Film Reviews

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by Nathan Westfall

Pulp Fiction

I would be remiss if I didn’t say that this film is my favorite of all time. Director Quentin Tarantino is a leading figure in Hollywood and has yet to make a bad film. “Pulp Fiction” is Tarantino’s second work, after the critically successful “Reservoir Dogs”, and by far the best film of 1994.

The film is portrayed to the viewer in a non-linear story format that was extremely innovative when it was first released. We are shown events surrounding two hit-men, Vince and Jewels, an aging boxer, Butch, and the underworld boss and his wife, Marcellus and Mia Wallace. The entire film takes place within a 24 hour time period, but is shown to the audiences as several vignettes from different points within those 24 hours.

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The dialogue in this film is what truly stands out as the lasting element. Each actor uses the script, created by Tarantino and creative partner Roger Avery, to bring the audience into the seedy underbelly of society that the characters inhabit. The words flow so effortlessly and fluidly that you have no choice but to hang on every syllable. This is exactly what a winner for best screenplay should be.

Although the film is definitely violent and vulgar, the characters have no choice but to live that lifestyle. The seedy underbelly of society is just that: seedy. So, don’t focus on the ugliness of the story, rather see it as a peril of the job that these people do. If you can see past it then you will be in for a real treat.

The Foreign Corner

The Foreign Corner will be an ongoing series of reviews and historical looks at great foreign film from their respective film movements. For this week, we will be focusing on the French New Wave movement and director Jean-Luc Godard’s film “Breathless” in particular.

Breathless

“Breathless” is, perhaps, one of the most well known films from the New Wave era of French film.

The story revolves around a crook named Michel Poiccard (played expertly by Jean-Paul Belmondo) and his attempt to escape the law after killing a police officer whilst simultaneously working to rekindle his relationship with a young American girl (Jean Seberg) that is studying journalism in Paris.

As they race around the city together trying to collect some money owed to Michel and tie up loose ends, Michel attempts to convince Seberg’s character Patricia to accompany him in his escape to Italy.

The film truly is a work of genius and displays every aspect of the New Wave movement.

The performances by Belmondo and Seberg are nothing short of brilliant, and Godard’s direction cements him as a driving force for French cinema from then on.

Not only are all of the performances solid, but also the film-making itself cannot be beat. From the use of jump cuts (a cut in the film that makes the image appear to jump from one position to the next to emphasize the passage of time and create a jumpy visual effect), to the unique tracking shots that follow the characters as they move through space.

The best example of a well done tracking shot is when Michel and Patricia are walking down the street where Patricia sells newspapers. That entire sequence was actually shot with the camera positioned on a shopping cart.

Overall, this film is extremely well done, and one of my personal favorites.

The time that this film was made was right in the beginning of the New Wave movement in France.

The film’s director, Jean-Luc Godard, was one of the originators of this movement. Godard, along with other film critics from the magazine “Cahiers du cinema” like François Truffaut and Claude Chabrol, were the pioneers of the theory that a film should be a work of art put forth by the director.

Instead of a film being controlled by the will of the producers and the production company, a director should be the soul author (or auteur in French) of his work.
With this in mind, these intrepid new directors set out to make films on a limited budget that were portrayals of their unique vision. Also, the French New Wave directors were the first of their kind to add in historical film references within their films.

In “Breathless”, Belmondo’s character Michel is fascinated with the work of Humphrey Bogart; so much so that he consistently imitates his mannerism of running his thumb over his top lip.

The auteur theory has become a mainstay of the modern Hollywood director. Most every director is no longer just a slave to their production company; rather they are all attempting to get their vision of a film made.

Auteur directors are typically seen non-commercial releases. That is to say that the art films and independent films are very unique, where as a commercial film will follow certain formats and formulas for success.

But, some directors have a bankable enough vision that their films become commercial successes. A great example of this would be the recent Coen Brothers film “True Grit”.

The techniques and theories that were expertly used to make “Breathless” and other such films of the French New Wave were revolutionary for their time period and have become commonplace in the world of modern film.

Although we may not even notice these small pieces of a cinematic brilliance, they are now integral to the feel of any film.

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