Arrière Saison (1950)

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*. The title is correctly translated on the Kino Avant-Garde 2 disc as “late autumn.” Looking for more information online I was surprised to find it more generally translated as “backward season,” which is not just incorrect but meaningless. Did Google do this to us?
*. Does the season have any special significance? The most obvious response would be that it refers to the time of life of the two protagonists, the woodcutter and his wife Jeanne, but they look a little young for that. This may, however, be the effect of our own elongated sense of age and we need to think ourselves back to a time when 40 was the old 60.

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*. Their age means something. In the first place, this is a film about routine. Jeanne and her husband have settled into a routine that has him coming home for lunch and then again for dinner. Their lives are arranged around mealtimes. They could probably set their clocks by their stomachs, but it looks like they don’t even need clocks any more.
*. You could smile (I did) at the Frenchman not even taking off his beret to eat his lunch of stew with a baguette and a glass of wine, but for me this was less a nod to a stereotype than an affirmation of the value of routine. It’s not just the same dull round that the stir-crazy dog does in its pen but something that orders and gives some meaning to what would otherwise be meaningless lives.
*. Has the routine become something automatic? Yes. Note how Jeanne actually leaves a pot cooking on the stove when she leaves. She isn’t being careless or deliberately leaving a mess though. Instead, she’s being conscientious. It’s a sign that while she’s bored with her life, she still cares about her husband.
*. Things are not happy on the home front. There are no kids, and if we take it that the late-autumn age of the couple means something then it’s unlikely there are going to be any.
*. That poor dog. I felt worse for it than I did for Jeanne. The obvious parallel between them (she is trapped behind glass, it is stuck behind chicken wire) leads one to think the worst of her situation.
*. Didn’t they have chainsaws in 1950? Actually . . . it’s complicated. But portable, one-man chainsaws didn’t come into mass production until after WW2, so it’s not surprising that everyone is still using axes here.

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*. The title cards announce this as a “poetic essay.” Was French Impressionism the nearest film ever came to poetry? And if so, why? What was the zeitgeist?
*. The title cards also tell us that this will be a short film without dialogue because words would add nothing. Which is true, since no one in the film speaks. Routine means they don’t have to. The woodcutters know their jobs. Jeanne and her husband don’t exchange even the briefest of pleasantries. He says nothing to her when he comes home, and nothing when he leaves.
*. Their silence leaves everything open to interpretation. Are they tired of each other? No longer communicating? After she leaves, does spend his feeling on the unimportant wood? Or does he take for granted that she’ll return (because she’s done this before)? He does leave the key for her in the flowerpot.

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*. Dimitri Kirsanoff had done Ménilmontant almost a quarter-century earlier. I don’t think this film is an advance, but it does show an artist who stuck to his aesthetic guns.
*. It’s a difficult film to interpret, in part because I think the way we look at it today is probably different than how it would have been viewed or was meant to be viewed at the time. Does Jeanne’s return make her a failed feminist, unequal to Ibsen’s Nora? Or is she affirming something about her marriage? Today, of course, we come to these questions with different feelings. As Pearl Jam put it, in a song about domestic violence, “She feeds him. That’s why she’ll be back again.”

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