As a part of the BFI’s love season, Darkened Rooms and Chapter Arts Centre screened Breathless and Amélie upstairs in the French restaurant Le Monde. Lines of red seats were set up in front of the projector screen, with a bar near the back serving food and drink. People’s silhouettes were superimposed on the bottom of the screen as they moved to their seats like a cinema in the 1940’s.
Breathless (1960)- Beau Beakhouse
On the 13th of November the screening was of Breathless, directed by Jean-Luc Godard, one of the most famous films of the French New Wave movement in late 50s and 60s French cinema. It is set in Paris as Michel (Jean-Paul Belmondo), an arrogant, misogynistic figure carelessly gets into a police chase and kills a police officer. He returns to Paris and continues his interactions with Patricia (Jean Seberg), an art journalist. He continuously attempts to sleep with her, and the two have long conversations in her apartment and in the streets of Paris. Two detectives come looking for him and he continues stealing to evade them as the newspapers focus the headlines on his murder story.
Godard’s film is almost a parody of the crime and detective films being produced by Hollywood cinema in the classic era, films like The Big Sleep, Hitchcock thrillers, 40’s film noir, stylish films with big stars, and love, action and murder. Godard’s film contains all of this but in a very different way. He refers to other films clearly in the plot and through the characters (for example Patricia brings up William Faulkner, who also wrote the screenplay for The Big Sleep). Michel is a figure clearly influenced by American cinema, in his style, his actions and in his language. There is a scene in which he smokes and stares at a poster of Humphrey Bogart outside a cinema and Godard cuts back and forward between them as Michel seems to subtly impersonate him.
Godard’s narrative is choppy, using jump cuts, music and editing techniques unlike Hollywood cinema to tell the story. The main narrative of suspense, murder and detective work almost forms a subplot for the main narrative which is, for the most part, the conversations and the attempts at connection between Michel and Patricia. The dialogue is full of statements about men and women, about art, about French and American society, about cinema and about acting. And the influence of America is continually present in the film, in its cultural references and themes, and in the setting as President Eisenhower visits Paris.
The film is beautifully choreographed, the set up of every shot is complex and full of stylisation, frames with mirrors, striped dresses, Parisian apartments, smoke and paintings and art studios. But Godard’s film has an intimacy unlike the films it is influenced by. For all the themes and the suspense within the narrative, it is about the two characters and whether or not they can ever really connect in their relationship.
Amélie (2001)- Eleanor Parkyn
On the 14th November the screening was of Amélie (2001), a quirky romantic comedy directed by Jean-Pierre Jeunet. Primarily set in Paris in the months following Princess Diana’s death, Amélie follows the life of quirky Amélie Poulain (Audrey Tautou) as she attempts to carry out selfless deeds for strangers, colleagues and those she lives with. This is inspired by her discovery of a box of childhood memorabilia stashed away in her flat, belonging to a previous occupant, who she becomes intent on locating and returning it to. She goes on to accomplish several more ‘good-deeds’, including sending her father’s garden gnome around the world, delivering photographic evidence of it next to famous landmarks, done in an attempt to encourage her father to travel the world; something he longed to do before somewhat withdrawing himself from society. While Amélie is the protagonist, each character in the film has their own sub-plot, and is introduced with a selection of their likes and dislikes, often with clips demonstrating these, allowing for the characters eccentricities to really show. During the latter half of the film, Amélie encounters a man, who despite never having spoken to, falls madly in love with. But do not fear, haters of romance! This is by no means a standard rom-com, as instead of declaring her love, she leads him around Paris via a series of notes, phone box calls and photo booth pictures.
Despite clearly being set in Paris, the film seems to occur within its own universe, created through the use of bright red and green colours, which seem to transform Paris into a fantasy world. The colours make the film constantly bright and happy, making even the saddest parts, such as Amélie’s lonely childhood, seem like a series of joyful events. This is aided by the amusing nature of the film; through a combination of the more eccentric characters lines, Amélie’s well thought out pranks on the abusive greengrocer, and a scene involving a suicidal goldfish. The quirky atmosphere of Amélie, is further created by the soundtrack, composed by Yann Tiersen; a brilliant collection of music that somehow encompasses all that Amélie’s Paris is.
The French feel was deepened by the screening being held by Darkened Rooms at French restaurant Le Monde, where the music, decor and food really added to the atmosphere. This was spoiled a tiny bit by the sounds of the club night occurring below and on the street outside, particularly during the quieter parts at the end of the film, but this couldn’t really be helped, as obviously no restaurant will be as soundproof as a cinema will be. However, overall the experience was as brilliant as the film itself.
If you’re interested in the sound of Darkened Rooms, look out for an article and interview on it in the next issue of Quench, or follow @ to see when screenings are being put on!