Sunday, October 23, 2011

Sunday Post Part 2: The Wager

I’m doing a separate post, completely dedicated to Mr. John Owen.

On Friday, I watched my first Eric Rohmer film. I don’t know exactly why I’ve never seen a film by him before. I suspect it is due to the fact that I haven’t seen a new-wave film by Chabrol or Rivette either. You only ever hear about Truffaut and Godard being the main courses on the French New Wave menu; the others are just treated as desserts if you are hungry for more.

Anyway, I watched MY NIGHT AT MAUD’S, and is there any surprise that I loved it? I was hooked right from the early moment when Jean-Louis and Vidal begin discussing Pascal’s wager. It’s a discussion that most philosophy nerds have had at some point in their lives, but that is because it has never lost its relevance. We all must wager something at some point in our lives because we do not operate in a realm of knowledge but anticipation and chance. All reality is a gamble. My favorite Literary theorist, Maurice Blanchot, beautifully sums up my position on Pascal:
“One might say that by the human force of the wager alone, we always place our wager on nothingness, no matter how the bet is finally called: a nothingness we sometimes call God, sometimes the world and where, in either case, what will have been won is indeed the infinite, but the infinite of nothingness. The uncertain certainty of God’s existence makes us unable to prove either that God is or that he is not; nor can we doubt the one or the other. We must therefore affirm both and always set truth in the rigorous asperity that divides our thought as soon as it thinks this sovereign contrariety. It is for this reason that the wager itself is double. The wager of tragic reason: one must wager and become conscious of the fact that one lives solely by wagering.”

Blanchot is being translated here, so I doubt it is a perfect rendering of what he is trying to say (putting it into English is making it more complicated than it actually is). But what matters here is the unknown quality of the wager, and this is something I think Rohmer is reaching towards. All of the characters in the film live according to their conscious beliefs–their ethics, morals, principles. And they act according to what they think is right. They are all wagering with every decision they make; they are all venturing into the unknown. This is because they are people. Their ideas determine their actions and sometimes they contradict each other. They are not perfect, just human. Rohmer is interested in letting his characters breathe. They think, they discuss, they work things out in their heads, and they act in one way or another. It is this interplay between thoughts and reality that makes the film so compelling. There are real issues here-comedic and enjoyable ones–but nevertheless real issues between conflicting and multitudinous desires.

After watching the film, I totally started to understand your recent argument John over COLD WEATHER. I still really think you are overrating what ultimately amounts to just a decent film, but I see your logic more clearly now. I’m much more interested in your argument for Rohmer against Godard than I am Katz against Refn though (because give me BAND OF OUTSIDERS and MY NIGHT AT MAUD’S any day over the latter films). You feel that Godard is merely stuck within his own self-awareness. He can’t escape the fact that he is always making a film, so there is always a touch of irony to his work. Rohmer, on the other hand, is more interested in telling a story or working out a problem, and he is using cinema as way to express this. The problem comes first, not the self-awareness. I hope I am getting your logic right here. If so, then I completely see where you are coming from with this and why you prefer one to the other. I guess I prefer both styles, not in any systematic way, but each according to the individual films themselves.

I wrote this in my response to you: “I tend to like my films to be more consciously interested in cinema than realism because I like cinema.” This is true, I do like cinema (we all do here don’t we?) but I’m really not so regimented in my taste. I don’t know why I wrote this. I like all types of films; it depends on how each one speaks to me. I really like guys like Godard, PTA, Tarantino, and Refn. I don’t think they just recreate. I think they have fun with cinema and have things to say, which is something I like when done well. But I also deeply revere guys like Bergman and Kieslowski (and I’m assuming the more Rohmer I see, the more I will like). They understood cinema, but they were more interested in working out crises, issues, and problems related to humanity. Film was their canvas to explore these things. So, I guess all I’m trying to say is that I understand your argument now, and I firmly come down in the camp of digging both styles because I think both can over something rich. I mean my two favorite films of the 90s are BOOGIE NIGHTS and BLUE/WHITE/RED (technically four favorites but I’m counting the trilogy as one). Clearly I like to have my cake and eat it too (for the record, EYES WIDE SHUT would be third and THE THIN RED LINE fourth on that list).

By the way, speaking of Kieslowski, how come I’m the only one here who has seen a film by him? (excluding Chris who I recently convinced to watch the Three Colors trilogy). The man was a master. Brandon and John, I know that you would both love THE DECALOGUE and I have a strong feeling that you, at the very least, would both appreciate BLUE and RED (WHITE is the weakest, but a necessary comedic interlude in the series). I wish I owned THE DECALOGUE and the Three Colors Trilogy (gave it to my old girlfriend dammit) so that I could make you watch both. Oh well. If you, or anyone else in film club, ever wants to make me really happy–watch a film by him and we can discuss it.

Quickly before I’m done, I just want to mention two more things:

There is a terrific moment in MNAM when Maud wonders if Jean-Louis has been left in her room to tempt her or to be used as leverage against her. Right there we are reminded that Maud simply is not just a temptress for Jean-Louis–a mere object to uphold his morality against–but a person with her own point-of-view and desires. This is crucial.

Also, I see that Nestor Almendros shot the film (simple but elegant work) and that he shot most of the Moral Tales. He is, of course, partly responsible for one of the most beautifully photographed films of all time–DAYS OF HEAVEN. Cool link.

And another cool link. Jean-Louis Trintignant also stars in Kieslowski’s RED.

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