Wednesday, September 10, 2008
La Lettre (The Letter)
Directed by Michel Gondry, France, 1998. 10:19 minutes.
La Lettre, which marked Gondry's first attempt at dialogue, was commissioned by Canal +, a French television program, as a part of short film series broadly titled "En attendant l'an 2000" (Waiting for the Year 2000).
The film is, for the most part, very simple. Two brothers have a conversation in hushed voices, during which they discuss the imminent New Year, photography, and the younger brother’s love for his classmate, Aurélie. The dynamic between the brothers is typically...well...brotherly. The older brother (who I thought was strikingly reminiscent of Buzz McAllister in Home Alone) is gangly and appears to have just begun to develop a smear of a mustache. He makes Stéphane feel insecure for not yet having kissed a girl, pressuring him to make his move on Aurélie before the year 2000 and dramatically making out with the air to demonstrate the proper kissing technique.
The interesting part of the film (which is also where Gondry’s style really peeks through) begins when Stéphane’s brother goes to bed, and Stéphane, waiting for his photo to finish developing, begins to drift off. He then has a vivid surrealist dream in which he is at a New Year’s party and everyone is chanting for him to kiss Aurélie. But a giant camera is where his head should be, and as the two get closer to each other, he bumps heads (cameras?) with her and knocks her to the ground. To add insult to injury, then the Eiffel Tower falls on him. It’s every kid’s biggest fear, a fear so consuming that even viewers well beyond pre-adolescence cringe with embarrassment of the I’m-so-glad-that-wasn’t-me variety. And as for the symbolism, it’s obvious: Stéphane has been distancing himself from social situations by passively taking pictures of people and events (e.g. Aurélie) instead of actively participating (e.g. kissing her).
The next day, Stéphane races over to Aurélie’s house to pick up a letter she’s written for him, certain that in it she’s confessed her mutual love for him. Tragically, however, Aurélie has written that it’s Stéphane’s brother she “fancies,” and the film ends with Stéphane sadly removing the pictures of her from his wall.
This film piqued my interest partly because of the dream sequence, but also because of the photography theme—specifically, the use of negatives. Aurélie’s image projected on the wall of Stéphane’s hallway is obviously a negative, but she appears to him in his dream as a negative image—the only negative image in the entire dream--as well. And finally, at the end as Aurélie’s voice reads the letter addressed to Stéphane, there is a sweeping view of houses, which appear as negatives until just before the last line of the letter, “Enjoy your vacation.” I’m coming at this as a Lit major, so I can only come up with a nauseatingly corny interpretation: that Stéphane’s image of and love for Aurélie is, visually and literally, undeveloped. But what do you all think it means? Does it mean anything or is the use of negative images a purely aesthetic addition to the film? Or better yet, does it have to mean anything?