Friday, January 29, 2010

The 400 Blows: Societal Justice and Accountability

The French New Wave (Le Nouvelle Vague) is an artistic movement that “made its first splashes as a movement shot through with youthful exuberance and a brisk reinvigoration of the filmmaking process.” (Phillips, 2005). It emerged during the 1950s and was at its peak between 1958 and 1964. Furthermore, this movement is based on two guiding principles of Cahier critics at that time: (1) a rejection of classical montage-style filmmaking in favor of mise-en-scene, or literally, “placing in the scene” (favoring the reality of what is filmed over manipulation via editing) and (2) a conviction that the best films are a personal artistic expression and should bear a stamp of personal authorship.

Moreover, it was in 1959 that the French new wave really ‘broke’. Truffaut’s first feature, “The 400 Blows (Les quatre cents coups)”, was one of the featured films during that year. It was considered as a semi-autobiographical film, which means that this film was inspired by Truffaut’s troubled childhood. In fact, this filmmaker considers his first feature as his most personal film, and he even identified Antoine Doinel, the lead character in his films, as his alter-ego. Just like Antoine, Truffaut too had an adoptive father and a mother who resented having a child. Moreover, it is evident that this film is considered as a New Wave film, since it exhibits one of the guiding principles of the movement, which was the personal authorship of the film. Thus, The 400 Blows is one of the most important films of the French New Wave, as it is considered to be one of the earliest and most successful New Wave films.

“The 400 Blows” tells about a story of a young teenager boy named Antoine Doinel who is going through a difficult childhood as he struggles with the hardships of life. He lives with his mother who really did not want him to be born in the first place, and with his stepfather who does not understand him and even brought him to the police for stealing a typewriter. Moreover, he also deals with difficulties at school as he always get scolded and punished by his teacher for reasons that at times are really his friends' fault. He also struggles with studying as he is not enjoying it and would prefer working rather than going to school. As a consequence of always getting into trouble or causing the trouble, he is finally sent to a juvenile camp or center. Nevertheless, at the end of the story, he gets to see what he has been long dreaming about- the ocean or the sea.

Going to the themes of “The 400 Blows”, there's friendship, family, education and childhood that can be found in this film. Furthermore, the central themes that are to be found in this film are escapism, mischief, discipline, injustice and disobedience or noncompliance. Escapism is a central theme in this film because aside from the apparent and final escape of Antoine from the juvenile center, he would previously escape from his parents every time he gets into trouble by staying at another place, such as his friend Rene's house. He would also escape school by not going to class and watch a movie or go to an amusement park instead. Mischief is also a dominant theme because the lead character himself, which is Antoine, is always a mischief. He steals things such as a bottle of milk, his stepfather's Michelin Guide and a typewriter. He would also fool his teacher by writing a forged excuse note for not being able to go to school and also his parents by asking them a certain amount of money that is more than what he really needed. In addition, discipline is also a central theme in the film as one can see that Antoine is punished in different ways for many times by his parents and his teacher as he always misbehaves. There is also injustice as a central theme of the film as Antoine experiences maltreatment from his parents and his teacher. He is not rightly treated by his parents since they would let him only sleep in a sleeping bag. On the other hand, his teacher accused him right away of a crime such as the pin-up incident without even knowing what really happened. Finally, disobedience or noncompliance is a central theme in this film as Antoine disobeys his parents and his teacher and would not strictly follow his school's rules.

Now looking at the political aspect of the film with its given themes, “The 400 Blows” mainly depicts the portrayal of power and coercion through institutions in the society. First of all, who should discipline Antoine for misbehaving? It can be seen in the film that every time Antoine is in trouble at school, the school would always call his parents. There was this instance that the teacher even said something about parents being responsible for their children. On the other hand, Antoine's parents are considering sending Antoine to a military school as they know that he would be disciplined in there. This could mean that in the film, there is a confusion of roles and responsibilities between the two of the most prominent institutions in the society- the family and the school. Moreover, at the end of the film, Antoine is sent to the center for juvenile delinquents, which means that he is now under the institution of law.

Another question is who should be really blamed for Antoine's deviant behavior? One can see that in the film, Antoine's mother does not really take care of his son while Antoine's teacher at school is very strict, harsh, and unfair to his students. So is it Antoine's family, or Antoine's school that should be blamed? Supposedly, it is the institutions in the society that establishes the rules and norms that shape the behavior of the people. However, in the case shown in this film, it seems that it is the institutions themselves that determine or shape Antoine's behavior. If I'm not mistaken, it was pointed out in the class discussion that Antoine's deviant behavior represents disorder, or a challenge to the society's order. If this is really so, then this means that in the film, the order in the society that the institutions have established is threatened by the institutions themselves.

Nevertheless, these institutions are the ones that are powerful in the society, as portrayed by the film. An example of this is Antoine’s teacher. We see that he has authority, thus power, over his students as he forces them to follow his rules and punish them if they disobey him. Hence, based on the ‘carrot and stick’ approach, the teacher uses ‘stick’ to his students to get to obey him or in other words, to manipulate their behavior. On the other hand, Antoine’s parents, given that they are authoritative figures since Antoine should follow them, are using the ‘carrot’ so just Antoine would behave. In other words, they reward, or even bribe him, just so that he would conform to what his parents want.

As the portrayal of power is very evident in the film through the role of the institutions, coercion is very evident in here as well. These powerful institutions use coercion to control the actions of Antoine. This means that they use threats and punishments in order for Antoine to follow the rules. For example, Antoine’s parents threaten him that if he does not do well in school or does not behave well, they would be sending him to military school. The same way also goes for Antoine’s teacher. He threatens Antoine that he would call his parents if he does not behave in school. Moreover, one who coerces another person has power over that person because he or she is able to influence the behavior of that person with the use of threats and punishments.

In conclusion, I think that “The 400 Blows” not only tells us what a difficult childhood could be like, but as to who could be and should be responsible for the welfare of a child. Furthermore, I think that this is where the public and private sphere goes in as well. Should the government (the public) be the one to discipline a person who does not conform to the society or, should that person’s family (the private) be the one to discipline their family member? And my one last question for this film would be, ‘Which is better so that one would follow the rules: to punish, or to reward?’



“There are no good and bad movies, only good and bad directors.” Thus wrote François Truffaut in one of his essays in the year 1954, pertaining to the French-originated film theory called La politique des auteurs, or more commonly known as the auteur theory. A brainchild of prominent critics of Cahiers du Cinema, it claims that the film medium acts as a blank canvass for the artist that is the filmmaker. Every film has a distinct signature that makes it different from the rest of what was produced, thus the director would be regarded as an auteur or author of his work. Truffaut, Godard, Chabrol, and Rohmer, to name a few were staunch advocates of this approach, and even especially applied it to the films which they themselves would later on produce.

Now the La Nouvelle Vague, or the cinematic movement known as the French New Wave, could be said to be an application of this particular theory to practice by the writers of Cahiers. Noted in the decades of the 50s and 60s, this movement was “linked by their self-conscious rejection of classical cinematic form and their spirit of youthful iconoclasm”. The movement broke free from the constraints of the literary and narrative form of the classic French cinema (which was regarded as “high” or untouchable art), and became more engrossed in the social and political debacle that came during that time. Thus, works like Resnais’ Hiroshima mon amour and Godard’s A bout de soufflé, not only had idiosyncratic themes and stylistic elements, but also became a commentary on social reality.

Following the same paradigm, French auteur François Truffaut’s The 400 Blows (Les quatre cent coups) is a lustrous example of the characteristics of such movement. Created in the year 1959, this French New Wave classic shows the struggle not just of protagonist with his identity as an impoverished youth, but also the struggle with authority, institutions and social constructs. The film follows the unfortunate life of a typical Parisian adolescent named Antoine Doinel (Jean-Pierre Léaud) as he faces one trouble after another. Be it in school with difficult teachers, at home with parents who constantly argue, or at a detention center for juvenile delinquents, Antoine faces the unintended consequences that a boy of his disposition entails. He is singled out for his mischievous ways, no matter how he tries to escape from reality. The movie ends with the protagonist breaking free from the constraints of the detention center and running towards the sea and a future of uncertainty.

One of the main objectives of Truffaut in coming up with this particular film is “to portray a child as honestly as possible…” (Writing About Film, 1982). This perhaps is the point of view of the movie. It looks at the realities of the world through the lenses of a 12-year old boy, undergoing both internal and external conflict.

It must be noted first and foremost that Anotoine, being an adolescent, at the time when he is not considered a child, but at the same time he isn’t exactly an adult. He is in an awkward phase where he is still trying to figure out who he is and what his purpose is in life. Thus, it is inevitable that without proper guidance, he could easily swayed into doing reckless actions—such as skipping classes, ganging up on the teacher, and rebelling against his parents. However, one must note that this is merely at the identity level; and that there are still other external forces that mold the boy into his identity. Social institutions such as the school and family (as seen in the film) could account for who he is and who he might become. And as one might notice, the very institutions that he socializes in are fractured: for instance, at school, he is punished for doing petty slipups by his strict teacher; whereas at home, he is ignored by his mother and father. His exposure to theft, illegal business, and detention disillusions him in such a way that it corrupts his childlike innocence. This is materialized in the scene where Antoine was taken by the police and placed at the back of the car, as the camera zooms to his stoic face and subtly shows a tear running down his cheek. One would see that Antoine is helpless with his condition, because he becomes directly involved with all these internal and external elements.

The film is quiet, but powerful; as it does not force the audience to perceive the film in a certain way; rather it lets the simple unfolding of the plot tell the story as it is. Truffaut, in his first full-length feature, was successful in showing the struggle that Antoine has experienced as boy coming of age and living in a Paris that is totally different from what one might expect. The camera simply follows the boy, without judgment, without preconceived notions whatsoever. In fact, it also seems as though the viewers are part of the movie since there are certain camera shots wherein the characters themselves look straight at the camera. Though one might argue that The 400 Blows can be further appreciated given the fact that it is based on the childhood of the filmmaker himself (creating “authorship”, literally), it also makes sense to see only what’s on the screen. In this sense, the viewers are empowered to dig their own layers of meanings based purely on the film.

Also, the technical aspect of the film also puts itself in the shoes of the young Anotoine. There are instances wherein the camera uses high angle shots to frame the setting, such as in the first scene of the film: The viewers see Paris in such a way that it seems towering and intimidating as exhibited by the worm’s eye view of the camera. This perspective is what most youth view the world---innocent, even to the point of being scary. In addition, the film elements play up on the interplay between the innocence of youth and the corruption of adulthood. For example, it was in one memorable scene with the children watching a play that we see their simple joys and content, as opposed to the adults who need to be secured of wealth, beauty, or power to feel satisfied with their lives, as exhibited for instance by Antoine’s mother or the father of René, Antoine’s best friend. This brings viewers to questions the authority of adults: just because they are older and wiser, does it necessarily mean they know better? After all, these are the ones who was responsible for a World War a decade or two from when the film, and therefore the setting, was established. It seems that Antoine learned the answer the hard way—that the adults do not necessarily have all the right answers. Thus, through the long shot when he was running at the near end of the movie, there is a sense of wanting to escape from the clutches of the system inhibited by adults, into a world of his own idealization. The movie ends with a famous freeze frame of the protagonist, with his uneasy eyes staring at the viewers, forcing us to look back at all he had been through and reflect on the uncertainties that lie ahead.

Overall, Truffaut’s The 400 Blows is a cinematic experience about the youth, one that enriches viewers with French culture and at the same time empowers the viewers to think deeply about the thought-provoking premise of the story. If it truly is “raising hell”, as what the English translation claims it to be, then can one expect a hell simply because of Antoine Doinel’s own misgivings, or is it because it was shaped by some other hell in its context? This is something to ponder on to truly appreciate the film.



The French New Wave. (n.d.). Retrieved from Wikipedia:

Auteur Theory. (n.d.). Retrieved from Australian Catholic University:

The 400 Blows (n.d.). Retrieved from the Internet Movie Databse:

Feuring, D. (2009). Responsibility of the Auteur: Vulnerability of the Troubled Filmmaker. Retrieved from Suite 101:

Friday, January 22, 2010

Kiss Of The Spider Woman - Escape and the Parameters of Significance

Nominated with four Oscars including Best Picture, Best Director (Hector Babenco), Best Adapted Screenplay (Leonard Schrader), and Best Actor (William Hurt), the film “Kiss of the Spider Woman” is a very thought provoking film by South American filmmaker Hector Babenco. The film’s screenplay was adapted from Manuel Puig’s 1976 novel of the same name. William Hurt’s excellent portrayal of a homosexual convict earned him an Academy Award for Best Actor in 1985. Hurt and other members of the film cast and crew also got nominated in several award-giving bodies. “Kiss of the Spider Woman” deals with issues of homosexuality; escapism; and the divide between fantasy and reality; and the impacts of rightist regimes on individuals and the struggle against such regimes. The lastly mentioned issue tackled in the film makes “Kiss of the Spider Woman” a highly political film.

Valentin Arregui and Luis Molina, the main characters in the film, share a prison cell. Arregui is imprisoned for his links with a leftist group, while Molina is imprisoned for having sex with a minor boy. Molina recounts a Nazi propaganda film to help Arregui and himself escape the realities of being imprisoned. As the story progresses, the two prisoners learned to respect and understand each other to the point of becoming mutual – a turning point which shaped the concluding events of the story.

Told in the point of view of the two main characters and devising a multilinear narrative, the movie shows the viewer the parallelisms between the Nazi propaganda film Molina shares to Arregui and their own experiences as it unfold in the film. Both the Nazi propaganda film and Arregui’s struggle (to which Molina became involved) explore the fight against rightist regimes. Though the French resistance and the leftist revolutionaries of Brazil do not share the same political ideology behind their causes, what they have in common is being anti-rightist/fascist. In the film, occurrences that are typical in rightist/fascist regimes like political imprisonment and torture are discussed. Another parallelism between the Nazi propaganda film and the two main characters’ experiences is the failure of oppositionists against rightist/fascist regimes, and traitorship against the anti-rightists. In the “movie in a movie”, Leni Lamaison and her friend Michelle were killed by their French resistance comrades due to their personal actions that are against the interests of their allies (Michelle is impregnated by a German soldier while Leni fell in love with a Nazi counter-intelligence chief). On the other hand, it may be implied that Molina was killed by the leftists he are trying to help in the belief that they are betrayed by him and that these leftists found out that Molina is being followed by the operatives on his way to the meeting.

It is unclear whether or not the film espouses and advocates a particular political ideology. What is certain is that both the “movie in a movie” and the whole film itself are anti-rightist in nature. One thing that can help the viewer judge the film whether or not it advocates a particular political ideology is the screenplay. The screenplay is adapted from the novel of the same name by Manuel Puig. He is an independent socialist. To add, in an article by Judy Stone, Puig said:

“At the same time, the book is very much about the Argentina of 1973. There was ideological repression and social repression. I wanted to put those things together. The rightist government was suspicious of any leftist ideology and the leftists were puritanical in the sexual area. The repression was expressed in different ways. What I mainly wanted to talk about was the possibility of people changing.”

From what Puig said, I think that he is very much sympathetic to the leftist cause. It must be noted that the suspicion on leftist ideology by the rightist government is clearly shown in the film. It must also be noted that Puig’s independent socialist personality is reflected in his statement above as well as in the film. This stems from the fact that the leftist Arregui is indifferent towards Molina for most parts of the film. Therefore, it may be safely concluded that the film is left-oriented while also advocating respect for homosexuality.

The film is allegorical in a way. The character of Luis Molina is the embodiment of fantasy while Valentin Arregui’s character is the personification of reality. Some of the two characters’ dialogues in the film symbolize the debate between facing ugly truths people experience and employing escapism – avoiding facing real life situations people encounter.

The political content in the film is conveyed through Arregui’s recounting of events before his imprisonment, the two main characters’ experiences inside their shared prison cell, and the Nazi propaganda film Molina is recounting to Arregui. Molina’s transition from being apathetic to sympathetic to the causes of the leftist revolutionaries can be seen as a symbolism of the possibility of changing people’s belief system. Other elements of the mise-en-scene such as the music and costume design are commendable. Featured music and costumes worn by the actors in the film are very much reflective of the times in which the scenes are set.

On a personal standpoint, I say that the film “Kiss of the Spider Woman” was a moderately effective medium of political socialization. While it has delved to the issue left-right dichotomy, the film did not discuss the matter deeply. The film is also not that clear on the issue whether or not support movements against rightist regimes. It is left to the individual viewer’s understanding of the story on whether or not the film advocates such action. On the other hand, the film also has its merits. It succeeded in informing the viewer of the harsh realities that political prisoners experience. Plus, the story and well-conceived and the actors played their parts excellently.

References: Bordwell, David & Thompson, Kristin. 2004. Film Art: An Introduction, 7th Edition. Boston, MA, USA: McGraw Hill Stone, Judy, 1985.

Manuel Puig Dreams in Technicolor”. American Film, at, accessed 21 January 2010.


A 1985 Brazilian-American drama film, the Kiss of the Spiderwoman was made during a time where the issues it presented were very sensitive to the public, giving it paramount popularity and importance the time it was screened. Directed by Argentine-born Brazilian director Hector Babenco and adapted by Leon Schrader from the celebrated novel of the same title by Manuel Puig, embodies themes of human dignity and compassion surviving in a society where it denies it (Kipp, 2008). The movie was made during a time where gay liberation was at its height, considering that the film was made in the pre-Aids era when gay, feminist and radical politics intersected. The political context of the film also sat at a time where there were forced disappearances and political arrests and imprisonment for acts of communist revolutions mainly in South America. Confirmation to its popularity in the public and the industry of moviemaking were its garnered awards. It acquired the Academy Award for Best Actor for William Hurt, including best actor awards from BAFTA Awards, and the 1985 Cannes film festival. The film was awarded the inaugural Golden Space Needle award from the Seattle International Film Festival. Not to mention its nominations for Best Picture, Best Director, and Best Adapted Screenplay in the Academy Awards. It also won in 1993 one of the Top Tony Awards in as best musical and best screenplay. The characters of Molina (William Hurt), a homosexual window dresser who is very fond of glamorous movies and Valentine (Raul Julia), an alpha male, die-hard Marxist revolutionary, shared a prison cell, stories and experiences and eventually something special that changed both of them. They pass the time by Molina recounting to Valentine one of his favorite films, a romantic wartime movie, in great detail where Molina embroiders the characters and scenes to distract Valentine form the harsh realities of imprisonment , torture and loneliness. At the latter part, it becomes clear that Valentine is being poisoned by the warden, and Molina was tasked to extract information from him. He was promised freedom if he provides them with information regarding the communist activities of Valentine. The twist of the story occurred when Molina fell in love with Valentine and refuses to poison him and extract information anymore, it didn’t matter if he gets out of prison or not, but seeks to find meaning in his life through Valentine. However, Molina was freed by the police in the hope that he will lead them to the revolutionary group of Valentine. True enough, Molina decided to make a telephone call to the cadres of Valentine and decided to meet them, the police followed suit resulting in gun battle and the death of Molina. Meanwhile in prison, Valentine, back from a torture session lying in the infirmary escapes in the most dramatic way with the woman he loves. He escaped all the pain and loneliness in the only way he knows and possible for him, an escape which is death.

Offered in the point of view of the two characters, the movie depicted how people treat what they perceive as outcasts of the society. We cannot deny the stereotypical presentation of the film as it presented a gay window dresser who molested a boy

and was put to prison. The character of Molina became an effective conveyor of how people treat gays in particular and how society persecutes them in general. In the point of view of Valentine, he was portrayed stereotypically as a leftist-journalist, who was associated with the communist revolution, with all those manly features only a cadre could posses. Valentine’s character is the ideal portrayal of how our society treats political subversives and our loathing of differing political ideas that are presented to us. These social outcasts therefore are put to prison just to reform them and correct their differences with the hope of blending with the society.

The film highlights the differences in the world and how they can co exist and eventually relate. It is a brilliant study of worlds in collision. The black and white codes of straight vs. gay, masculine vs. feminine, reality vs. fantasy, and power vs. submission erode until nothing is left but myriad shades of gray (Klemm, 2009). In the film, we can identify these collisions in the characters and what they portray. At first, there was a really rigid conflict between the two, in terms of personal emotions, relationships and desires. Not to mention the political ideology and activism that was also a highlighted theme in the movie. The movie offered two very different characters, one who is an avid fan of escapist fantasies and the other, a die-hard communist who disregards pleasure and romance. However, they made a connection through their shared experiences in the prison cell and their toleration of each other’s differences. They transformed each other in such a profound way in that they found meaning in each other. Valentine succumbed to his emotional and physical desires to Molina, and learned how to express them. Molina meanwhile, struggled to find meaning in his life and decided to search for it through joining the revolutionary struggle presented to him by Valentine.

The film did not bother to hide its allegories but presented it in another layer of narrative which is a movie in the movie itself. The film tried to present to the viewers that the boundaries of fantasy and reality can be bridged and that we can escape the harshness of reality if we really want to. The other layer of narrative in the film provided both of the characters a way to escape the prison cell and dwell to their memories and desires. In the latter part of the film, another allegory although revolving around this concept was also presented by Molina. It was the spider woman and her coveted kiss. The spider woman being trapped in her own web is symbolic of us being trapped in what we are in now. Being trapped in our reality. The kiss connotes liberation from this trap in that we can freely dwell in reality and fantasies providing a bridge between the two and ultimately provide meaning in our lives.

The film is a very effective medium in presenting the political content of the many relevant issues that are being presented in the film. Most import

antly, the film was considered as somewhat arresting when it presented and explored concepts of gender roles and answers questions of what should a woman be, what one should look like. The character of Molina, who considers herself a woman is a massive leap for gay liberation, as it disputed the criticisms of the society to homosexuals. On the other hand, the film also presented a gender role which was centered in the cha

racter of Valentine. The film explored how the society expects a man to act, especially in the time where masculinity was depicted to suppress emotions and desires.The author of the film was very effective in presenting these gender roles because he was once persecuted of being a homosexual during his boyhood in Argentina. When asked of what people should expect of the film, he replied:

"I wanted to

explore the basic dynamics of human behavior and

show that sometimes a person becomes trapped in a role when there are

possibilities of being many other things."

These gender roles were razed when the two characters of the film eventually broke the norms of what society expects them to be, sealed profoundly with the magic of the kiss.


Friday, January 15, 2010

Hiroshima Mon Amour - Memory As A Repository Of Loss

A movement in art is a reaction to the “changes in psychology produced by changes in the social environment” (Bagulaya 2006, citing Leon Trotsky). Art form therefore changes as a corollary to alterations in the environmental and material conditions of society. Such conceptualization parallels the base-superstructure relationship, wherein “ part of the superstructure” (Eagleton 1976). Art then is not an autonomous product, removed from its social context. It production is partly determined by relations prevailing in a societ

In an attempt to avoid the determinism associated with this Marxist formulation, it is to be noted that art is not wholly the making of the ruling social order; it is not a passive product. Indeed, changes in art forms may also be seen as attempts to institute transformation in a particular society. Art, in this case, is political in that it can be an instrument to perpetuate or alter a particular social order. That said, there is a tension between the base and its expression in the superstructure (i.e. art). This cannot be better displayed in the process of producing film as it is a collaborative art (hence, involving multiple reading). By its very nature then, the production of film undergoes a process of mediation. Although a concept in literary criticism, this process captures the complexity of film production in relation to the base-superstructure dialecti.

How exactly is the social milieu mediated in the film? Eagleton, in view of literary criticism, provides what may be seen as filters in art production: mode of production, literary relations, ideology, authorial ideology, and aesthetics. For the purpose of this film, however, only the authorial ideology and the mode of production will be discussed (the others will be included within these two broad filters, so to speak). The mode of production here will be used in an expanded manner such that it will pertain to the socio-historical context of the film itself. The authorial ideology, on the other hand, refers to the predisposition and techniques utilized by the director (and screenwriter) in the film.

Hiroshima Mon Amour began with the initiative of Argos Films to produce a documentary about the atomic bombing towards the end of the World War II. The purpose, therefore, of the film is to present the “truth” about the Hiroshima bombing. How such is presented can be seen as we examine the film.

Hiroshima (1959), together with Les 400 Coups, is “one of the two most original films made in France since the war.” With an attempt to interweave past and present, the movie inaugurated Alain Resnais, the director, to the forefront of Le Nouvelle Vague of the late 1950s to 1960s. The New Wave is a period in French cinema that is said to be influenced by two guiding principles: the rejection of classical cinematic form and the idea that a film is a personal artistic expression, consequently, bearing the mark of its author/director. The rejection of the classic literary style of French cinema was a critique to what Jean-Luc Godard referred to as “oppressive and deterministic” nature of their plots. Auteur theory, on the other hand, was in reaction to the tendency of post-war France to adopt old traditions, couching in aesthetic terms the “attempt to remove film from the realm of social and political concern” (Hiller 1985). The filmmakers then took on social and political upheavals of the era. Alain Resnais, himself, has documented several including Nuit et Brouillard (Night and Fog, 1955), a documentary of the holocaust also produced by Argos Films.

Such characterization is present in the Hiroshima. For one, it deals with a real event through a mixture of documentary footage and narrative fiction. Further, as has been argued, the film espouses a different kind of character development and, consequently, different kind of narrative. Resnais himself, in an interview, suggested that the viewer is supposed to cast their own interpretation of the story, saying that he was just one viewer. Auteur-ship, however, is still evident in the film and will be discussed later in the essay.

The socio-political and economic context shortly after the World War II has also influenced the movement and the film under consideration, as well. It must be noted however that France was almost continually at war until 1962. Further, from 1946-1958, the Fourth Republic went through twenty governments. It is therefore not surprising to see Hiroshima maintaining an explicit anti-nuclear war, and war in general, stance. In connection with this, the film raises an unequivocal question pertaining to the rationality/absurdity of human existence. The exhibition of the casualties in the Hiroshima bombing presents an indictment to the very idea of war.

Delving deeper into the film, it presents a non-linear narrative employing a stream of consciousness and a sense of experience through memory. The rapid and brief flashback device neatly weaves the places of the past and present. The woman is caught in a clash between remembering and forgetting the past. The parallels between the Japanese man and the German lover present a difficulty on the part of the woman to achieve emotional satisfaction. The “anguish of forgetting” however is the loss of her very identity.

In reconsideration, the opening scene tells a lot about the film. The display of unclothed bodies holding each other and the nuclear ashes beginning to cover them illustrate an attempt to merge the private and the public. It is an expression of personal pain in the context of a larger social setback. The title itself connects “Hiroshima” with the woman’s love.

Authorial ideology determined the mode by which the political content is mediated in the film. The combination of narrative fiction and documentary footage in the film, for instance, was determined by the director and the screenwriter. Further, the political prejudice of the auteurs is reflected in the film.

Alain Resnais, with his preoccupation in the themes of time, memory, and history, attempts to rediscover “unity from a basis of fragmentation”. The seemingly disparate elements in the film (the French, the Japanese, Nevers, and Hiroshima, among others) are constantly seeking reconciliation in the film. It is here that we see Resnais at play: “the world is broken up, fragmented into a series of tiny pieces, and it has to be put back together again” (Hiller 1985). Such can is illustrated in the rebuilding of Hiroshima and the reconstruction of the woman’s identity.

In contrast with the earlier documentary on the holocaust directed by Resnais, however, Hiroshima is more restrained in that it resorted to express its political content through narrative film rather than a more explicit documentary format. This can be attributed to the difference between the Germans and the Americans, and therefore, the Japanese and the Jews. To make a documentary regarding the tragedy would then translate to documenting horrors perpetrated by the Allies.

Marguerite Duras, on the other hand, brings out the “gender aspect” of the film. If surveyed, much of the works of Duras grants importance to places and geographical locations. For Duras, place plays an important role in the formation of women’s identity and experience. Mohsen (1998) puts it thusly:

Place is incorporated in women's identity as the result of the forced silence and solitude women endure in patriarchal societies, where they are relegated to the interior of homes, or to Nature, while men participate in the political sphere and monopolize speech, a situation that the female protagonist in Hiroshima mon amour has experienced in all its traumatic implications, since her identity is built as loss or erasure.

The film then may be construed as a reaction to the “persistent continuation of gender inequality.” That being said, Hiroshima is an arena where the ramifications in the French society, the political motives of the auteurs, and the status quo are reconciled.

Ultimately, it is important to note that Hiroshima Mon Amour was produced to supposedly present the “truth” about atomic obliteration of Hiroshima. Such destructive experiences however are so distressing and personal that representation through documentary is impossible. It is only achievable if it is illustrated through personal experiences of love and suffering. The importance of lived space (i.e. Hiroshima), especially for Duras, is integral in reliving and understanding such experiences.

O. P. Imbat

Bagulaya, J. D. (2006). Writing Literary History: Mode of Economic Production and Twentieth Century Waray Poetry. Quezon City: University of the Philippines Press.
Cardullo, B. (1987). Indelible Images: New Perspectives on Classic Films. Lanham: University Press of America.
Eagleton, T. (1976). Marxism and Literary Criticism. Berkeley: University of California Press.
Hiller, J. (1985). Cahiers du Cinema, the 1950s: Neo-Realism, Hollywood, and the New Wave. Cambridge: Harvard University Press
Mohsen, C. (1998). Place, Memory, and Subjectivity in Marguerite Duras’ Hiroshima Mon Amour. Romanic Review 89(4), 567-582.

Hiroshima Mon Amour was made in 1959 by Alain Resnais, along with the 400 blows and breathless, it is one of the most significant films of what become known as the French New Wave.

The movie is a symbolic love story meshed with the gruesome bombing of the city of Hiroshima. On the facade the film has a very straightforward plot. A French actress Elle is in Hiroshima because of a movie about peace. There she meets a Lui, a Japanese architect with whom she had a one night stand. Even though both of them are married they find themselves falling in love with one another. Since they are both married they understand that romance is doomed. Significantly, Elle has been in the same situation before with a German soldier. In the movie Elle was relating her first love to Lui and the consequences of it; in this regard it highlights a single contrast between the past and the present. The movie seeks to present more than this that it implies parallels between joy/despair and society/individual. The analysis of this dimension of the films opens up to a much wider scope of interpretation of conflict to whether it is best to realise true desire for an instant, rather than never having been presented with the temptation in the first place.

The movie is all about the dialogue of two lovers and their pasts. It can be observed that even if Elle is talking to her Japanese lover, she is really talking to her past lover. In a strange psychological shift, Lui assumes the incarnate role of Elle's German soldier in her reminiscences, thus enabling her to unlock her oblivion and relive her repressed memories of love, loss and the despair that followed. So all is not what it seems. There are surfaces under the surfaces. All the elements are in juxtaposition. The movie swirls with myriad intermeshed images, symbols, allusions, and metaphors. Through this, the movie explores the nature of forgetting and remembering with regard to human emotions.

Hiroshima Mon Amour also deals with contrasts and opposites such as love and death, war and peace, living and remembering, as well as dealing with two people from different parts of the world: one from France and one from Japan. The overall theme of the movie was that of torture and exorcism, it is the painful knowledge that eventually all shared moments will be forgotten no matter how resonant they may be. Then with the dissipation of memory, our very substance would be affected. This is a terrifying thought but there are at least illuminations in the obscurity of the situation.

With her confusion behind them, the enigmatic yes-no, stay-go relationship between Elle and Lui continues into the wee hours of the morning, with each trying to say their final farewells, but wandering the streets of Hiroshima instead, only to find themselves at an all night café, which by no coincidence is called Casablanca. There, it becomes painfully obvious that their ill-timed and ill-fated love was never to be. At long last, back in her hotel room, their agony is ended, but not resolved, with the dawn. The essence of the movie was that the thought of in love and in war, we must never forget. We must remember things even though we never wish to remember them. Because it is by these memories we are constituted of.

An alternative viewpoint would that this movie is no more meaningful than a blank piece of paper since the whole construct is obscure because it contains nothing. However the film can easily take this accusation because Hiroshima Mon Amour is and will always be a film to be judged personally.

So much has been written about Hiroshima Mon Amour since its induction into the history of cinema. The film has been reviewed and analyzed by critics, scholars and filmmakers, and has been unanimously recognized as a cinematic milestone and a benchmark by all.

R. Mora

Friday, January 8, 2010

The Shawshank Redemption: The Locus of Justice

“Why are these men in jail?” – comment,

Nominated with seven academy awards, including Best Picture, Best Actor (Morgan Freeman), Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Cinematography, Best Editing, Best Original Score, and Best Sound, The Shawshank Redemption is a riveting, engrossing, film directed by Frank Darabont who adapted horror master Stephen King’s 1982 novella Rita Hayworth and Shawshank Redemption for his feature film. Note though that this film was only nominated, it failed to win a single Oscar given that the film was created in the same year as Forrest Gump, Pulp Fiction, and Speed, who received all the attention. Only through cable TV and video releases did the film do well- although its original reception at the box office was considered lukewarm. Darabont’s film is a very endearing and moving, slowly-detailed, allegorical tale of friendship, patience, hope, survival, emancipation, and ultimate redemption by the end of the film.

Andy Dufresne, protagonist in the film, is sentenced to two consecutive life terms in prison for the murders of his wife and her lover. However, only Andy knows that he didn’t commit the crimes. Sent to Shawshank Prison to do hard time, Andy, a banker in the outside world, has to learn to get by in the brutal, cutthroat confines of prison life. His quiet strength slowly earns the respect of his fellow inmate, and even much of the prison staff.. His seemingly stoic acceptance of his unjust imprisonment hides a fierce determination for freedom.

Written, from the point of view of one of the prisoners- Red (Morgan Freeman)- the film was able to convey the brutality of the life in prison by showcasing even subtly the sodomy and the physical abuse, the psychological torture and the emotional crushing that a prisoner undergoes behind the walls that first served as a bar to freedom to them and a home pillar in the end. Also, the first-person point of view of the movie, made the movie more realistic to the wider audience, making the prisoners who are, outside the film, seen as a danger to society, relatable such that their experiences inside the prison made them appear human again- one with a heart and a soul who strives for redemption. In fact, the comment on top “Why are these men in jail?” showcases this beautifically crafted movie’s touching and sincere performances and forwards the uplifting message about humanity’s spirit and redemptive value of hope.

One of the central themes of the movie is “social justice”. Innocent as he was, Andy was struggling to prove his impeccability despite the many forces around him which hinders him to do so. It was very evident in the film that justice is a very complex concept. He was very hopeful even though the many forces inside seems to prohibit him to feel that way. His friend Red even warned him from being very optimistic and that he should face the reality that he is to spend the remaining years of his life in prison. This stems from Red’s experience of being rejected parole for quite a number of times. Furthermore, Red also referred to the fate of Brooks who committed suicide after his independence from the penitentiary. Still, Andy’s exuberance prevailed and that his experience in prison did not get the best of him. He was focused on his plans and he pursued them with perseverance and optimism.

Such debilitating forces are present in the society at large. They are not confined in the walls of the penitentiary rather they exist even in the most unexpected sectors of the community. This is very evident in the experience of the Philippines. Corruption is one of the manifestations of these forces that may tempt people especially those in power to engage in illegal activities just to further their self-interests even at the expense of others who may be adversely affected by all these abominations. Public officials cling on to their positions knowing that they could maximize the perks and privileges while in office. This poses a serious threat to the revered sovereignty of the people.

A masterpiece in itself, the Shawshank Redemption hides many allegories and is an allegory as a whole unfolding like a long-played, sometimes painstaking, persistent chess game- a game that Red and Andy promised to play together someday. Even some of the characters are symbolic in themselves: For instance, Tommy, after admitting that he will hold witness for Andy, was betrayed by the warden as Judas betrayed Jesus which is an irony in itself given the warden’s self-righteous, biblically-obsessed character. This has led some critics to interpret the film as some kind of a Christian parable. All of Andy’s effort to assert his morality amidst all the animosity that have been going on have paid off which resembles a Christian struggle towards salvation. The warden served as a serpent much like in the Garden of Eden, which tries to bring out the potentially corruptible side of Andy. Man’s actions have their corresponding consequences and that was apparent as the film concludes. While the performances of the characters in the film are undoubtedly believable coupled with an excellent script, the cinematography provided an important ‘feel’ in the film. The seemingly claustrophobic walls, imposing fences and constraining barricades somehow add to the feeling of oppression. The film has succeeded in using symbols to make the audience understand certain fundamental things that remain prevalent even in the present context.

Indeed, the film serves as an effective medium of political content forwarding many relevant political perspectives as the power relations in prison and the private political lives of each and every individual prisoner- inside and outside the prison- thus, the differences in the way of freedom of Brooks and Red. Also, it holds into question even subtly, how the life in prison socializes an individual to become an altogether different person than whoever one is the moment one enters and the moment one exits. The film talked about the prisoners being ‘institutionalized’. Just the thought of spending a part of one’s life inside a penitentiary may bring chills to a person but there would come a time when the prisoners become very accustomed to the life they were living inside prison that they were dreading the day when they had to leave and go back to the society as a reformed person. Brooks even tried to hurt a fellow prisoner just so he could stay because according to him at least inside he was considered important being the prison librarian. Indeed, this challenges prisons and penitentiaries if they actually serve the purpose they were intended to serve. The society can be very capricious and judgmental especially towards prisoners who go back to the community.

Power relations have been fortuitously tackled in the film. Superior-subordinate relations have been effectively depicted. The film techniques used in the film portray power very well by using low-angled shots as if the prisoners are nothing and extremely over-powered. Many times in the movie, the guards and other domineering inmates have asserted their power through beating other prisoners as if they were merely objects devoid of feelings and emotions. Also, the sight of the warden and guards looking down at the inmates symbolizes the existing relationship among them.

The way the film was made makes one reconsider the usual political socialization of individuals against prisoners to make them see the indomitable spirit of each and every prisoner striving to live with the thinnest strand of survival inside the prison. As such, the film served as an effective avenue of political socialization, in terms of socializing the audience, in seeing the prison institution as a redemptive arena for those sent in there. Notwithstanding, the film as much as it served as a film of hope and life and the redemptive story of humanity, also served as a means of political socialization in its form and allegorical subtlety.

K. Borja & A. M. Cardenas