Nothing is more stylized than the verismo of Nanook of the North and Man of Aran, Agnès Varda takes it apart in a thoroughgoing analysis. (If indeed she'd never seen them, then it's a matter of having to invent Flaherty, just as Bergman invented Renoir sight unseen with Smiles of a Summer Night.) A photographic style, "a symphony of wood": The credits roll over an ornately split log, the camera pans left and tracks down the fishing village's main street, then into one of the houses, out a window (the curtains part as if at the opera) and around the backyard, done with cheat-edits a la Rope. The villagers deal with a teenage girl's first date, the death of a boy and the authorities policing the coast, one fellow is arrested but is released just in time for the jostling tournament -- all of them are visibly uncomfortable before the lenses, often frozen like trapped rabbits. The contrasting line of deliberate awkwardness comes into play as a couple whose marriage is imploding (doleful Parisian blonde Silvia Monford, Philippe Noiret in a bowlcut not unlike Varda's) and who keep wandering from one stiffly framed shot to another. "I wonder why I am here in this spot where you chose to be born," Monford says, summoning up her Cocteau readings. "I've come to make noise yet silence has won out." The couple move from the belly of a ship to the aquatic reflections in their room ("Is it canal water on the ceiling?" "Yes, because the moon's in the canal"), the villagers adjourn to the courtyard for music and dancing, a tiny band fills the frame. The many disparate elements overlap without intersecting anywhere except in the wide open, fascinated gaze of the director, on her way to becoming cinema's grand gleaner. An astonishingly original film in its striking use of raw camera materials, and, in its position laying the groundwork for much of the Nouvelle Vague, an astonishingly influential one. Editing by Alain Resnais. In black and white.
--- Fernando F. Croce