Monday, May 19, 2008

La guerre est finie

The William Faulkner of cinema, Alain Resnais through La Guerre Est Finie ("The War Is Over") does not only a brilliant psychological study of the revolutionary but also of the resistance itself. The spirit, the anger, the disjointedness, the weariness, the inspiration, the mechanical, the loss of charm, the loss of ideology with the gain of further knowledge, the loss of innocence in more ways than virginal: how often do you find a film that can catch all this?

Inspirational cinematography, designed to capture the soul, the subconscious, titillates the viewer, provokes the viewer, and finally absorbs the viewer. In this one respect, Resnais differs largely from Godard, in that all his unconventionalities only draw in the viewer further, only make the viewer feel a narrow constriction at heart even more. La Guerre Est Finie stars Yves Montand, Ingrid Thulin and Geneviève Bujold, all actors whom I can call 'choicest', 'hand-picked'.

Montand is the centre of the film; it is through him we get an interior view of an intelligent revolutionary who loves his country, and probably from that love is losing his ideology, seeing now, in his 'retirement' age, the futileness of it all. Some more will die, will anything change? Is that the way to go about it? Yes, the Spain of legends and bull-fights is sold to the tourists, and people enjoy and go away, satisfied that all is well with Franco's Spain. But would killing off tourism and civil war be the way out? Wouldn't those same scatterbrained people then go elsewhere and 'enjoy their lives'?

Long and short dollies, finest editing and cinematography I've ever seen in my life, and an equally ingenious way of making acquired passions of a man impersonal - all make the film a masterpiece. Let's get down to each one in detail.

Dollies and intercutting shots serve only to make the film more Montand-centric. As Montand is living a revolutionary's life, going places, struggling with his reactionism and what he sees now as the truth, and what is going to happen, something is happening somewhere all the times. There are so many people connected, networked, underground. Someone is waiting to apprehend someone, slip in someone quietly behind doors that might never issue forth that one person; someone is waiting patiently for that someone to come home and reclaim her. Some of these are things not real, only in Montand's imagination and dread of future, or his foresight. Some of it will happen in the film in the ensuing scenes. Some of it has happened before. But, suddenly, in between a Montand scene, you get these different images of different people, going about quietly, unquiet events happening to them quietly, and then you are back to the Montand scene. So now you are seeped in the subconscious of Montand's soul, you are now the disturbed revolutionary who has so much to achieve and so little means to do so.

Especially striking is the scene when Montand has just come to a café, depressed after being told to stay put and that he is growing old, he should rest and 'be convinced'. The images that flash in the telephone booth this time not only include all those involved underground but also Bujold, daughter of a resistance sympathiser and whom he is having an aimless affair with. It's a striking image, one of innocence, Bujold's eyelashes drooping, a virginal image. A guilt on freshness and virginity lost? But on what all counts? It also foretells in a way Bujold's own involvement, on a different and much more radical and destructive and foolhardy scale, in the underground movement. Also, an 'acquired taste'?

Bujold is French, not Spanish, and so are her friends. Theirs is a different case than Montand, who plays Domingo, a Spanish man. But they are obsessed with their youth, and they give it the names of internationalism, Leninism, and truth. A case of acquired tastes when you are intelligent, want to do something but you don't have proper outlets, and you have money or are well-to-do. Not only through such characters but also by way of using narrations in different voices (and not those of the actors) does the film make its point across of ideologies speaking. It is most prominent when Montand argues with other resistance leaders about the inevitable failure of the coming strike. There are two to three voices, not Montand's, not the other leaders', which take up this discussion. It is as if men have become impersonal here, they have been taken control of something higher than themselves, they have become just 'voices' and 'ideologies' and that's their identification, their brand. They will die one day, even their ideologies will be forgotten, at least as attached to them. There would be just the murmur of those voices on the wind.


The film ends in inevitability. Thulin, the mistress whose devotion sometimes makes Montand uncomfortable yet at peace with himself, learns Montand is going to be sucked into a trap, and she starts out to let him know and save him from crossing into Spain. The film ends here, yet there's a shadow of death over it. Either Thulin will not be able to save Montand, or she will be able to save him and Montand will quit this life and spend the remaining part of it trying to make peace with himself and his country. Death, in one case of Montand the physical entity, in the other case of Montand the man of ideals, dreams, revolutionary potentials. That’s why Montand could feel the ‘shadow of death’ through the narrator in the penultimate scene.

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