À tout prendre / Take It All (1963)

20 05 2014

If there’s been a theme on the blog the last couple months, it’s been the way  films center certain individuals in heterosexual relationships. Back in January, I applauded Hong Sang-Soo for decentering the men Our Sunhi, making a film instead about the titular protagonist. The result is that the one we are to sympathize with is a woman, and this is a rarity. I’ve been coming back to it sense then, finding echoes of Hong’s achievement in the works of someone like Eric Rohmer, but looking for it everywhere. My interest is in destroying or at least deconstructing the way heterosexual relationships are established in fiction. So often the plight of the men is the one we are to be concerned with. Claude Jutra’s debate doesn’t decenter the male protagonist, who is Jutra himself, but it does provide an introspective look into the male mind, and provides some criticism to the dynamic. Jutra hasn’t stripped it away completely, but he has freshly given us something to eat away at the series of images we’re given that tell us that only men feel heartbreak.

1

Claude likes his solitude. He tells us as much in voiceover. Yet, when a friend suggests he go to a party, his initial resistance quickly fades. He doesn’t seem to be have a particularly good time, but then he spots Joanne. His inner monologue begs for her to notice him, and eventually, she does. The two, perhaps because of the intoxication, flirtation, and the excitement of the moment get caught up in each other’s bodies. The prospects of a one night stand are soon written off, Claude affirms his love for Joanne. The two start spending time together, she leaves for a fashion shoot in Manhattan. He doesn’t exactly remain faithful, but he feels no obligation to do so. The relationship seems to casually float along,  never reaching the excitement of the first night, while still not feeling overwhelmingly negative. One day, Joanne asks Claude about his sexuality. He doesn’t know how to answer.

2

There’s definitely an impulse to compare Jutra’s debut to John Cassavetes’ debut, Shadows. It is similarly rough around the edges, composed of jarring edits punctuated with more observant and tender moments. An important scene in Cassavetes’ debut involves Tony meeting his girlfriend, Leila, and her brothers. With her lighter skin, she passes as white and she certainly “fools” Tony, who freezes up and runs away when he sees her much darker brothers. Weirdly, this is the only moment in Cassavetes’ ouevere that ever comments on race, and the quotes from the man himself suggest he had a “color-blind liberal” approach to the matter more often than not. Jutra has made a film about race, even more so than Cassavetes, and he has wisely not taken the position of the one to be the preacher, but the one to, perhaps, be preached towards.

3

It would be unwise to say the film immediately takes notice of Joanne’s blackness, but only because we see things through Jutra’s eyes. Sure, he notices the color of her skin, but in his liberal mind, one that is suppose to be progressive enough to ignore race, he probably convinces himself he’s seeing nothing more than a pretty girl. This is actually, well, it’s smart. It’s this kind of casual avoidance of reality that leads to the relationship disintegrating. At one point, Joanne herself points out that she might be nothing more than experience for Claude, “You love me because you think I’m different” she says. “You think I’m exotic.” Indeed, Claude himself believes that Joanne came from Haiti and he asks her for stories about her upbringing. Twisting reality, she indulges in the Othering fantasy he wants. She does it because she loves him. He loves her because of bullshit like this.

5

The truth becomes clear as the film progresses, Claude really doesn’t love Joanne. He loves an idea of her, one that he created, and one that she played along with. She becomes pregnant, but he selfishly removes himself from the relationship entirely. I think this becomes a reality for a lot of dudes, especially ones in my age group: the idea of a “girlfriend” is something both so elusive and so attractive that when the time comes to be in an actual relationship, there’s no room to, you know, actually take care and feel for another person. Claude ends up getting bored and frustrated with Joanne so his clean break is meant to help him. He still wants to see her, of course, but by forever removing himself from her life, he’s romanticized his past. He can wistfully think back to their time together, which is probably more satisfying to him than doing the actual work that is necessary for a relationship to continue. Jutra exposes himself, he exposes how other countless “tortured, sad boys” are not really that, but just slanted male expectations. One that can’t and shouldn’t be filled.

6

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