Monday, August 29, 2011

The Paradox of Perception and Projection in Tous les garçons s'appellent Patrick

Jean Luc Godards’ early short film in the infancy of French New Wave Cinema Tous les garçons s'appellent Patrick (1957) is an entertaining satirical approach to bourgeois relationships on the surface. At the core Godard examines personal perception and projections of popular culture and high art.
The short follows Veronique and Charlotte, two young women in college who one day both meet the same man (Patrick) on the street in Paris and consent to go on a date with him, at subsequent different days. Each girl tells the other of the date while proceeding to weave their own narrative projections of “Patrick’s” potential. The next day they tease each other endlessly about every man they cross in the Latin Quarter of Paris’ 5th district until at last they both spot Patrick getting into the car with yet another conquest and realize how they have been played by the same man. The film ends in a shrug and a laugh for Charlotte and Veronique who concede Patrick to be no big loss.
Goddard’s new wave mark is so complex within his early short. Stylistically he uses the upbeat piano forte reminiscent of the silent films in conjunction with his then contemporary narrative. Charlotte and Veronique are presented as contradictions to each other like two sides of the same coin, or two images of woman in society. Within the apartment Charlotte is the femme fragile dressed all in white exhibiting her delicate female form in a flowing ruffled skirt. Charlotte’s wardrobe contrasts her bob cut that alludes to the liberated female and the flappers from decades before. Veronique in the apartment is a picture of the modern woman apart from her classic curled hairstyle. She wears pants and a baggy stripped shirt, which interestingly enough clashes with the similarly striped wallpaper of their flat. Outside on the streets Charlotte is more garishly dressed in a frumpy jacket while Veronique seems to have much more fashion sense in her form fitting pea coat and berate.
On a larger scale, Godard’s choice of wardrobe parodies Hollywood clichés. The sunglasses the characters wear on the streets suggest the sleuthing of classic spy films. Patrick’s clear resemblance to the iconographic image of James Dean in the girls’ apartment boudoir is part of his signature as an auteur of creating visual parallels to popular celebrities as in Breathless (1960), where the lead Michel has the dress and poise of Humphrey Bogart.
Tous les garçons s'appellent Patrick, revolves around the clash between popular culture and high art on one level and personal truth and projected stereotypes on another. The girls fascination for James Dean and film stars allows them to get caught up in Patrick’s smooth talking, yet the dressing in their apartment suggests taste, culture and value in classic high art from earlier generations. At one point while Charlotte and Veronique are discussing Patrick in bed Godard cuts away to a close up of a Picasso frowning on them, as if he disapproved of their frivolous infatuation of Patrick. Later in the film the girls are on the street glancing at postcards and Veronique picks up another Picasso sketch of three nude people, perhaps alluding to what might have been them in a ménage a trois. In the dialogue Goddard presents the archetypal discourse of a relationship through projections. Patrick makes a tirade of superfluous claims about his background to one girl, his rash generalizations about women and girls, and his honorable intentions with them. Charlotte and Veronique make similar projections about Patrick to one another, as if competing with the other to have secured the better catch. In the end whatever grand illusions each girl had of the generalized man ‘Patrick” is shattered by a revealing encounter on the street and life resumes its course.

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