Morgane Frund created this video essay under the supervision of Johannes Binotto at The Lucerne School of Art and Design. First published in Notes on Videographic Criticism on October 5, 2020.
Still images are used throughout your video essay to great effect, particularly in the way in which they evoke the last shot of Les Quatre Cents Coups (The 400 Blows). Could you elaborate on your decision to use still images rather than, say, play a moment on a loop, slow it down, or use some other strategy we often see in video essays?
In general, I believe it’s always interesting to stop on a specific frame and take the time to really look at it. Observing Les Quatre Cents Coups through stills opened me to a new reading of the film. I think it makes you take a step back from the narrative and reinterpret what you feel toward the object, a little bit like looking at pictures of an event you experienced. To me, the last shot of the film also has a strong sense of nostalgia, and I wanted to use that reference to evoke the little girls’ story and their ghostly presence in the narrative.
More often than not, I think video essayists are often drawn to working with films that they enjoy. Why did you decide to create a video essay about a film that, as you say in the piece, is not one you are particularly fond of?
I think that not being fond of Les 400 Coups allows me to see something else in the film. I’ve spent most of my childhood looking for relatable female characters in books or films without much success, and Truffaut’s film isn’t helping very much here, especially if we look at Antoine’s Mother. But because I was desperately looking for a positive female figure in there, I noticed the three little girls in the cage. So sometimes not being in love with a film allows you to get to know it differently and find some hidden treasures in it. I think it’s also interesting to note that Truffaut himself later criticized his work in that sense, acknowledging that the way he portrayed Antoine’s mother wasn’t fair. I like the idea of trying to discuss these issues within the film, looking at what could have been made differently and asking oneself what it would have changed.
What was your creative process like? More specifically, how fully formed was the idea for this video prior to the editing process? How did the shape and narrative of the video change as you worked?
At the beginning, I was mostly interested in the actress who plays the little girl standing in the middle. I was deeply impressed by her gaze and I asked myself if she acted in other films, but I couldn’t find any evidence of it. I started wondering what the film would have been like, if she had been a bigger part of it. Following that, I built an argument around her place within the scene and the film. Usually, the writing process is where everything takes place for me. But for this project I recorded the voice over quite early, so it was semi-improvised. I did only one take and then I edited it and worked on the visual aspects.
I really love this notion of a personal, alternative film history. It seems to me the form of the video essay is ideal for such histories. Would you agree? What is it about the form, in your view, that allows for such effective retellings?
I think that the form of the video essay highlights the subjective aspect of the argumentation and that’s precisely what is needed for a personal, alternative film history. It’s different for everyone and it’s perpetually evolving, so doing it in the form of a paper for example might make it look too unpersonal and “frozen”. Hearing the voice of the person and/or watching the material being re-edited in a new way makes you very conscious of the active intervention that took place, reminding you that you are watching someone’s retelling and that it was recorded at a certain moment. There is also something uplifting about the idea that everyone can create their own personal film histories and that these retellings can interact with one another, creating together a plural and alternative film history.