Humanist Films

From the Great Depression to another Marvel blip, film still stands as a source of escapism. I accept this to an extent. But I believe that even more so today we need not to escape, but to see, witness and celebrate who we are as humans. Titles related to my discourse are that of France Ha (Noah Baumbach), Somewhere (Sofia Coppola), A Summer’s Tale (Eric Rohmer), Submarine (Richard Ayoade) and Whiplash (Damien Chazelle). What these titles have in common with the two films I wish to discuss is that they explore human relationships, emotions and, quite simply, life.

I’m going to begin with Jean-Luc Godard’s 1967 Week End – arguably Godard’s pivotal turning point into his more radical film making – and Damián Szifrón’s 2014 Wild Tales.

My fundamental intrigue into Week End is looking at the structure of Godard’s narrative, or lack-there-of. Week End is not an easy watch as to some it arguably lacks sense because the audience are not guided through the unravelling chaos. But alternatively it represents life accurately with regards to being a fictional film. The camera follows the unfolding and random events. Characters, by conventional standards, that should be more prominent in the narrative enter a scene as quickly as they leave and do not reappear. Then again, could one not argue that this chance meeting is their purpose, demonstrating the limitless and random encounters of everyday life? Is this not what is happening all through the narrative?

With regards to the latter, all of Week End’s seeming intransitivity, I would argue, Godard appears to be strategically putting into play. For instance shots such as the pan past the car wreckages amongst the traffic jam and the close-up of a dead driver present the audience with enigmas – the how and why, and the resolution to follow. I would suggest this demonstrates Godard’s portrayal of the bourgeois; their selfishness to only address the needs of themselves with no regards to the situation of others. This is further amplified by the way in which Corinne and Roland ignore the struggles of a woman from their own class.

Moreover, one could suggest that the framing of shots further encapsulates characteristics of the bourgeois as Godard abruptly cuts away from the ‘main action’ and ceases to readdress it. This camera movement reflects some of the characters own dismissal towards enigmatic events.

From inaction to action, I would deem Wild Tales to be a intensely ‘human’ film. With it’s basic human instincts and urges, Szifrón shows the spectator what, I would argue, they really want to see. I argue this because of the honesty demonstrated by each character, but this honesty goes hand in hand with an unhinged capacity to completely lose control.

I feel Szifrón explores the pivotal line between rationality and irrationality, but presents the spectator with the conclusion to ‘what if?’. Honest, yet poetic, Wild Tales centres on a subjective truth that makes the characters very human. For instance, each character represents an exercise to which the spectator can identify with – taking matters into one’s own hands; to react completely on primal instinct; to go with your gut inclination and instant desire. Why not?

Class, social norms and politics are all cast aside from the identity of each character as they all become at one with their own thought process. For myself, this connotes a common identity not only amongst the characters, but the spectator. This is why I argue that Wild Tales is a very honest and very human film. It does not present the audience with a fantasy but a choice – something everyone has.

Each character embodies a found freedom away from convention and social norms which allow them to act out their initial desires. Morally right? Perhaps not. However, Szifrón demonstrates, what I would argue are, realistic outcomes of a society confined to social constraints of judgement, or a governing body. For instance, there is a motif that constantly displays injustice or a form of abuse that encapsulates each character, which drives them to the inevitable end of their moral reasoning.

With regards to both Wild Tales and Week End, the two films examine the consequences of a distressed society. Szifrón would appear to be centring more on the issues of the individual, but I feel as though this stands for an allegorical portrayal for society as a whole. In turn, the fixation upon select characters enables Wild Tales to directly address the spectator in order to engage with the isolation within a society that feels unjust and corrupt. Additionally, Week End gazes at the unravelling of the bourgeois which have been so encapsulated amidst a society destroyed by its own materialistic consumerism. Ideal for Godard? I would say so.

These two films detail the dissection of human nature – our needs and desires, along with our anxieties and choices. Simultaneously a message is derived from each director, displaying realities that are present today. For me Szifrón offers an escape and a sense of liberation. The continuity of sadistic humour enables a sweet justice for each character, which in a way offers a realist outcome for an outrageous turn of events. On the other hand, as opposed to the individual, Godard outlines his perspective with regards to French society in the 1960s revolving around French consumerism. Ultimately the greed and selfishness of the higher class will drive themselves, as well as society, into complete annihilation. Much like Szifrón, the beginning of the story starts with ‘life as we know it’, but Week End, in particular, reveals the fate of humanity into outright barbarism.

Powerful? Yes. The two films are insightful and delve into the chaos that is society, consequently revealing outcomes to our actions caused by being placed in a cage put there by a governing body.

Effective? The films both look at a perceived reality, Godard, albeit as more dystopian. But Godard accentuates a need for change, as does Szifrón by means of cause and imminent reaction. The films are a brutal mirror, granted from different times, but with Godard here as my beginning and Szifrón as a comfort that expresses the need and demand for more films about humans to act as an advocate for change, as well as hope.

We are not all Made in Chelsea.

Week-end