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Sunday, October 23, 2016

Movie Review: Frances Ha (2013), The French New Wave, and My Life to Live

Starring: Greta Gerwig, Mickey Sumner, Adam Driver
Written By: Noah Baumbach & Greta Gerwig
Directed By: Noah Baumbach
Release Date: May 17, 2013
Rating: B

Frances Ha isn't a film that works simply because of its realism. Yes, it's a film that touches the lives of "twenty-somethings" in such a simplistic, yet in-depth manner, (similar to that of Lena Dunham's Girls); but it also because it touches upon on realm of cinema that a lot of people previously loved, but seemed to have forgotten about. That realm is The French New Wave of Cinema. Frances Ha works well not because of anything spectacular or grandiose simply because it doesn't have to. It's simplistic in its characters, in their development and how it uses these people to create a world similar to our own. These characters are us, the people watching the film. They aren't these boring characters that are perfect and have their problems wrapped up for them at the end of the film. A conversation about finding love that Frances has with a room full of married people is spot on. So is her constant jumping from place-to-place and job-to-job, only to do something stupid and risky that leads one into even more debt than she already is. Frances is the epitome of what means to be lost, confused and in your twenties. Frances maxes out the credit card she got in the mail just a few days prior and even stupidly turns down a job offer even though she's unemployed. These actions are relatable. Yes, they're also quite annoying, but sometimes stupid choices matter and it's in these kinds of choices that Baumbach encaptures what it means to be a "twenty-something". Even though these things sound crazy and probably self-destructive, it's what actually happens in the world.

Frances (Greta Gerwig), our titular character is a dancer and a failing one, at that. She loses her apprenticeship for the dancing company she works for as well as her boyfriend because she refuses to move in with him. While she doesn't move in with him in respect of best friend's feelings, unbeknownst to her, her best friend, Sophia (Mickey Sumner) has found another apartment with one of their mutual friends. The story begins when her and Sophie's relationship begins to falter after she leaves Greta behind with no source of income to pay for their apartment by herself. We follow the rest of her up-and-downs soon after. Similary to Frances HaJean-Luc Godard's My Life to Live is also the study of a young woman. We follow another twenty-something named Nana, who also just happens to be a prostitute.  We follow around these two women from place to place through misadventure after misadventure via long continuous shots and title-cards that roughly introduce a new chapter in their lives. These women want to be something great, whether it lies in becoming a successful dancer or a thriving actress. However, both of these stories aren't about these women actually achieving these goals. The importance of their stories lies in them coping with lifestyles that are far from ideal in order to get what they want. Frances is barely scrapping by with odd jobs like waitressing and becoming an RA and Nana is prostitutes herself to make end's meat. Our job isn't to judge any of these women's choices. Our job is just to simply sit back and watch their lives unford before us. We're looking at them the way we would if they were real people without all the judgement involved because even though they constantly fuck up, we care about them. Both these women feel real and their stories seem authentic regardless of whether or not we've been through what they're experiencing, which is what the French New Wave was all about. 
These women aren't glamorous nor are their situations ideal, but their lives move on regardless. We simply watch and accept what we see because these things could happen to us. Neither film is extremely stylistic and the French New Wave music in Frances Ha never ceases to take you back to the golden age of Godard and Truffaut. Similarly to other French New Wave film, both films shock, but in ways you wouldn't expect. The shock in My Life to Live is Nana's death. The shocker in Frances Ha is that it's not about romance. It's easy to think that it is and the film even sets itself up as if it is supposed to be a romantic comedy. However, it's all a big ruse because Frances never finds "the one." She goes on a date Lev (Adam Driver) and nothing results from that and even though she moves in with him and Benji (Micheal Zegen) who the film also teases as a love interest. There are no confessions of love or giant, romantic gestures and while we want her to find love, it's not what Frances is directly looking for and we accept that. Francis just moves from place to place, trying to just live her life, even though her relationship with Sophie is pretty much non-existent and she has no job. The most enjoyable part about these films come from just sitting back and watching these women live their lives. While the endings to both of these films feel uncomplete to some extent, as most French New Wave films do, we're still left with a tiny feeling of satisfaction because you got to sit back and enjoy someone else's life for a bit.

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