Les tetes parlantes

vlcsnap-2015-05-07-08h38m24s57 HITLER, CONNAIS PAS (HITLER, NEVER HEARD OF HIM) is director Bertrand Blier’s first feature, a 1963 documentary which is on the one hand completely suis generis and unrelated to his other work, and on the other, absolutely archetypally him. It’s also a fantastically interesting accomplishment. Opening titles inform us that the film gathers a bunch of twenty-something french people and interviews them. none of the young folks knew each other or met each other during the shoot. This information is vital as Blier consistently intercuts his interviews, creating purely fictitious reaction shots in which each interview APPEARS to be listening to and reacting to the others. In reality I guess they’re reacting to Blier’s questions — which we never hear. vlcsnap-2015-05-07-08h39m37s21 Blier’s other most striking technique is to expose the mechanics of the shoot, showing the studio, the lights, the crew and the cameras and dolly equipment. When he appeared in Edinburgh with LES ACTEURS some years ago, he said that his life’s mission had been the Godardian one of “exposing the mechanics of cinema while preserving the emotion of cinema.” Brechtian alienation without the alienation, I guess. So showing the kit is one way of doing that (we see Blier directing within LES ACTEURS and MERCI LA VIE also, movies which implicate the filmmaker quite openly). Here, he may well have been influenced by THE PICASSO MYSTERY, in the sense that Clouzot in that movie turns his own film shoot into a show, with the clicking of the footage meter used to generate suspense and the presence of cameras not disguised but positively celebrated. The film is its own making-of documentary. vlcsnap-2015-05-07-08h38m58s142 Blier’s array of cameras is so extensive he could probably have created a bullet-time sequence if the digital technology had existed. Apart from being able to cut in a semi-circle from one camera position to another, showing his subjects in profile, three-quarter-face, full-face, and multiple sizes, he also has a semi-circular track passing behind them, allowing for lovely circling/stalking movements shooting straight at the bank of cameras in front. The interviewees themselves are fascinating. The range of social classes was obviously a deliberate choice — each seems tightly circumscribed by money and upbringing — the poor have limited options and the rich have limited understanding. One girl is heartbreaking — she escaped her oppressive family home (a mother whose health was wrecked by having ten kids, no money), got herself a job in Paris at 14, got knocked up, and now lives in a charitable institution with her baby. Another girl, sexually liberated to a fairly far-out degree, seems to have no emotional connections to anyone in her life. One young man describes mugging an elderly woman, getting arrested, and then turning his life around. He’s now an electrician. The most disturbing character is the boss’s son, who says he floundered through life for years not knowing what he’d do with himself, before deciding he’d probably go into business with his dad and wind up running the company. An easy choice. He keeps files on all his activities — he has a dossier with details of all his holidays. You start to suspect he has a folder on all the little boys he’s abducted and eaten, but perhaps I’m being unfair. He’s certainly lacking insight into the rest of society. Workers are “simple and honest” but obviously “lack ambition” otherwise they wouldn’t be workers, would they? Blier’s chauvinism, a constant in his filmmaking, is readily apparent — he films a girl’s knees and crosscuts with men staring and licking their lips. He doesn’t pursue stuff that seems really striking and worthy of interrogation, as when a girl says “I don’t believe rape exists.” We want to know more about this shocking statement. We learn that the men certainly believe it exists, as several have seen it. The boys and girls have a lack of respect for the opposite sex that’s a little worrying. We can certainly see why the girls think the way they do though. vlcsnap-2015-05-07-08h39m10s5 The title is slightly opaque as there’s no pop quiz to see if the Youth of Today, wrapped up in their jazz clubs and they Brigitte Bardot movies, are aware of larger social and historical issues. I suspect it’s a reference to some meme of the early sixties in which the lack of cultural awareness of these modern kids was being bemoaned. Blier’s film is more of a sympathetic exploration than a conservative angst-piece.

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3 Responses to “Les tetes parlantes”

  1. Is it actually a documentary or a fictional “documentary”? The fact that the director says it is a documentary doesn’t mean it is, especially if the director is Blier. The title’s significance may derive from the fact that André Schlesser, Maria Casarès’ husband, is said to have evaded deportation by the Gestapo in WWII by sticking to the same line throughout his interrogation.

  2. Samuel Says:

    That would be “têtes parlantes” in French! Although we don’t actually have an expression that translates “talking heads”.

  3. Interesting, Roger — I still can’t work out how that relates to the film, but it’s a great story. I would swear the interviews are real — and Blier had not yet begun as a fiction filmmaker, which adds to my belief. I think he had written a novel, though.

    The battery of cameras supports the documentary idea, and there atre no signs of retakes — the editing is very much that precise continuity you only get from live multi-camera shoots.

    I’ve tried to correct my shoddy French, but WordPress doesn’t seem keen to let me use accents in a title.

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