Tonight we commence our retrospective season of French New Wave pioneer Agnès Varda's works with the director's rarely-screened debut feature La Pointe Courte. Shot in 1954 on a tiny budget by her newly-founded filmmaking co-operative Ciné-Tamarais, Varda's debut pre-dates the better-known works of New Wave posterboys Godard, Chabrol and Truffaut by half a decade and has been dubbed by French cinema historian Georges Sadoul as, “truly the first film of the nouvelle vague.”
Taking its name from the small Mediterranean village in which the film is set, where Varda herself spent part of her adolescence, La Pointe Courte follows a young bourgeois couple – depicted by renowned theatre actors Silvia Monfort and Philippe Noiret – who have travelled to the provincial fishing community to escape Paris and take stock of their relationship, which after four years of marriage is showing signs of dissolution. But the couple’s narrative is formally overshadowed by the personality of the village itself, which emerges in a narrative structure indebted to Faulkner’s The Wild Palms and realized with the assistance of Alain Resnais (acclaimed Left Bank director of Hiroshima Mon Amour and Last Year at Marienbad) who acted as editor and mentor on the project.
La Pointe Courte is not a documentary, but more a fictional narrative utterly immersed in its environment – the film was shot completely on location and features a cast consisting mainly of the real-life villagers. A significant portion of screen time is devoted not to the couple’s existential romantic crisis, but to slow tracking shots moving through the grubby streets and alleyways of the weather-worn village; to sequences documenting the locals going about their daily routines; the soundtrack capturing the calls of seagulls and the crashing of the ocean; scenes depicting conflicts between the local fishermen and intrusive health inspectors; and extended sections portraying the community’s customs and rituals. The result is a hypnotic portrait of the Mediterranean village, rich in texture and detail, that anticipates the innovative realist techniques of Varda’s later masterpieces such as Cléo de 5 a 7 and Vagabond.
ICA Film and Cinema Co-ordinator