Saturday, December 24, 2016

Jean-Luc Godard | Tous les garçons s'appellent Patrick (All the Boys Are Named Patrick)

false legends
by Douglas Messerli

Éric Rohmer (screenwriter), Jean-Luc Godard (director) Tous les garçons s'appellent Patrick (All the Boys Are Named Patrick) / 1957

Jean-Luc Godard’s 1957 short, Tous les garçons s'appellent Patrick (All the Boys Are Named Patrick) is a quick-moving farce, often shot at a lower frame rate to give it the jumpy feeling of early Chaplin films and other silent, is really a one-liner: two roommates, Véronique and Charlotte (Nicole Berger and Anne Collette), while waiting for one another in a park, are picked up by the same boy, Patrick (Jean-Claude Brialy), and, after resisting his charm, agree to be taken to neighboring bars where they agree to meet him each with two days: since both have meetings that night with one of the girl’s cousins.

Brialy, as Patrick is absolutely charming, with Véronique, particularly, playing a charming game in which he attempts to guess her ethnicity by speaking a few phrases in numerous languages: English, German, Norwegian, Swedish, Spanish, Finnish, and even Japanese. Finally, he wins the icy maiden over just long enough for her join him at the café, where he proceeds to continue his seduction, much to the man at the next table’s disapproval, as he reads a newspaper whose headline says it all:  “French cinema is dying under the weight of our false legends.”

     Certainly both girls live in this Godardian world of false legends, displaying large portraits of James Dean on their wall, and attempting to live a life as American as they might imagine. But the pick-up tricks themselves are right out of American comedies of the time, particularly reminding me of Rock Hudson’s attempts to bed Doris Day, made in 1959, but which Godard clearly foretold; like Patrick, Hudson plays a kind of Casanova (a song the girls listen to on their radio) who picks up women by the dozens throughout the film, but having more difficulty of getting through to the Day figure, is reduced to pretending he is a southern gentleman of the possibly unmarrying kind, without even blinking out the fact that that was who he truly was.
      Yet it’s also quite apparent, as critic Sean Duffy has pointed out, that Godard and his screenwriter, fellow new wave director Eric Rohmer were already quite themselves seduced by American filmmaking in this early short, which would become truly apparent in his first great piece of cinema three years later, Breathless, which features the American actress, Jean Seberg.
      The roommates compare the varying qualities of their two Patricks before actually observing him in the process of picking up another woman, and recognizing him for what he truly is: a fraud, a kind of false legend himself, no longer worthy of their attention, as they plan a date together, implying that in such a sexist world perhaps feminine company is simply preferable—and maybe even intimating some of the feminist ideas that percolate through Godard’s work.
      Even if it is sort of a one-liner, All the Boys Are Named Patrick reveals the cinematic energy of the future new wave wonder that Godard was very soon to become.

Los Angeles, Christmas Eve, 2016

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