Tuesday, April 17, 2012

92. ANNA (1967)

Directed by Pierre Koralnik, from a score and libretto by Serge Gainsbourg, this was the first made-for-TV shown in color on French television. Like some other films made in the Op style, it can be reduced to the inverse Cinderella-like story of a man's search for an animistic image (a woman's face captured in a high contrast photo) -- in this case, a commercial director (Jean-Claude Brialy) thunderstruck by a picture of disconnected eyes, mouth and nostrils and determined to piece together this puzzle of his Ideal Woman. His search has the added tragicomic touch that he cannot recognize one of his own confidants -- a young woman (Anna Karina) in round spectacles, who works as a comic book colorist.

Counseled by his acerbic, worldly best friend (Gainsbourg), by a drop-dead gorgeous date (Marianne Faithfull, looking perfect but fragile in a somewhat gratuitous cameo), and by the object of his quest herself, Brialy exhorts his search in song on crowded streets and in crowded, kaleidoscopic clubs while Karina wallows in her own solipsistic, little-girl world on beaches and abandoned train stations. It's all very loosely woven, but somehow completely winning -- a more roughly hewn, though infinitely more tuneful link between Karina and Brialy's earlier musical for Godard (A WOMAN IS A WOMAN, 1961) and Jacques Demy's THE UMBRELLAS OF CHERBOURG (1967). Provenance in the genre aside, Brialy is the weak link in all this -- partly for the blindness of his character (which makes him seem flighty and untrustworthy), possibly because he was also handed the least memorable of the songs, but really because Gainsbourg, as the composer, was more interested in Anna and getting under her skin.  (His boorish reading of "Boomerang" hobbles an otherwise gutsy backing track.) On the other hand, Karina is absolutely charming (singing "Sous Le Soleil Exactement", "Un Jour comme un autre", "Roller Girl" and "Pistolet Joe" among others - a couple of them now regarded among the most memorable songs in a distinguished discography), and one is grateful whenever Serge wanders through a scene to drop a few lyrics like so much ash from his Gitanes. That said, in one of the early numbers shared by Brialy, Gainsbourg and another clubgoer, the staging of the song is so awkward, it doesn't quite settle in that the music isn't coming from the club's DJ until the song is half-over.

For those who come to the film already knowing the score (a great record poised between Gainsbourg's lightweight pop for France Gall and his denser, more mature and sensual productions for Brigitte Bardot - track it down), Koralnik's staging falls somewhat short of one's daydreams; it's possible that Gainsbourg felt the same, since he subsequently pursued a side career as a film director. The music and the mood of the piece are very much linked to its time, but for some reason, its attempts to encompass its time visually (Karina's workplace has wall decorations in the form of pinball machine lights) are not what sustain it; the image one carries away is of Karina walking along the edge of an empty beach and -- as she cries out "Sous Le Soleil Exactement!" -- suddenly reaching out like a four-pointed star to claim her dreams.

Available as a French DVD without English subtitles, but as for me...

Viewed on DVD-R. 

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