Blackmail (dir. Alfred Hitchcock, 1929) – How can there be so much time for watching and so little for writing? Answer: there’s time for neither, but somehow watching squeezes its way in. This one from Hitch was supposedly the first feature-length sound film in Britain, and who better to direct it. It feels more noteworthy as a Hitchcock artifact rather than a particularly significant film, but maybe not. It’s got his fingerprints on it, with a structure no less perfect than North By Northwest. The bookending technique makes retrospective sense, although the beginning at first is rather unclear. As with all of his stuff, arguably, these are not characters so much as archetypes, culturally stereotypical figures who fatalistically respond in ordinary ways to extraordinary events. Hitchcock’s draw is never in how characters respond but rather in what happens and who the characters are. No different, even in 1929.
How Much Do You Love Me? (Combien tu m’aimes?) (dir. Bertrand Blier, 2005) – Not unlike Côte d’Azur, another French romantic comedy that revolves around men not so much impotent as just tepid, devoid of virility. Not to let the American notion of so-called “manliness” inform everyone else’s, but these guys, along with the main character in the Czech I Served the King of England, have no legs to stand on, and it gets rather old. Seems as if the narrative content at the micro and macro levels depend on this annoying feature. In these films, ironically, it’s still the man who saves the day, who brings about resolution, who has the real agency. What, then, is the point of such flaccid men? Is it to offer a truer glimpse of the proverbial man by which to celebrate the modern, liberated, and strong woman? No, it’s to show that even the modern, liberated, strong woman is at the mercy of the unmanly male. Probably not intentional, exactly, but that’s what’s there.
Fat Girl (dir. Catherine Breillat, 2001) – This was strongly recommended by an academically credible source, and for that reason only denotes what will likely be the only penetration into Breillat’s oeuvre one will ever see here. This is a film, of course, so it’s not about what happens but rather how, from what point of view, to what end. The things that happen here are disturbingly “realist,” and as a film it gives a visual voice to a traditionally ignored character. It’s a point of view to which many of us can’t relate, but that does make it a worthy exercise in film viewing, which typically presupposes a male point of view. Breillat is aware of this but finds it incomplete. She finds more ways to make her audience squirm, all the while chastising them for squirming. In a way, it’s another case of a female character living in a man’s world and wrestling with what it is to be a girl/woman, not unlike In the Cut. Being a weaker character here than “she” was in In the Cut, the girl is here punished in a way but allows her own desire to be complicit in the punishment.