Agnès Varda claimed to have seen fewer than ten movies before she made her first film at age 25. At the time, she had some pretty naïve ideas about film. “I thought if I added sound to photographs, that would be cinema,” she recalled. She learned the essence of filmmaking and, by all accounts, learned it well. The resulting film, La Pointe-Courte (1954), a self-financed documentary-fiction hybrid, is considered one of the forerunners of the French New Wave.
Fast forward a few years. Varda is shooting her follow up feature Cleo from 5 to 7. The film would prove to be her breakout hit and a classic of the New Wave alongside the likes of 400 Blows and Breathless.
The film, which unspools almost in real time, is about a beautiful young singer who waits anxiously for the results of a medical test. We watch her as she talks with well-meaning friends, finds comfort with a stranger, and even takes some time to watch a movie. In the wrong hands, the story has the potential for being an unleavened exercise in existential angst. But, as she later proved in subsequent movies, she was never one to let things get too dark. The movie that the heroine watches is a silent comedy – one that Varda shot herself.
Les Fiancés Du Pont Macdonald centers on a Buster Keatonsque dandy in a flat straw hat who waves good-bye to his doll-like girlfriend. Yet when he dons a pair of sunglasses, everything goes wrong. He witnesses his beloved getting injured in an accident only to be hauled off by a hearse. When he takes off the glasses to wipe away the tears, he realizes that he saw it all wrong. The glasses make everything seem metaphorically dark. No wonder the movie’s subtitle is “Beware of Dark Glasses.” You can watch it above.
Les Fiancés is interesting not just because of Varda’s spot on pastiche of silent movies but also because of its cast. None other than Jean-Luc Godard plays the dandy. His wife Anna Karina plays the girl, of course. Generally, Godard’s onscreen appearances run the gamut from being sober and aloof to being hectoring and indignant. It’s fun to watch him ham it up.
Jean-Luc Godard Gives a Dramatic Reading of Hannah Arendt’s “On the Nature of Totalitarianism”
Jonathan Crow is a Los Angeles-based writer and filmmaker whose work has appeared in Yahoo!, The Hollywood Reporter, and other publications. You can follow him at @jonccrow. And check out his blog Veeptopus, featuring lots of pictures of badgers and even more pictures of vice presidents with octopuses on their heads. The Veeptopus store is here.