Gravity (Cuaron, 2013) and Pont du Nord (Rivette, 1981)

There’s been whole lot written about Gravity already, so I’ll mostly stick with my review of it, which you can read HERE.

As you’ll see, the main reason I loved the film is because of its sound design.  It’s so creative, and even risky at times.  I love seemingly simple audio ideas that are really played with to extremes here: sound dramatically preceding image, sound fluttering around the audience, sound peeking out of corners where no image (immediately) corresponds.

The plot of Gravity isn’t anything special, but I’ve been surprised by how many people are calling it out for its boring narrative.  Sure it doesn’t take as many story risks as it could, but it’s solid, aims for traditional three-act structure, and generally builds in a way that takes advantage of some white-knuckle moments to really drag out suspense.

The weakest part of the film is the performances.  It’s one of Clooney’s worst roles, and though Sandra Bullock really has her moments, I wasn’t floored by her either.  Maybe I’m giving it less credit than I should, but since it was pitched as this 3-way tour-de-force between Clooney, Bullock, and Cuaron I was left a little empty.

Pont du Nord

I was happy to be able to catch a new print of Jacques Rivette’s Pont du Nord several weeks ago.  I only know Rivette from Celine and Julie Go Boating, La Belle Noiseuse, Va Savoir, and Around a Small Mountain.  I’ve never seen Paris Belongs to Us or Out 1, so my knowledge of his classics is somewhat limited.

Still, this being a French New Wave stalwart cast into the 1980s, the director certainly has much in common with peers Chabrol and Rohmer in that they veered clear of the big studio films that got Truffaut and the vagaries that Godard ended up in.  From what I can tell, Rivette’s Pont du Nord is playful in a similar way to his earlier work and certainly has echoes in his classic Celine and Julie from 1974.

A few interesting random things: Barbet Schroeder is credited as producer; like a lot of French cinephilia films, references about including those to Kagemusha and a Clouzot film (maybe it was Diabolique, I can’t remember).  I also recently read ‘The Marbled Swarm’ and it’s really hard to think of Pierre Clementi outside of that pretty horrific context (and/or outside of Bunuel).

Pont du Nord is playful in its makeup and plot: Marie (Bulle Ogier) and Baptiste (Pascale Ogier) are two random acquaintances who become convinced that there is a mystery afoot on the streets of Paris and that they two can put their heads together over a map of haphazard clues to solve it.

The film features constant construction and Rivette uses this to really play with the sound.  It frequently hard cuts in and out immediately with the image, giving no real idea of logic or sound perspective (i.e. shot of Marie looking off in the distance followed by a shot of what she is conceivably looking at: a construction site; however, we only hear the sound of construction under that second shot, as though her gaze holds ears of its own).

There’s an interesting moment late in the film when the pretty off-kilter Marie “battles” a cement dragon on the streets.  It’s really just a stare-off, but it’s a rare moment where Rivette actually mixes the soundtrack between the alternating shot-reverse-shot in a more traditional way…except that he mixes the non-diegetic/fantastical sounds of the dragon.  It’s an odd way of placing fantasy above reality: reality has no believable sound cohesion, fantasy does.

There are other things that call attention to the filmmaking process: the boom frequently dips into frame.  At first it feels like a mistake, but it happens so often as not to be unintentional.  The end (which gets surprisingly dark – one comment I read on it compared it to Fassbinder’s The Third Generation, which I think isn’t bad) goes into a somewhat tired technique of framing the story through “another” camera as though we’re now looking specifically through Rivette’s lens and not some global image (apologies for the aspect ration of these stills):



I wish I had better images of this next moment, which is easily my favorite of the film.  At a climactic point Marie is magically encased in a spiderweb atop the balcony of an old building.  It’s an eerily pretty point in the film, indicates the vulnerability of the characters and the magic of the world as a whole:



About dcpfilm

Shooting, teaching, writing and watching the Phillies.
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