January 13, 2006
Le Bonheur, 1965
Even with the landscape bathed in warm hues and verdant fields on a summer day, accompanied by the lushness of a textured Mozart adagio, clad with airy wispiness of draped muslin, and emphatically punctuated by a picture-perfect sunflower in full bloom that suggests an aesthetic symbiosis with the vibrant, saccharine images of husband and fellow filmmaker Jacques Demy's contemporary film The Umbrellas of Cherbourg, the association of Le Bonheur as both a prefiguration and corollary to the somber and oppressive bleakness of Vagabond - a film Agnès Varda would make twenty years later - nevertheless, seems inescapable. Ostensibly a chronicle of the repercussions of a husband's admitted infidelity on his family (an affair that, as François (Jean-Claude Drouot) rationalizes, was borne not of an emotional void, but of an abundance of happiness and desire to extend that sense of personal joy beyond the sphere of their marital relationship), the film is also an incisive satire on egoism, patriarchal immunity, and bourgeois complacency that implicitly tolerates acts of infidelity and emotional irresponsibility. A carpenter by trade, François' vocation provides a glimpse into the vanity of his desire to inhabit a world of his own construction, much like the titular drifter, Mona (Sandrine Bonnaire) chooses her transience - and ultimately her fate - in Vagabond. Intrinsic in this act of self-determinism is the fragility of balance between personal autonomy and social communion, an interdependence that collapses in the polarity of the characters' own selfishness. On one side of the spectrum is François' rationalization that love is infinitely additive and therefore, does not take away from his relationship with his wife, Therese (Claire Drouot); on the other side is Mona's complete emotional detachment beyond the immediacy of physical necessity. Yet both characters are driven by the compulsion - and myth - of the attainability of complete freedom. It is this elusive search that propels the denouement of both films, a myopic sense of entitlement and inability to acknowledge the real world limitations of freedom and pursuit of happiness.