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Conversations about "Une Belle Fille Comme Moi," at the NewYorker Movie Facebook Club

A phrase makes a deeper impression at one moment than at another. There's a remarkable interview with François Truffaut in Cahiers du Cinéma, Dec. 1962, that's part of a bigger story (the magazine's editor, Éric Rohmer, making amends to his fellow-New-Wavers for not fighting for their films) that was also republished in Peter Graham's volume The New Wave. I had read the interview years ago, but re-reading it a few days ago, a line struck me in the film-critical solar plexus: "In fact, the people who were disappointed by Les Quatre Cents Coups were the cinéphiles. Over and above what a film expresses, they feel the need to find a *form* which arouses them like a stimulant." This idea has been haunting and troubling me, in part because—though I do love The 400 Blows and have never, from the day I saw it forty years ago, been disappointed by it—I do think that the aesthetic quality of form (a useful shorthand even though a term that needs to be worked out) is one of the great pleasures of watching movies (or, for that matter, listening to music, looking at art...). The first thing that comes to mind, though, is that the very idea of form as something determined, devised, and applied or realized by a director is actually not the experience of watching the film and being stimulated or delighted by it—that, whatever form is, it's something close to style, and therefore something close to unconscious and involuntary in its creation. In other words, I don't think that "formally" advanced filmmakers decide to be that way any more than traditional or conventional ones do—or, if they do, the inauthenticity shows. Rather, they do what comes naturally, and for some filmmakers, the results are naturally original, complex, and provocative. Nonetheless, the idea, in Truffaut's formulation, is troubling and useful (and he was speaking, of course, as a former critic and a great one, as well as a charter member of the cinéphile guild); keeping this idea in mind is at least a way to avoiding fetishes of style, obsessions with particular figures of visual rhetoric or dramatic construction. It's an idea that I'll be revisiting, probably often. Meanwhile, speaking of Truffaut, the film of his that has come to be my favorite is also now maybe the hardest to get hold of: A Gorgeous Girl Like Me, from 1972 (released then under an alternate title, below).…/dvr-alert-such-a-gorgeous-kid-l…

François Truffaut’s best film—a phrase I don’t toss out lightly—is also among his rarest; I mean “A Gorgeous Girl Like Me” (also known as …
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ichard Thomas
Richard Thomas Pauline Kael in these pages hated this movie, calling it "gross flippancy." But give it a generation or two ...
atrick McEvoy-Halston
Patrick McEvoy-Halston I think there was a brief moment when Trump got elected where a whole bunch of people began to wonder if they weren't getting along through fixes, if they'd been deliberately keeping out dangerous or askew information through their unified preferences. And I think they sensed that to consider it any further would lead to psychic discombobulation so they recoiled and went back to form, hence the universal delight in "Shape of Water." A young population watching this should judge that, well, there's no helping them, and if we want to be provoked, challenged, to snap out insufficient tastes to evolve into more complex ones, don't expect it to develop full out in the open.
atrick McEvoy-Halston
Patrick McEvoy-Halston By which I mean, in 1962 you make an astute observation like this and a people were prepared to reflect, and even embrace, very clearly -- "we've been temporarily fixed to stultifying but perhaps momentarily actually helpful forms, styles... maybe structures -- okay; perhaps so." You'd do a quick check around you, and realize that everyone's shedding old selves and trying on new ones, and there's a sense of encouragement, permission, so you're relaxed for trail and error. Stage is set, maybe, owing to previous ironclad "fetish" placements. You do that now, grapple and re-think and give the world a more challenging and provocative offering, and you get dissed for being a provocative reminder of a "place" they had momentarily considered entering, but realized they weren't capable. You become annoying "Darwininst" to a generation of "Philip Henry Grosses," but at a time way before the "evolutionary" wind's got your back. 

This doesn't seem to correspond well with the #metoo movement, which is about people finally "becoming ready," not being cowed away from ostensibly bringing the world down with their new insistences, I agree. We'll learn if the leading voices of this movement can keep pushing an understanding of the effects of trauma into places that make it difficult to sustain justified hate for anyone (if millions of women have suffered terrific, incredibly damaging and shaming sexual abuse, if this is the norm, and we're really feeling it now, how soon before we wonder what happened to them as a result that didn't just involve being denied things, but their being transmogrified, malformed, "monsterified," owing to it? And how long after then are we drawn to consider what kind of parents these women become as a result? before considering whether they become the traditional "good enough" ones, or rather, needy, rejecting, troubled ones, who take out the abuse they received from the men in their lives upon their own sons? And from there, to considering what, owing to that experience, the inevitable results for the adult life of that son would prove as a result, in terms of inclinations as to whether to be the greatest mama's boy in the world but also the greatest victimizer of all other women?). 

Right now it's being kept at a level that still keeps the groups you're allowed to hate -- and thereby use as your own poison containers: drop all your own junk into them -- intact, to root for the ones we've already been enthusiastic about rooting for, and thereby our feeling right to the world and elated. Sources of our purity intact, sources to drop all our compromised aspects into, also intact, it allows us to feel just as comfortable watching "Shape of Water" as we would have been about a year ago, and so so far it's denouement has proved to shape well to our required "Kantian" mental forms that all new developments have to be funnelled into else we go places we can't handle going.
alph Benner
Ralph Benner Why doesn't FB offer a gobbledygook translator?
atrick McEvoy-Halston
Patrick McEvoy-Halston Or censor internet bullies.

aureen Daniels
Maureen Daniels What a strange round-a-bout translation of the title. Surely it is simply 'A Beautiful Girl Like Me'.
ulia Arancio
Julia Arancio I disagree with the above comments, I think Mr. Brody raises some interesting points. I think it's also important to remember that the lack of form, especially in this particular movie, is a form in and of itself. Aside from deliberately trying to break with the status quo of storytelling (which I personally believe is most evident in Godard's Breathless), the almost rambling nature of the story is intended to show the nature of childhood and in particular, the downtrodden and misunderstood nature of Antoine's childhood. The 400 Blows is Truffaut's visceral and emotional leap into cinema, the product of his "involuntary creation," but it was also thoroughly thought out and intentional. Both sides add to its power.
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