Pierre Braunberger

The Laboratory of Fear (1971, Patrice Leconte)

The Laboratory of Fear is all about expectation. For the short’s eleven minutes, writer and director Leconte wants the audience to expect something. Lots of foreshadowing. Some of it matters, some of it is red herring.

The short opens very documentary-like, with a voice over explaining the modern (for 1971) laboratory. The lab’s so hip they’ve even got a woman scientist (Marianne di Vettimo); better yet, she’s actually good at her job (just ask any of the fellows, says the narrator). Cue opening titles, which end with a disclaimer: don’t expect too much scientific accuracy. So why open with the documentary style? To control the audience’s expectations.

There’s no way to predict, from that opening tag, Fear is actually going to be about lovesick custodian Michel Such going from annoying crush to possibly dangerous stalker. di Vettimo, however, doesn’t seem to notice his escalation. She doesn’t know she’s in the Laboratory of Fear, she just thinks she’s at work, trying to make some silver iodine and getting messed up because Such needs constant attention from her. He even tries to show off for her, sticking his hand in various kinds of dangerous chemicals. Presumably the actor didn’t have to do it, but who knows… di Vettimo is manipulating the spilled mercury by hand without a second thought (because 1971).

The short seems to be a race—will di Vettimo take notice of Such’s possible threat before Such escalates to the point of being dangerous? But the race is yet another of Leconte’s manipulations. The punchline, which is excellent, is as unpredictable as the setup. Though Leconte has been building to the punchline since after the opening titles; should it have been expected? Probably not. Not even if one is familiar with di Vettimo’s experiments, since Fear’s not about the hard science.

Good creeper performance from Such. Decent one from di Vettimo, who doesn’t really get anything to do. Leconte’s direction is fine, save the occasional visual flourishes. They’re to play with expectation too, of course.

Fear’s a competently executed narrative with a nice kicker.

2/3Recommended

CREDITS

Written and directed by Patrice Leconte; director of photography, Jean Gonnett; edited by Marguerite Renoir; produced by Pierre Braunberger.

Starring Marianne di Vettimo (Clara) and Michel Such (Antoine)


Une histoire d’eau (1961, François Truffaut and Jean-Luc Godard)

Une histoire d’eau has a sense of humor, which ought to do it some favors, but none of the humor connects. The short, which co-director Truffaut apparently intended to be a romance, is instead this rushed, peculiar… blathering would be the best word for it, I think. D’Eau is about college student Caroline Dim trying to get to Paris for class. Only it’s the seasonal mountain thaw and there’s massive flooding so she can’t take the bus in. After a series of mildly amusing traveling on the flood waters to get to school—there’s a boat, there’s a bicyclist—Dim hitches a ride with Jean-Claude Brialy. Now, Brialy shows up in the narration—opposite Dim—only it’s co-director and editor Godard doing the voice. It doesn’t make much difference, Brialy’s character doesn’t get enough narration it’d be good if someone better than Godard were doing it. Given Godard edited the short and co-wrote it, the narration seems his contribution. So when he doesn’t even give any enthusiasm to his performance of said narration… well, it’s not a good sign.

Of course, worse is how Godard edits d’eau. He cuts in other footage of the flood from a helicopter, which would be fine but then accompanies it with some silly, jazzy music. There’s no rhythm to the cuts and especially none to the sped up film he eventually goes with. At one point Dim and Brialy are walking across a flooded marshy area and Godard sets it to a dance number. Only they’re not dancing. And even if they were doing physical activities reminding of dancing, he cuts it together all wrong. It’s kind of amazing how little Godard seems to care about the short.

Later on they do stop and do an official dance, which is utterly charmless.

The last bit, when Dim reads off the credits in her narration, is all right. Not enough to make d’eau worthwhile, but it’s all right. And the short’s only twelve minutes and the flood footage is compelling. Nothing else about the short is compelling and no doubt a natural documentarian would do a better job, but the flood’s something at least.

1/3Not Recommended

CREDITS

Written and directed by François Truffaut and Jean-Luc Godard; director of photography, Michel Latouche; edited by Godard; produced by Pierre Braunberger; released by Unidex.

Starring Caroline Dim (The Young Woman) and Jean-Claude Brialy (The Young Man); narrated by Jean-Luc Godard.


Charlotte and Her Lover (1960, Jean-Luc Godard)

Somewhere around minute seven–of an unlucky thirteen–Charlotte and Her Lover's ending started to seem inevitable; predictability makes the last six minutes even more tiresome. Writer, director, and de facto lead Godard (he looped in the ranting monologue for onscreen lead Jean-Paul Belmondo) could have done the whole thing in three minutes and maybe gotten away with it. At thirteen minutes, it's just annoying (though I guess it does move fairly fast).

The short opens with Anne Collette, who's not very good but how could one tell given she mostly just makes cute little noises and has maybe two actual lines before Lover's punchline. She's going to Belmondo's apartment, where he's chewing on a cigar–sometimes a cigar's just a cigar but not here–and being a soulful unpublished novelist. They're former lovers. She left him for a successful movie guy. He rants and raves at her for eleven minutes, saying very little of content. Given Godard then dubbed all the audio, it seems like Lover had an actual script, but… wow, if it did. It's real, real bad. Ad-libbing it maybe you could forgive some. But Godard intentionally writing out the rant for someone to deliver aloud?

Icky bad.

Nothing Belmondo says matters in the end because of the punchline. But it's mostly pseudo-macho blather with some nice passive (and active) misogyny thrown in. Though Godard presents Collette from Belmondo's perspective–she's an adorably dressed nitwit who has what seems to be a clown's theme accompanying her on the soundtrack. Again, if it were ten minutes shorter… might work. Ten minutes shorter with a minute for the opening and closing titles. So two minutes instead of thirteen. At that length, the lack of character for Collette might be all right and Godard's delivery of the monologue might not grate too much.

Alas, it's that thirteen.

Lover doesn't just not have the script going for it–and an entirely dialogue-based short with a lousy script is already circling the bowl–it also doesn't have any visuals going for it. Godard's composition and stage direction aren't any better than his dialogue (or his performance).

Like I said, sometimes a cigar is just a cigar, but sometimes it's a metaphor for the short being a turd taking thirteen minutes to finally go down.

Charlotte and Her Lover is risible.

1/3Not Recommended

CREDITS

Written and directed by Jean-Luc Godard; director of photography, Michel Latouche; music by Robert Monsigny; produced by Pierre Braunberger; released by Unidex.

Starring Anne Collette (Charlotte) and Jean-Paul Belmondo (Jules).


The Song of Styrene (1959, Alain Resnais)

The Song of Styrene is gorgeous. The way director Resnais showcases the plastic press-styrene becomes plastic through chemical processes (Song of is an industrial promotional film)—it’s a solitary object, removed from the factory setting and just amazing and new looking. Even when something’s weathered, like the industrial plants, it all looks new. Very futuristic, very clean. When there’s the eventual shots of coal, it’s stunning how much it contrasts with the very clean, very futuristic look of everything else. Coal is elemental, even as the narrator talks about its mysterious origins (Song is from 1959).

You’d think someone might notice how the story of a created plastic whatever going backwards to being coal gas is visibly clean to dirty; there’s not a “look how this dirty rock turns into something beautiful” sentiment either. Song has narration. A lot of narration and narrator Pierre Dux goes from being excited about plastic being pressed to excited by the power of fossil fuels. Song is a very obvious promotion, albeit a visually impressive one.

It’s not an intellectually impressive one. Not even for 1959. Maybe it’s Dux’s narration or Pierre Barbaud’s music. Until the fossil fuel blathering starts, the Barbaud’s music is Song’s biggest problem. It doesn’t not match Resnais, cinematographer Sacha Vierny, and editor Claudine Merlin’s visual charting of an industrial plant, it just doesn’t add anything to the visuals. Resnais, Vierny, and Merlin have it covered. The music and narration are just noise, disingenuous noise.

During that visual survey of plants, tracking the pipes and so on, Song hits its peak, which is something given how cool the opening with the plastics gets. But Song tells the story backwards, which Resnais doesn’t—it’s not like visual sequences play in reverse—and it hurts the potential. For a 1959 energy company promotional video about the wonders of fossil fuel and how it makes everything clean and modern… Song’s pretty good. The visuals engage enough the narration and intent don’t really matter. But it doesn’t transcend that intent. The attention Resnais places on the solitary plastic press doesn’t carry over to the industrial plants; such a feat would be outside the technological capabilities of a 1959 promotional short. But it’s also what Song would need to be anything more. Resnais, Vierny, and Merlin letting loose instead of dancing in place, the script, narration, and music moving the film along instead of the actual filmmaking.

And opening with a Victor Hugo quote about the human condition is, in the end, a little much.

2/3Recommended

CREDITS

Directed by Alain Resnais; written by Raymond Queneau; director of photography, Sacha Vierny; edited by Claudine Merlin and Resnais; music by Pierre Barbaud; produced by Pierre Braunberger; released by Les Films de la Pléiade.

Narrated by Pierre Dux.


Love Exists (1960, Maurice Pialat)

With a title like Love Exists, it seems reasonable the short might turn around and stop being so intensely depressing, but no. The film, written and directed by Pialat with narration by Jean-Loup Reynold, starts with people leaving the city (Paris) proper for their night in the suburbs. It’s not clear yet what the narrator’s take on the workers’ commute is going to be but there’s some definition foreshadowing. Pialat does some visual foreshadowing throughout, but never as much as at the beginning.

Once the film arrives in the suburbs, the narrator talks about growing up there and how it used to be. Pialat juxtaposes the contemporary with the memories, using the sound effects to bind the two. Sound is very important in Love Exists, especially in the first half, as Pialat and Reynold take us through these neighborhoods, introduce us to the people living there. The mostly poor, the mostly uneducated, the workers. They spend their lives on the commute, hoping to survive to retirement age, their lives as unchanging as their ancestors, the fourteenth century farmers.

Contrasted with the plight of the working class is the build-up of Paris. The build-up of some suburbs. Next to the brutal new housing structures, where the children play amongst the concrete and steel, on their way to becoming good worker drones too, are the shanty towns. The debris isn’t from the war, it’s from the constructed. It’s not from the past, it’s from the future, which leaves out the workers.

Just when you think Pialat can’t get any more depressing, he looks at the situation of the older adults, the workers who made it to retirement, who exist in homes. Casted off once they’ve survived. The last moment manages to be even more devastating.

And Pialat and Reynold get to that devastation with the melancholic Georges Delerue score, which ought to work against Exists, but doesn’t. The music never overpowers the narration, the narration never overpowers the sound design. Nothing can approach Pialat and cinematographer Gilbert Sarthre’s shots either. Early on, it seems like the world can only exist in the black and white of the short, but by the end it’s hard to imagine the world actually existing in color.

Great editing from Kenout Peltier.

Love Exists is an extraordinary, rending twenty minutes.

3/3Highly Recommended

CREDITS

Written and directed by Maurice Pialat; director of photography, Gilbert Sarthre; edited by Kenout Peltier; music by Georges Delerue; produced by Pierre Braunberger for Les Films de la Pléiade.

Narrated by Jean-Loup Reynold.


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