie.

Film Analysis: Bonnie and Clyde (1967)

In Bonnie and Clyde (Penn, Warner Bros, 1967), the highly controversial and iconic ending sequence utilizes strategic camera position and mise en scene to portray violence and taboos that were becoming a popular phenomenon in the United States during the 1960s. Bonnie and Clyde tells the story of two notorious bank robbers during the 1930s. The film depicts the rise of Clyde Barrow and Bonnie Parker and their ultimate demise when they were betrayed by Ivan Moss. This scene is considered to be one of the bloodiest death scenes in the history of cinematic.

The scene opens with a close up shot of Bonnie and Clyde driving in a car with Bonnie asking if it is Mr. Moss in the distance. The somewhat distant road implies that the long journey of the couple is finally nearing an end. We are then cut to a long shot of Ivan and his truck from Bonnie’s point of view for a brief few seconds before being cut back to a medium close up shot of Bonnie and Clyde for a split second. The camera then cuts to a medium shot of Ivan as he walks closer to Clyde’s car to signal him to stop. Another cut shows Ivan masking his true intention with a warm smile. We are then cut back to Clyde and Bonnie as she flashes back a smile.

The shot is then cut to the point of view of the car as it gears towards Ivan and veers to the right. The camera is then cut to a medium shot of the car as it comes to a stop. We are cut to a medium shot of Ivan as he walks to his lorry and waves Clyde to exit the car. Clyde exits the car and walks towards Ivan while chewing apple. At this point, the scene flashes from shot to shot between Ivan and Clyde as they each look in different directions and the suspense is fueling. A shot shows birds flying out of bushes and we are cut to a shot illustrating a car driving closer. Ivan goes prone under his lorry.

The tension keeps building as the camera cuts a shot of some bushes. This shot hints at an ominous surprise that is about to break loose. The camera flashes between shots of Clyde and Bonnie looking at each other in horror. We are cut to the bushes once again and the firing begins. The camera flashes back and forth between Bonnie and Clyde being shot at countless times and the law enforcement team shooting. Shots of the police are in normal speed while shots of Bonnie and Clyde being riddled with bullets are in slow-motion.

The slow-motion shots of Clyde depict his lifeless body being thumped with each bullet penetrating, vividly capturing the motion of his body slowly swinging around before hitting the ground and roll. Shots of Bonnie display her body falling out of the car halfway in full glorious details. The last shot shows the dead couple in a sunny and green setting. The shot looks almost too peaceful and calm for a tragic incident. “Peculiar” would be the most suitable term to describe this last shot. The scene is then abruptly cut to credits.

In a way, this scene can be perceived as one that glorifies crime for it depicts the downfall of the outlaws in an epic way. Furthermore, the film stresses the point that Bonnie and Clyde’s motif was largely due to fame and notoriety. During the time this film was released, America was entering the “New Hollywood” era and this film is arguably one of the first few films of that particular era. Perhaps the rise of popularity in youth’s choice is what fueled the ultra violence and taboos promoted in this film.

Film Analysis: Umberto D

In Umberto D (Sica, Dear Film, 1952), the scene where Maria wakes up in the early morning to do chores utilizes strategic lighting, camera position, non-diegetic sound, and mise-en-scene to illustrate the grim and bleak life of many in post-WWII Italy. The film’s goal to capture a rather harsh and unromantic look at life is considered the Italian neorealism. Umberto D primarily focuses on the hardship that Umberto Domenico Ferrari face every day to have a stable settlement and cope with loneliness. However, Maria’s story also lends itself to portray the bitter life in Italy in that time period nevertheless. The particular scene mentioned does an exceptional job at portraying the theme directly and metaphorically.

The scene opens with a medium shot of Maria lying in her bed barely awake, accompanied by a non-diegetic music that emanates a somewhat slow and somber tone. The music remains throughout the entire scene to convey the notion of both the lack of steady social and financial progress in Italy and the sense of hopelessness for Maria. A few seconds later, the shot is cut to Maria’s point of view. The camera is tilted upwards to shoot black a cat walking by the glass roof. I believe the director’s intention is to allude that someone is always watching. Also, through mise-en-scene, the dirty roof depicts the poor condition of shelters. We are then cut back to a medium shot of Maria reluctantly getting off her bed.

As Maria stands up, the scene is cut to an extreme long shot of Maria from the other end of the corridor. In this shot, we see that Maria’s bed is well-lit and the corridor gets darker as she walks towards the camera while putting on her thin and lousy maid coat before entering the kitchen. The contrast in lighting here suggests that citizens wake up from bright dreams only to return to stark reality. Upon Maria’s entry into the kitchen, we are cut to a medium interior shot facing the door Maria’s entering and it pans to the left to follow Maria inside the room. This shot displays the dirty painted with ants and scratches. Maria wipes the ants with a piece of paper, burns it, and walks towards the window with a hint of curiosity in her facial expression.

We are cut to an extreme long shot from outside the window and the camera zooms in to a head and shoulders view of Maria staring outside blankly. The shot is then immediately cut to view a rooftop with a white cat and the other blocks of apartment. The significance of this shot is vague but it is intriguing that we often see characters in this film looking and staring at something with no clear motif. Perhaps their stares are a symbol of weariness and loneliness. The lighting  mechanic here is simple, sunlight from outside the window peaks into the dim room. That can be interpreted as there is room for hope to a brighter future in the sea of darkness. We are then cut back to the previous shot and the camera pans right before we are cut to a medium interior shot again. This shot has the camera pan around to follow Maria around the kitchen.

The final shot of this scene begins with a medium shot of Maria pressing her right hand against her heart and stomach, and the camera slowly moves closer to meticulously present Maria’s face. Her facial expression appears to be very peculiar as she blinks rapidly. This expression struck me as a sudden change of state in her senses. It may be a foreshadowing of an imminent event or simply her paranoia, thus it’s possible that the director wanted to address the worrying thoughts of Italy in that era. In my opinion, this is a superb use of mise-en-scene to subtly unravel a sheer abstraction in the film. The scene then abruptly fades out.

The elements aforementioned adhere this particular scene to the overall theme of the dark and gritty world in post-WWII Italy. After WWII, the basis for everyday lifestyle in Italy was the struggle to break out of poverty and desperation. Life was unforgiving for many and Umberto D is a great piece of work that reflects upon that. Although the film was publicly attacked, it was critically praised for its triumph in creating a realistic look at the struggle wrapped in the package of a deep plot and fascinating characters. Hence, Umberto D is a significant Italian neorealism work which did a great job of promoting its philosophy.

Early Summer (1951)

“Early Summer” is definitely one of my favorite foreign films. It vividly portrays the everyday nuances of a Japanese family in the 1950s, which is far different than what I’ve witnessed and experienced. I find myself fascinated by the Japanese etiquette and their cultural traditions. What strikes me the most is the notion of how straightforward Japanese people are. Remarks that would be considered indirectly offensive in my society were taken as mere jokes in the film.

I also find it interesting that Noriko struggles for her emancipation and remains optimistic throughout the film. She is able to determine her own course of action despite being pressed to make a decision by her family. Many tease and press her to marry someone before it’s too late and she does not succumb to the pressure. Instead, she acted according to her own instinct and reason. It reminds me of a friend who refused to accept an arranged marriage with relentless effort against her parents’ will.

I often find it hard to fully immerse myself into foreign films due to my reluctance to read the subtitle and watch the movie simultaneously. However, I did not have that trouble at all with “Early Summer”. The gestures and the comedy were sufficient to keep me in my seat for two hours. That is an extraordinary accomplishment considering how much I loathe subtitle. In my opinion, subtitle hampers the immersion of films as it makes the audience read just as much as to watch.

All in all, I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend this movie to anyone who’s interested in unique styles of filming. “Early Summers” is a great film that shows the distinct Japanese influence in both culture and film-making style. It comes in second after a Swedish film called “Let the Right One In” in my personal top foreign films. I wonder how many people in this class have watched that film.

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