Tuesday, April 28, 2020

2020 Blind Spot Series: One Sings, the Other Doesn't

Written and directed by Agnes Varda, L’une chante, l’autre pas (One Sings, the Other Doesn’t) is the story of two women in the early 1960s who help each other as one aspires to be a singer while the other is a pregnant country girl as they would reunite a decade later during a demonstration as it relates to the women’s liberation movement. The film is a genre-bender that mixes elements of the musical with political drama as it explore the lives of two women who both experience a lot while maintaining their friendship. Starring Valerie Mairesse, Therese Liotard, Ali Raffi, Robert Dadies, and Jean-Pierre Pellegrin. L’une chante, l’autre pas is a rapturous and captivating film from Agnes Varda.

Told in the span of nearly 14 years, the film revolves around the friendship between two different women as they embark on different paths as well as endure different trials and tribulations into finding themselves as one of them becomes a singer while the other is a country girl with two kids who later runs a family planning clinic in Hyeres. It’s a film that play into the world of feminism as well as two women who bond through their different encounters of turmoil as well as trying to be themselves as well as wonder if they can be attached to a man in their lives. Agnes Varda’s screenplay is uniquely structured in the way it tells the friendship between these two different women who first meet in 1962 and then meet again a decade later as they would correspond each other through postcards and letters to maintain their friendship.

The first act is set in 1962 where Pauline (Valerie Mairesse) is a 17-year old student who sings at a choir as she goes into a photo shop where she sees a picture of a young woman she knows in Suzanne (Therese Liotard) who has two children and a third on the way as they’re all from an affair with the photo shop owner Jerome (Robert Dadies) where Suzanne wants an abortion. Tragedy occurs forcing Pauline and Suzanne to abruptly part ways until a decade later in the film’s second act where Pauline has called herself Pomme (apple in French) as she’s part of a feminist folk group and in a relationship with an Iranian named Darius (Ali Raffi) while Suzanne lives in Hyeres with her two children as she runs a family planning clinic. It is in the second act where the two meet again as they would correspond through letters as they’re both fascinated by their different lives with Pomme often traveling and going to Iran where she marries Darius and have a child yet things become troubling while Suzanne ponders her own desires to be with a man. It all play into Varda’s study of identity as a woman as well as what these women want as Varda also serves as the film’s narrator.

Varda’s direction is largely straightforward in terms of the compositions she creates yet there are elements of the film that do play into some semblance of style. Shot on various locations in France including parts of Paris and Hyeres as well as additional locations in Amsterdam and Iran. Varda creates a film that does rely on melodrama as it relates to the plight of women in their role in society starting in the 1960s as Pauline sings for a school choir while is hoping to make it in the world of music. Much of the first act that is shot in Paris play into Pauline and Suzanne trying to find themselves as Varda maintains an intimacy as well as show the different backgrounds of the two women with the latter from a middle-class environment and the latter from the poor country as she is treated with disdain by her parents upon her return to the country. Varda would open up the scope of the film more in its second act with some wide shots but also in its usage of music. Though it’s largely pre-recorded, there is a liveliness to the musical performances as well as the staging that includes a silent theatrical performance of women’s role in society.

With Pomme accompanied by the real feminist-folk band Orchidee as well as Francois Wertheimer playing a traveling hippie-musician with a son, much of the music is straightforward with a few theatrical elements courtesy of Varda’s contributions as a lyricist while Wertheimer would also create a somber string orchestral score for some of the dramatic moments in the film. The scenes in Amsterdam and Iran play into the sense of wonderment for Pomme as she is constantly traveling often telling Suzanne about her adventures as it does play into a woman who is from a conventional background wanting an unconventional life. That is balanced by Suzanne whose life is unconventional despite being a single mother of two kids wanting a somewhat conventional life despite her resistance of being in a relationship again. Varda’s usage of the wide shots do play into the wondrous world of Iran and Hyeres as it display Pomme’s growing disconnect in the former and Suzanne’s growing comfort in the latter. Still, Varda does find a way for these two friends to maintain their identity as women but also as people with goals in their lives and love for each other. Overall, Varda crafts a mesmerizing and touching film about the friendship of two women trying to find themselves in the span of 14 years.

Cinematographer Charlie Van Damme does brilliant work with the film’s cinematography as it is showcases not just unique color moods into the some of the locations but also in tone as much of the first act showcase dark and grayish colors while the scenes in Iran, Amsterdam, and Hyeres are far more colorful with its natural approach to lighting as it’s a highlight of the film. Editor Joele Van Effenterre does excellent work with the editing as it is largely straightforward with a few rhythmic cuts to play into drama including some montages that play into the corresponding letters. Art director/costume designer Frankie Diago does amazing work with the look of some of the stage sets and clothes for some of Pomme’s performances as well as the look of the places she and Suzanne go to with the more casual look of Suzanne that is in contrast to Pomme’s more hippie-like look. The sound work of Henri Morelle is fantastic for its natural approach to sound in the way music is presented live as well as the atmosphere in some of the film’s different locations.

The film’s wonderful ensemble cast feature some notable small roles from Mona Mairesse and Francis Lemaire as Pauline’s parents, the trio of Isabelle Eduards, Dominique Ducros, and Rosalie Varda in their respective roles as the 3-year old, 13-year old, and teenage version of Suzanne’s daughter Marie, Francois Courbin, Frederic Boyot, and Laurent Plagne in their respective roles as the baby, adolescent, and teenage version of Suzanne’s son Mathieu, Francois Werthemier as a traveling hippie musician that Pomme and her band meets, Mathieu Demy as the traveling hippie’s son Zorro, the trio of Joelle Papineau, Micou Papineau, and Doudou Greffier as the band Orchidee who are part of Pomme’s group, and Jean-Pierre Pellegrin in a terrific performance as Dr. Pierre Aubanel whom Suzanne meets in the film’s third act as someone she isn’t sure about being in a relationship with since he is married.

Robert Dadies and Ali Raffi are superb in their respective roles as Jerome and Darius with the former being Suzanne’s married photographer/lover who is desperate to sell his photos while the latter is Pomme’s future Iranian husband whom she meets in Amsterdam as they fall in love and have a child only for him to be more traditionalist in Iran. Finally, there’s the duo of Valerie Mairesse and Therese Liotard in phenomenal performances in their respective roles as Pauline/Pomme and Suzanne. Mairesse brings a liveliness as Pomme whenever she’s performing her music or acting in a play though she’s more timid early in the film as Pauline while displaying some restraint in her scenes set in Iran. Liotard is the more reserved of the two as she displays that air of grace and humility in a woman who struggled so much as she tries to make something of herself where she does find happiness. Mairesse and Liotard together have a radiance to their scenes together as they often bring the best in each other as they’re a major highlight of the film.

The 2019 Region 1/Region DVD/Blu-Ray release from the Criterion Collection presents in the film in a new 2K digital restoration supervised by Agnes Varda and cinematographer Charlie Van Damme from its 2015 restored edition in its 1:66:1 aspect ratio and mono French soundtrack (uncompressed in its Blu-Ray release) with new English subtitle translation. Among the special features in the DVD/Blu-Ray set include the film’s theatrical trailer, a making-of documentary, and two shorts films by Varda.

The making-of documentary entitled Women are Naturally Creative: Agnes Varda by Katja Raganelli is a 47-minute film that explores Varda during the production of L’une chante, l’autre pas on its final day of shooting with interviews with its lead actresses and Varda herself. Raganelli would talk with Varda about her views on filmmaking and what does she do but also her views on feminism and the film she makes. She admits that not all women likes her films as she’s fine with that while a lot of what she does play into the roles of women as well as breaking down stereotypes. The film also showcases a brief glimpse into her life outside of the world of film as she is a mother and wife to another filmmaker in Jacques Demy though the two never collaborate on their respective films since they both have different ideas of the films they want to make though both of them are supportive of one another. It’s a fascinating documentary that explores Varda’s approach to filmmaking as well as the kind of films she wants to make.

The 9-minute short Reponse de femmes is a film where Varda asks this question. What is a woman? The 1975 short film commissioned by the French TV channel Antenne 2 asked seven women filmmakers this question as Varda’s short have women answer the question in different ways. Some show themselves naked and pregnant, others just remain clothed, and they all bring different ideas. Some want to be mothers and some don’t. It’s a short that really offers so many ideas while there is also a shot of a group of men sitting and standing in disapproval to this growing feminist movement that was happening in the 1970s yet Varda makes it about the women as they prove that they don’t need a man.

The six-and-a-half minute short Plasir d’amour en Iran starring Valerie Mairesse and Ali Raffi that was made in 1976 and shot on location in Isfahan, Iran. Narrated by Therese Liotard, the film features an Iranian man and a French woman as they’re at a Persian palace and ancient drawings relating to love. It’s a simple yet ravishing short film that showcases two people falling in love and expressing their love through poetry in an exotic land.

The DVD/Blu-Ray set also feature two booklets as one booklet features excerpts from the film’s original press book that featured tidbits about the actors, Varda, the film, notes on the film with comments from the actors and Varda along with sheet music to some of the original songs created for the film. The booklet for the film features an essay by Varda written in 2016 for a screening of the film at that year’s Cannes Film Festival in its 2015 restoration as she discuss the film and what it aimed to do in the times as well as what hasn’t changed since its release back in 1977. The booklet also features an essay from film critic/historian Amy Taubin entitled Bodies and Selves. Taubin’s essay touches upon Varda’s contribution to the French New Wave and her continued independence in doing things her own way and how the feminist movement of the 1970s inspired her to make this film. Even as the scene set in an abortion trial where Pomme and Suzanne reunite is based on a real-life event while Taubin talks about the film and what the characters go through as well as Varda’s approach to the story as it mixes elements of reality with this fictional narrative as it’s a wonderful essay by Taubin.

L’une chante, l’autre pas is a tremendous film by Agnes Varda that features sensational leading performances from Valerie Mairesse and Therese Liotard. Along with its gorgeous visuals, themes of gender identity, and a whimsical music soundtrack. The film is definitely one of Varda’s finest films as well as a compelling and thoughtful study of womanhood and their rights to be something more. In the end, L’une chante, l’autre pas is a spectacular film from Agnes Varda.

Agnes Varda Films: Diary of a Pregnant Woman - Du cote de la cote - La Pointe Courte - Cleo from 5 to 7 - Le Bonheur - (Les Creatures) – (Far from Vietnam) – (Lions Love) – (Daguerreotypes) – (Murals Murals) – (Documenteur) - Vagabond - (Jane B. by Agnes V.) – ((Le Petit Amour) – (Jacquot de Nantes) – (The Young Girls Turn 25) – (One Hundred and One Nights) – The World of Jacques Demy - The Gleaners & I - (The Gleaners & I: Two Years Later) – (Cinevardaphoto) – (Some Windows of Noirmoutier) - (The Beaches of Agnes) – (Faces Places) – (Varda by Agnes)

© thevoid99 2020


Brittani Burnham said...

I'm so glad you liked this too! I just watched it for the first time a few months ago and really enjoyed it. It was so lovely.

thevoid99 said...

@Brittani-It was better than I thought it would be as I hope to watch more work by Varda as I've been watching a lot of films by women as of late as it's been really fun despite the situation we're in.