One of the key figures in the upcoming Periodical #3 is French filmmaker Maurice Pialat. To contextualise the works featured in Periodical a mass revisiting of the director’s work has taken place, and not all of it is article apt, so I thought it apt to place some of said content on Hope Lies at 24 Frames Per Second. Pialat is a fascinating filmmaker. While somewhat overshadowed by the national cinema movements that preceded and succeeded his tenure (the Nouvelle Vague and the Cinéma du look respectively), Pialat’s influence continues to be seen across a wide array of cinema, both French and international. He was the subject of a major retrospective at the Cinémathèque Française in Paris in early 2013, while his reputation within cinephile circles has grown exponentially since the advent of DVD and Blu-ray.
In many ways 1980’s Loulou is Pialat’s most celebrated work. Born of a time when it’s dual leads were on their way to becoming two of the biggest French stars in the industry, and to a film industry on the verge of significant transition, Loulou in many ways defines the cinema of the period.
Aesthetically it’s a harsh film. A lone page of simple credits lists the names of the lead actors and Pialat before cutting straight in to the scenario that has already played out. One girl leaves, dramatically, before attention turns almost immediately to the same people within the space of a night club in full flow. From there the picture drifts organically. Love is found, fracturing the relationship between others, and the after effects play out as one might expect over the duration of the rest of the feature. As appealing as the on-screen action is the nature of the era in which it is set. A dingy pre-cinema du look underground of Paris is home to our players. Stylisation is at a minimum. There’s a reason Pialat was called the Cassavetes of France. Faded neons are partially replaced by garish fluorescents, turning every public space in to a sight akin to a poorly lit warehouse or supermarket. There’s a glow of glamour still somehow present, an occurrence largely thanks to the presence of Gerard Depardieu and Isabelle Huppert, France’s great young talents at the time.
Huppert is remarkable. The dramatic scale charted by the actress covers all corners, taking in everything between pure joy and fierce despair. What is perhaps most interesting about her character is that she could easily be an aged Suzanne from Pialat’s later A Nos Amours, while Depardieu’s eponymous Loulou could be the man that grew from L’enfance nue. This evolving system of a life on-screen might be seen as Pialat’s master plan, with the capturing of every facet from youth (the aforementioned L’enfance nue and that film’s spiritual follow-up Passe ton bac d’abord) through death (La gueule ouverte) and via all in between.
In contrast to the everyday realism of the slice-of-life tendencies of Pialat’s ouevre, there is a real sense of a dramatised, dreadful inevitability to their love (one almost feels it a necessity to place quotation marks around the word “love”) can’t last. This tone is offset by Pialat’s fluid portrayal of the everyday. It manages to offset any impending doom by sweeping it up in the flow of the picture. The third act is punctuated by a warm family meal, with every action, even the ones that verge on the ridiculous in theoretical terms (see. shotgun brother-in-law) rendered organic. The style and tone of performance is in direct opposition to the fractured, disparate narrative structure. It’s apt to be discussing this sequence, for it gives way to the film’s most dramatic time shift, as Pialat cuts from party to the aftermath of an abortion.
Like A Nos Amours Pialat takes a conservative running time and somehow manages to make it feel much more sizeable, in turn crafting something of an intimate epic. As with his earlier films, which riffed on known properties (the child drama, the ill drama) he resists convention. This, coupled with Pialat’s aesthetic sensibilities, with his sweeping camera (see, the remarkable long shot as Nelly and Loulou walk the latter’s mother home) and bold sense of cut, paved the way for Les amants du Pont-Neuf and other films of the Cinéma du look period. As Loulou and Nelly walk off not so much in to the subset as a an already pitch black evening, one cannot help but look towards the romantically nihilistic cinema that would follow, even if Pialat himself was apprehensive about his own involvement with any particular movement.
While the French cinema would soon divide off in to two distinct directions; that of the Cinéma du look and that of the Cinéma du papa redux (see. Manon des Sources), Pialat again stood free of agenda, just as he had done in the days of the Nouvelle Vague .