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L'Amour existe, 1960
[Love Exists]

L'Amour existe The sound of a rattling, mechanical alarm bell seemingly ushers a silent wave of anonymous, early morning commuters heading towards metropolitan Paris at the crack of dawn as they follow the ritualistic procession of informal queues leading to the subway station, pack into crowded, unconditioned trains, transfer through a coordinated maze of mass transportation, traverse rain soaked sidewalks and intersections, and navigate through high-traffic streets. The chaotic montage culminates in a dizzying shot of the dispiriting visual monotony of the impersonal cityscape from the window of a passing commuter train. From the upstairs terrace window of an unidentified home, an off-screen narrator (Jean-Loup Reynold) witnesses the fleeting sight a passing train and begins to recount the familiar (and haunted) images of his youth in the suburban town of Courbevoie. Once laid to ruins in the aftermath of war, a new and insidiously consuming operation - the imperative of urban assimilation - now devastates the architectural, social, and cultural landscape of the working-class region as old buildings are demolished to make room for new, high population density residential construction and popular sources of low-cost communal entertainment, such as matinees at the local cinema, become increasingly nonexistent, statistically relocating to the hypersaturated venues of Paris. However, it is not only structures, but also people who are increasingly displaced by rapid industrial expansion, as humanity becomes valued through levels of productivity, and the elderly are relegated to the role of inutile pensioners searching for inclusion and purpose in the new modern society (in a wry shot of a group of elderly citizens passing idle time by sitting on a park statue that ironically celebrates their role as nurturers of the younger generation). Meanwhile, an idyllic shot of a wooded park that continues to be deforested for high profit, real estate speculation is contrasted against the subhuman conditions of migrant worker "apartments" in a nearby shantytown (juxtaposed against of an advertising banner that boasts of all rentals as including all modern conveniences) as residents evacuate in the wake of a rapidly spreading fire. Inevitably, the figurative tale of two cities emerges, as the image of postwar Paris becomes a complex portrait of ambitious policy and human disaffection.

L'Amour Existe Maurice Pialat creates an acerbic and unsentimental, yet hauntingly poetic and profoundly engaging exposition on urbanization, alienation, reconstruction and cultural transformation in L'Amour existe. Using parallel imagery of large-scale industrial and (often empty) public spaces, Pialat intrinsically correlates the alienating and demoralizing toll of rapid modernization: the uniform tracts of suburban houses that represent an illusory, yet attainable working-class measure of success; the shot of a passenger train traversing the horizon against a foregrounding image of a derelict railway car that has been transformed into a squatter's hovel; the compromised structural integrity of pre-fabricated materials used for large-scale urban residential construction that is repeated in the image of the primitive, tinderbox construction of crude shantytowns near Paris (with the dream of a better life figuratively disintegrating in flames); the enumeration of statistical data that reflects a nationwide pattern of declining recreation and education that corresponds to the rise in abstract measures of productivity and trends toward metropolitan centralization. Furthermore, note an earlier image of automated dredging equipment that cuts to a (reverse direction) traveling shot of row seating at an empty cinema that visually suggests the inverse relationship between industrial production and leisure activity: a similar idea that is later reinforced in the tongue-in-cheek juxtaposition of artificially hurried, rushing commuters against an anonymous woman's tranquil swim in an empty pool. It is this recurring theme of impersonal institutionalization and conformity that invariably propels the thoughtful and elegiac tone of the film: the cultural trauma of depopulation, marginalization, and loss of identity in the face of delusive prosperity, socially regressive national policy, and dehumanized progress.

© Acquarello 2004. All rights reserved.

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Sous le soleil de Satan, 1987
[Under the Sun of Satan]

Depardieu/BonnaireUnder the Sun of Satan opens to an inherently solemn ritual as a senior priest, Canon Menou-Segrais (Mauric Pialat) shaves a spot on the top of the head of a pensive young priest named Father Donissan (Gérard Depardieu) who, in turn, uses the occasion to express his feelings of profound estrangement and inutility from the practical concerns of their congregation. Acknowledging both his mediocre scholastic aptitude at the seminary that nearly prevented him from becoming ordained, and his indebtedness to Menou-Segrais for his admission into the parish ministry (despite the young priest's perceivable disapproval of his superior's spiritual resignation and complacency), Donissan nevertheless declares his intention to request the archbishop for a re-assignment, preferably to a Trappist monastery where he believes that his temperament and secular detachment would be more conducive to their contemplative, monastic life of humble (and seemingly unobtrusive) service. The film then contrasts Donissan's acts of asceticism and mortification against the actions of a promiscuous and amoral teenager named Mouchette (Sandrine Bonnaire) who leaves home and unexpectedly appears at the chateau of her older, financially insolvent aristocratic lover, Marquis de Cadignan (Alain Artur) after an altercation with her parents over news of her pregnancy. Unwilling to entertain Mouchette's capricious idea of running away to Paris, but unable to send the inconvenient young woman away despite her provocative admission of having another lover - a married deputy minister named Dr. Gallet (Yann Dedet) - Cadignan allows her to stay at his home and, during the course of their brief cohabitation, is fatally shot. Meanwhile, Menou-Segrais dispatches Donissan to the neighboring town of Etaples in order to assist a retiring priest during confession. Preferring to travel on foot, Donissan traverses the disorienting rural landscape throughout the day only to realize as darkness falls that he is hopelessly lost. In his exhaustion and delirium, he becomes aware of the presence of Satan alongside him who appears in the guise of a traveling horse dealer (Jean-Christophe Bouvet) and tests his faith by endowing him with the ability to see unobstructedly into the human soul. Now possessing the grace and burden of spiritual insight, the tormented Donissan journeys home and fatedly encounters an instrument of mutual salvation in the wanton and aimless Mouchette.

Adapted from Georges Bernanos' first novel, Under Satan's Sun (who modeled the protagonist after St. Jean-Baptiste-Marie Vianney, the Curé d'Ars), Under the Sun of Satan is a stark, challenging, and uncompromising exploration of faith, spiritual service, despair, and redemption. Maurice Pialat visually juxtaposes the dark, austere, and somber hues of Donissan's ecclesiastic environment with the warm, naturalistic hues of village life to create a visual metaphor for the dour young priest's self-imposed alienated existence: the chromatic shift as Donissan begins his journey to Etaples and encounters a group of children playing in the street; the textural earth tones of the rolling rural landscape that contrasts against the imperceptible, claustrophobic darkness of his fevered encounter with the enigmatic horse dealer; the intimate, compositional framing of Mouchette in soft and innately sensual amber hues as she visits Cadignan and Gallet that becomes harsh, ashen, and pallid as Donnisan forcefully engages her in a soul-baring self-evaluation of her troubled existence. However, in contrast to the deeply religious Bernanos' predominant exploration of the spiritual themes of God's silence, the sin of complacency, and the immediacy of evil, Pialat focuses on the physical and tangible manifestations of temptation, suffering, and despair on the individual psyche. By capturing Donnisan and Mouchette's personal journeys toward a reconciled awareness of their moral and spiritual imperfections, Under the Sun of Satan emerges, not as a portrait of transcendence, but as a tactile and provocative illustration of the real, yet indefinable essence of the human soul.

© Acquarello 2003. All rights reserved.

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