Monday, 16 March 2009

À Bout de Souffle and Felicia’s Journey in relation to Auteur and Genre Cinema

À Bout de Souffle is extremely appropriate to study in relation to auteur theory, as the term emerged with the French Nouvelle Vague and is most frequently associated with the New Wave directors.
These directors used auteur theory as a justification for their highly personal films which they wanted audiences and critics to view as individual, unconforming, unique works that were a break with the cinéma de qualité they so despised.

We could argue that auteur theory lets us define meaning more obviously, because by approaching a film with the belief it has a solitary author, we can understand the piece on a more complete and intense level.
However, as Foucault established, an author’s name has a classificatory status, under which we can group their works, having the same function as genre. This function gives us the ability to group together films and study them as a whole, to understand the seperate parts more fully.
The function of an authors name can sometimes even encompass films that are not by that director, if they display qualities that make them appear reminiscent of that director.
For example, ‘Hitchcockian’ is now a legitimate term used to describe later films that echo Hitchcock’s style or conform to the conventions he invented, as an auteur he is so respected it seems he has transcended this to make ‘Hitchcockian’ films a genre in their own right.
Although the French New Wave directors disliked the homogenity of the cinéma de qualité and standard narrative Hollywood cinema, there were some American directors they respected, who they believed showed artistic individuality, Hitchcock being one of these, and John Ford and Nicholas Ray being other examples.

Godard makes numerous references to other films in À Bout de Souffle, Michel gazes at a film poster of Humphrey Bogart and says “Bogie”, his lip-rubbing is also a homage to Bogart, and Patricia also comments on Michel’s similarity to him.
These self-aware references to American cinema acknowledge an influence, although perhaps they are a criticism of French cinema being too heavily influenced by American cinema, the betrayal of the French man modelling himself on an American, by the American girlfriend, is a quite obvious metaphor.
It could also be argued that the film also makes a tongue in cheek reference to the idea that the ‘old’ cinema is betraying the new, the youthful and the innovative when a woman attempts to sell Michel a copy of Cahiers, saying "Monsieur, do you support youth?" To which, annoyed, he replies "No, I prefer the old."

At the time, À Bout de Souffle was an innovative film, disregarding the cinematic language of Hollywood by replacing continuity editing and shot-reverse-shot with jump cuts and an individual visual style, giving itself a more abstract, less obvious, less explained feel. The film contained longer scenes than were conventional in mainstream hollywood cinema, for example the long sequence between Patricia and Michel in the bedroom.

However, despite the New Wave directors’ desire to produce unique, unconforming films, conventions are evident within them. Godard liked using foreign actresses like Anna Karina and Jean Seburg who were often hard to understand, and although this disregarded the importance of the script that was seen in earlier films who depended on book adaptions and theatrical stories, this became a convention in its own right. Perhaps one of the most predominant conventions is that the New Wave cinema generically revolves around a heterosexual young couple, the films were concerned with the relationships between young men and women, and À Bout de Souffle conforms to this.
The cinema of the New Wave also seemed more everyday, Godard said ‘we must begin with what we know’ - directors wanted to achieve more realism than was present in the current cinema and this is reflected in the documentary-like appearance of the Nouvelle Vague. This factor as well as others created or became generic conventions, which New Wave films, and À Bout de Souffle specifically, conform to.

Like other New Wave directors Godard opposed the suggestion he belonged to a wave or school of filmmaking, preferring his work to be seen as a personal expression of himself. However despite this, and despite his film’s individual differences, Godard’s work is seen as part of a group of films, with the work of Truffaut and Resnais, and like genre, this may mean that we can extract more meaning when analsing them as part of a collective.

Hitchcock as a director is a good example of how closely auteur and genre theory are linked, and as previously mentioned, the term ‘Hitchcockian’ is used to describe films with similar styles or themes to those of Hitchcock’s films.
Felicia’s Journey is arguably Hitchcockian, and elements present that would be considered Hitchcockian include; the presence of a domineering mother in her son’s life, (similar to Psycho), tension escalating through suspense to a point where the main character’s life is threatened, characters escaping from situations by using cunning and wit rather than violence, and the use of staircases to create suspense or metaphors for impending danger.
Although Gala is dead, we feel her presense very strongly influencing Hilditch in his actions even as an old man. He is obsessed with his mother and keeps her alive through his collection of all her products, and videos, and by watching her and talking to her as he cooks and eats. This is similar to the way Norman Bates keeps his mother alive in Psycho by pretending to be her, and as the camera explores through Hilditch’s house and we see his controlling mother preserved, we are inclined to see him as another Bates.
However, the apparent traumatic childhood of Hilditch that is such a generic convention of the serial killer horror is bizarre, Hilditch clearly views it as traumatic by the way he relives his memories, for example the force-feeding of the liver, and the way he vomits when later tasting liver, but for us as an audience it is disputable whether this really constitutes trauma.
However it is certain that the film intends to conform to the ‘traumatic childhood’ convention, and in conforming to both Hitchcockian conventions and ‘serial killer horror’ conventions it shows how closely auteurism and genre are linked, showing how the conventions of a successful auteur are imitated, becoming part of genres and trangressing auteurism to become something more all-encompassing. This illustrates the idea that we make our representations of a genre from auteurs who are successful within that specific genre, proving that the two are inextricably linked.
The second Hitchcockian convention mentioned, of tension building to a point where the main character’s life is threatened, which they then escape through using their wits, is certainly present in the end sequence where Felicia is drugged in bed and Hilditch reveals his crimes before she falls asleep, we then watch as she slowly wakes, as Hilditch digs her grave and is detained in garden, but eventually returns to the house. This scene builds tension in a manner very reminiscent of the ‘master of suspense’.
There is also a nod to Hitchcock’s film Suspicion in Felicia’s Journey, the scene on the stairs with the drugged drink is a homage to an almost identical scene in the former, and this self-concious allusion by the director Egoyan is a tongue in cheek reference to generic conventions and the influence of Hitchcock.
Felicia’s Journey certainly subscribes to gothic conventions present in similar ‘Beauty and the Beast’ type films, a killer murdering women who’s secret is finally uncovered by a ‘final girl’ who is resourceful enough to survive and relatively chaste compared to previous victims.
Influences from other films are also apparent, the images of ‘the other woman’ and the locked space are also generic gothic conventions used in other films such as Rebecca, and the videoing of his victims by Hilditch is similar to that which happens in Peeping Tom.
Victims in horror films are often sexually active, it could be argued this is to communicate the ideology that pre-marital sex is ‘bad’ and will doom you, and we see this in Felicia’s Journey as well as countless other horror films, for example Scream, where this idea is parodied dramatically.
Felicia’s Journey conforms to the generic syntagmatic combination of a horror narrative: traumatic childhood of killer revealed, group of young people introduced, severel members of which are violently killed on screen, until one girl remains who is pursued but ultimately escapes, the killer disappearing (leaving the story open for sequels) or is killed (although admittedly, this hasn’t always stopped sequels being produced either.)
However, ultimately the film also subverts genre, unusually mixing a love story with a suspense thriller/horror. In Felicia’s Journey the protagonist Felicia has her own aim, to find Johnny, ultimately ending her emotional journey in a place of fulfillment and contentedness at least, if not yet happiness.
Felicia’s Journey illustrates how the techniques of an auteur can evolve into generic conventions, how genres evolve by conventions being imitated but also subverted, resulting in the creation of new conventions and new genres, and both Felicia’s Journey and À Bout de Souffle demonstrate the close relationship between auteurism and genre theory.

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