Do widzenia, do jutra / Goodbye, See You Tomorrow (1960)

13 01 2015

Narrative film has, since its inception, maintained a vested interest in depicting love. The problem, if there is one, is how close to reality these depictions have been. Rather than experiencing love first hand, many of us are indoctrinated into a culture of heteronormative romance fueled by cinema’s bursts of passions that seldom hold weight in reality. It’s not an entirely new idea, but so much of what we construct and understand as romantic love, is informed and inspired by a Hollywood screenwriter from the 1930s. This isn’t to say someone like say, Lubitsch, touched on the truth from time to time, nor is it a call against old Hollywood. Instead, I think any serious discussion about Janusz Morgenstern’s breezy but fascinating should begin with the question: what is love to us, and what are the pieces we use to stitch together this idea?

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Jacek is a young and charismatic theater student who, one day, stumbles upon the fickle yet beautiful Marguerite. She resists his advances, but doesn’t push him away entirely. Instead, she makes it clear that while she is willing to have fun with Jacek, she is also quick to leave him. The two’s spontaneous tennis date ends with her running off with a man who has both a better grasp of her native language (French) and tennis. Jacek’s feelings remain and the two manage to continually run into each other around the city, which leads to further spontaneous dates. To Jacek, this inspires poetry but to Marguerite, it is nothing more than a distraction until she leaves the country. Maybe Jacek’s longing is all just an attempt to get into character anyway.

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The setup here is filled with potential problems, but Morgenstern (in this, his first feature) carefully tiptoes around them. While the narrative is indeed built around Jacke and his feelings for Marguerite, never does the camera suggest that such feelings are logical. In fact, the film ends with the concept that the feelings have just been a performance anyway. There’s plenty of snappy and cute films (many birthed from various new waves) that offer us a protagonist like Jacek, but they present his desire as the only factor deserving of our sympathy. The cute girl, ever rejecting the male protagonist’s advances, is suppose to be as maddening to us, the audience as she is to our male hero. Here, the opposite is true. Jacek’s ideas on love seem preposterous while Marguerite, despite being 7 years younger, is the much more grounded and rational of the two.

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So why bother with Jacek at all anyway? The frame story here posits the idea that his courting of Marguerite was either just a performance on his part or just a very intense imagination. Of course, the answer could be both, but the idea of performance is the one that gives us the most to work with. The proposition could then be that the experience of love is something of a performance, no not a conscious acting out, but a thing that we feel like we’re suppose to do because well, we’ve been fed the images to believe in it since we were born. I’m not enough of a cynical asshole to say that love is completely fake, that’s simply ridiculous. Instead, I think what the film gives us is the idea that we are eager to take on a certain role in relationship. Romantic love exists, but it takes more than what Jacek has to offer here. Throughout the film, we’re treated to a show involving hand puppetry. The movements of the hands, visually removed from the rest of the body, are oozing with sexual potential. It’s Jacek’s sensuality that has him pining for Marguerite. As she herself says, “The unreal life is the best I can offer you.” The ability to recognize and point out the differences is Morgenstern’s biggest accomplishment.

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