Blows & Butterflies

February 4th, 2008 § 0 comments

I have seen two movies this week, both in French, that were both quite good, and coincidentally, one referenced the other. I don’t know very much about Truffaut and his films, but Les Quatre Cents Coups or The 400 Blows was a surprisingly sincere look into the mind of an adolescent boy, Instead of being about sexual awakening, most American films seem to think the only interesting, difficult, or important thing about being a teenager are the dangers of sex (and perhaps drugs), this film was about the hierarchical systems of society. We see this through classroom scenes and days spent revolting against the rules. The stupidity with which we understand children and the meaningless tasks we give them makes one wonder how dumb a child would have to be not to protest and disobey. We follow our protagonist as he struggles to find ways around the “rules” of his life, rules that his parents don’t seem to have to follow in the same way. It is amazing how quickly this attitude leads toward “crime” and what happens to children who do not follow along with society. I was reminded of The Stranger, and Camus’ point of showing that it was alright for his protagonist to commit murder, he was sentenced instead because he did not cry at his mothers funeral. This oversight of what society deemed normal, caused him to be seen as cold, inhuman, and therefore criminal. Once this young boy was seen as a lost cause little he did was going to change the manner in which adults, the rule makers and keepers, would treat him. It is amusing to note that he was arrested and disowned by his parents for putting back the typewriter he stole from his fathers desk at work. He could have left it anywhere but the fact that he chose to take it back was his own undoing, almost as thought his act of teenage thoughtfulness, was proof of his bad nature. There is something too about boys and violence that society detests in teenagers, they are almost feared as though they have the power to hurt and yet not the “manly” discretion to know who to hurt and when. I was reminded of my brother as a teenager, strolling up the street one day looking cool and gang-like in his wife beater. Our neighbors were convinced for a good long time, while I was still allowed to babysit their children, that he was a delinquent and dangerous. As he became a charming and handsome (at least in appearances) young man they forgot this past image–an image was all it ever was. My favorite scene in the film was the 14-year-old speaking to the psychiatrist at the military school, a scene where apparently the actor created his own lines and stories, and he shows us what his life has been, a scene that not only justifies and explains his behavior but casts a shadow upon those truly responsible for causing it. Once we judge and blame, however, it seems quite hard to change convictions, and this film seems to point out the meanness of relying on societies convictions to show us right from wrong, good from bad.

On Holly’s recommendation I also saw Le scaphandre et le papillon or The Diving Bell and the Butterfly, which was playing at Grove St. in the upstairs theater, which is so small there is hardly room for ones legs. We were sitting above the much more popular There Will be Blood which was playing, of course, on the larger screen. Still, I am surprised this film even came to Richmond, and for that I am grateful. The chair of the sculpture department, alone, was sitting directly behind Jake and I. Holly said I should see this film because it was about images, and the story talked about memory, the past and present, loss. It was a lovely film, and did seem to be made of up piles of images layered to create a kind of narrative film. Again I don’t know very much about Schnabel, and am still puzzled how he could direct a film in French, but according to most this is his best film. It is a very strange mixture of elements and perspectives, and the characters have a human element that most tragic American films lack. The editor of Elle seemed to be quite a chauvinist, and it was not his locked-in situation that forced you to like him, but the fact that he was not all bad, nor was he the great man many thought him to be. Instead, his life was filled, as anyones must be, with tragedy, triumph, folly, love, lust, good decisions and bad. In his new situation we watch as he ponders over what he has done, who he has been, what he is now, and how all these things inform each other.

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