Hmm, so I liked this one quite a bit too. Visually, I was drawn in pretty much immediately. Right from the first few frames, where we see this gorgeous surface texture that I initially thought was a sandy desert which then revealed itself to be totally something else, I was hooked. And then the camera sort of moves down a narrow lane in the village and not only did it remind me of my grandparents house (they live in a coastal village in India) but I felt like I could almost smell the sea breeze blowing through the hanging laundry and the windows of the houses. Just all the scenes where we just see people working and going about their daily lives made me feel like I had such a good sense of the place. I loved those scenes and the way the couple, especially the wife from Paris always sticks out as a stranger whenever juxtaposed against any of the villagers.
Anyway, so this did feel like a debut feature to me in the way she seems so fascinated by the textures and she seems to be using the camera so playfully to explore all of these different textures and lines that just seem to exist in this little fishing town.
I really liked the alternating stories structure as well even if it sometimes took me out of one story a little too rudely in my opinion. I remember one scene in the film where we see the couple talking (not like they do anything else in the film!) and they seem to have run out of things to say and are just sitting quietly and suddenly we cut to a child being slapped by his mother and move to the other storyline. I definitely felt that slap! I think that structure worked even better for me after I was done watching the film because I really liked the parallel between this idea of an unknown toxin polluting the water that the fisherfolk rely on for food and the unnamed, unknown thing that seems to have come between the man and his wife.
Interesting that this idea of something superficially / seemingly beautiful containing something darker within it seems to be a recurring pattern at least in her fictional films – the cancer in Cléo, infidelity in Le Bonheur and so on.
I think what she calls her “equal fascination” with documentary and narrative cinema is really evident here as well. I think Varda mentioned while talking about one of the other films I watched at the HFA that this was her most scripted film. She said she had an extremely detailed shooting script and she pretty much followed it exactly. This surprises me considering how verité-style at least half the film feels. She also talked about how the rest of the cast except for the lead actors are actual residents of Pointe-Courte and that they contributed a lot to the script!
It’s amazing how documentary-like and natural the scenes with the fishermen and their families feels at all times whereas the scenes with the couple are just so formally framed and their dialogues are so stylized. They don’t even talk like normal people. They always seem to be delivering their lines or something which I somehow think was a deliberate choice on her part. I don’t know if that was the reason but I definitely was a lot more interested in the villager’s lives than I was in the couple’s marriage woes. Most of the time when they were talking, I was just happy the scenery was so great to look at!
I loved the cats in the film, the way they appear and the way it always feels as if she got distracted by them and decided to look at them through her camera instead of the couple . Overall, I think the film works for me more than anything else, as a story told in images. There are nice lines from the villagers I thought but the way the train always seems to come between the couple, the way the villagers’ tools are visible everywhere, the crabs that scuttle into the sand — these are the touches that I really loved.
Incidentally, for a movie that’s mostly focused on a failing marriage, it hardly feels melancholic at all. Also, I really like the way the ending doesn’t feel pat or either clearly sad or happy. Again, I felt the same way about her other films too.
I am not sure I’d have bothered to go to so many of these Varda films if it weren’t for this marathon. This was just a great discovery for me!