Comparative Sequence Analysis Le Matin Novel By Philippe Djianfilm By Jeanjacques Beineix

In this sequence Zorg has just learned that Betty is pregnant as he was about to deliver a piano to a client. He rushes off with his friend Bob in a borrowed lorry, and gets caught in a speed trap by the young policeman Richard, whom he had crossed before in town. In the table that follows overleaf, the dialogue in the film has the original passage from the novel next to it in the far right-hand column. The sequence analysis which follows the table takes account of the sequence mainly from the point of view of its adaptation from the novel, showing how humour is an essential part of the sequence, and its relationship to issues of the law.

Description Dialogue of shot

1 Bob Bob: Look, what's the matter?

You don't look at all right, _you're all pale._

1 Bob Bob: Look, what's the matter?

You don't look at all right, _you're all pale._



Zorg: Oh la la, Bob, we're


really ...



Foot on

(Brakes screech)




Bob: Shit.


Zorg: Have you noticed the

number of women walking

around with prams, Bobbie?

Bob: Ah no, that one almost

copped it.

Zorg: l\lo she didn't.


Piano on

Bob: Oh la la, look here, we're


going uphill, don't force the

gears, this lorry is running in.

Zorg: Look, I'm not forcing

anything, it's a turbo after all, shit

Bob: Ah it's a turbo, it's a turbo,

you tell that to Momo.



(Birdsong; lorry in distance)


Zorg and

Zorg: Listen, shit, I'm only

Bob in cab

doing 40.

Bob: You're doing 40, you're

doing 40, you're not doing 40,

you're doing 80.



Zorg: Well all right I'm doing

passes police 80, it's not that serious.



Zorg: Oh shit.

stops them



Bob: Oi, are you sure you've

got your licence?



Zorg: What? Mo, not really.



I hopped in the car and drove out of town. On the street I counted twenty-five women with strollers. My throat was dry. I had trouble getting my mind around what was happening - it was an eventuality I'd never seriously considered. Images raced through my mind like rockets. To calm myself down, I concentrated on the drive. It was beautiful. I passed the cop car, I was going eighty. A minute later he stopped me. Richard again. He had nice teeth and straight. He took out a pad and a pen.

12 Richard stops them

13 Same as 11 (Birdsong and goat bells until 21)

14 Richard and Zorg_

16 Bob (reaction shot)

Zorg: How are you doing? Do you remember me?_

15 Richard Richard: You're doing 100 kh in and Zorg a vehicle with a speed limit of (reverse 60 kh. On a section of a shot) road classed as a local road, which has a limit of 50 kh. It's a good start, a good start. All right. Your papers, vehicle check, the whole thing. Zorg: Look, I'm sorry, I was dreaming.

Richard: Don't you worry about it, if I find that you've got one or two grams of alcohol, I'll bring you down to earth. Zorg: If that was all, officer, but I've just learned that I am a father.

17 Richard Zorg: A dad.

(reverse Richard: You wouldn't have a shot) cigarette would you? _Zorg: Yes of course._

'Every time I see this car I know it means I have a job to do,' he whined.

I had no idea what he wanted me for - no idea of what I was even doing on this road. I smiled at him dubiously. Perhaps he had been standing there in the sun all day, ever since dawn. 'Maybe you think that changing your tire gives you the right to drive like a maniac ... ?' I shoved my index finger and thumb into the corners of my eyes. I shook my head. 'Jesus, I was somewhere else,' I sighed.

'Don't worry. If I find two or three grams of alcohol in your blood, I'll bring you right back down to earth.'

just found out I'm going to be a daddy!'

He seemed to hesitate for a moment, then he closed his pad, with his pen stuck inside, and put it back in his shirt pocket. He leaned over to me. 'You wouldn't have a cigarette, would you?' he asked._

18 Zorg and Bob in cab

Zorg: Here you are.

19 Same as 16 (camera further back)

Richard: Fathers are the last adventurers of modern times.

I gave him one. Then he leaned against my door, puffing peacefully, and told me all about his eight-month-old son, who had just started crawling across the

20 Bob_

21 Same as 20 Richard: And so you'll see the joy, the sorrows too, the sorrows. (He sings Yves Duteuil song) Take a child by the hand/To take him to tomorrow/To give him confidence in his steps/ Take a


Bob (same

child for a king/

as 21)


Same as 20

Take a child in your arms/

For the first time (Music starts)


Lorry leaves


Lorry in


living room on all fours, and all the various brands of formula, and the thousand-and-one joys of fatherhood. I almost dozed off during his lecture on nipples. Finally he winked at me and said he'd look the other way this time, that I could go. I went.

Vincendeau has defined the cinéma du look as 'youth-oriented films with high production values. ... The "look" of the cinéma du look refers to the films' high investment in non-naturalistic, self-conscious aesthetics, notably intense colours and lighting effects. Their spectacular (studio-based) and technically brilliant mise-en-scène is usually put to the service of romantic plots' (Vincendeau, 1996: 50). Her brief sketch does not mention key elements in the cinéma du look. The first is the recourse to comedy, which in Beineix's films is tinged with derision and irony. Excessive humour is one of the hallmarks of this film, and one of the major ways in which Beineix changes the novel is by pushing its irony into frankly absurdist humour. The visual effects, so criticised by reviewers during the 1980s, are a key component for an absurdist humour that repositions the spectator in a Verfremdungseffekt grounded in derision. This undermines the law, in its literal sense of the policeman as representative of the law, and in its film-theoretical sense of the law of the narrative. Both underminings generate a sense of marginality that is important for spectator positioning and for Beineix's self-positioning outside of the establishment.

A second issue unspoken by Vincendeau is the attraction to community as a concept, counterbalanced by a strong sense of independence, which manifests itself as marginality in Beineix's characters. That marginality is tinged with a rebellious Oedipal streak, which is no doubt one of the major reasons why youth audiences are attracted to the films of Beineix and Besson. Another major reason is the strong erotic charge of their work, one of the features most commented on, whether in relation to what the characters do (one thinks of the long opening sequence of 37°2 le matin where Zorg and Betty make passionate love), or the way in which Beineix's images are frequently calculated to seduce the spectator, as Vincendeau points out.

The issue of the seductive surface forms part of the debate on postmodern cinema in the 1980s. Beineix's work was seen by many French establishment critics as typifying the worst excesses of this postmodern cinema. The critics of the Cahiers du cinéma in particular developed a sustained polemic centering on the changing nature of the film image during the 1980s. A typical response to Beineix's work is that of Toubiana, the editor of the Cahiers since the 1980s, who complained of excessively obvious stylistic features, focusing on cinematography:

He always goes for what is easiest, for what will give the spectator pleasure.

His strong point is technique; he loves constructing shots, or rather images, moving his camera. Going for a high angle is something he finds difficult to resist, opening the spectator's visual field onto a sunset or a beautiful landscape. It's his thing, his visitor's card, his taste for the Mook'. I am thinking of the lorry travelling on a country road, with the nice policeman waving in the background (a sequence which makes you think of the good times), or the burning house, with Betty and Zorg leaving, the camera zooming upwards. ... His shots bear his signature too overtly ['sur-signes': 'over-signed' as in 'over-determined'], their excess is in the end unsettling. ... The house in moonlight, the sunset on this Eldorado for a washed out writer who receives the body of a sexy girl like manna from heaven, or the old saxophonist are beautiful once, but after three times, they are no more than picture postcards. (Toubiana, 1986: 80)

The 'picture postcard' effect, for such critics, tended to overwhelm the message, so that the message becomes the medium. This attachment to surface image, moreover, collapses the human into the material: objects in Beineix's films, several critics complained, become more important than characters. Indeed, they assume a life of their own, typical of what happens in advertising, which promotes consumer objects rather than people. When we consider the use made of Betty Blue in Dulux's advertising campaign, we can perhaps see that there might be a point.

What this analysis does not do is to make the link between seduction and derision, which a confrontation between the original novel and the film can help us to do. Both male and female spectators are positioned, by identification with Betty and Zorg, outside the law, just as the film positions itself outside the law of 'consistent' narrative by its sudden bursts of absurdist humour. The singing policeman sequence is not only a good example of such absurdist humour, but the one preferred by Beineix himself, for whom it is clearly an element not just of disruption, but of subversiveness:

The basis of laughter is the moment when things go wrong. Take power; when power becomes excessive, it becomes ridiculous. But it's also when one you place grand feeling, eternal truths next to the ephemeral. This gives rise to the comical. (Beineix, 1987: 42)

The sequence in the film compresses two consecutive sequences in the novel, a visit in the Mercedes to a prospective client, and the follow-up delivery in a lorry. Most of the material in the film is derived from the first visit in the Mercedes; indeed, a considerable section of the dialogue comes straight from the novel. Replacing the car with a lorry, however, allows a series of emphases.

• The first is the emphasis on speed, underlined by Bob's comment about the strain on the engine.

• The second is the emphasis on motherhood, underlined by quantity in the novel (25 prams), but by visual effect in the film, as an extreme low-angle shot shows the lorry braking abruptly in front of a single pram. Both of these emphases serve to underline Zorg's confusion at potentially being a father.

• A third emphasis is structured like the second: Richard is dominated by the lorry in a series of low-angle shots (Richard standing in front of the lorry as he calls for Zorg to stop; Richard looked down on by Zorg in the shot-reverse-shot conversation section), just as, interestingly, the mother was dominated by the lorry as she pushed the pram over the road.

The visual side of the sequence thus uses mise-en-scene literally to diminish the stature of the policeman, an effect that is emphasised even more by the dialogue. Whereas in the novel, Richard's talk of the joys of paternity is in reported speech, which conveys Zorg's feeling of not quite being able to focus on what Richard is saying, in the film Richard begins, absurdly, to sing a well-known sentimental song. The absurdity is underlined by Bob's reaction shot (a blankly uncomprehending face); and both the absurdity and the sentimentality are amplified in the various shots at the end of the sequence: a long-distance shot of Richard slowly and deliberately waving goodbye, framed by the lorry's ramps, followed by an extreme long shot of the lorry in the sunset, distorted by a wide lens, being waved at by people on the roadside. The singing avoids the need to replicate Richard's details about his son's feeding habits and other joys of paternity, thus serving a compressive function. That compressive function is largely outweighed, however, by the sequence's comic function, centring principally on the disruption of Richard's role as a policeman. What some saw as an advertising effect, excessive camera angles and framing at the service of the object, is in fact a key component of derision, which has little to do with objects, but a great deal to do with a critique of the law. There is a further point, however, and it has to do with the position of the spectator.

The immense leap from Richard as law dispenser to Richard as sentimental father is derisory in ways that the novel is not. It maintains the diffidence of the novel's narrator to the law, but introduces, as Beineix points out, caustic irony, a distancing for the spectator, which echoes the novel narrator's marginality from everything around him. Spectators laugh, but laugh knowingly, they watch themselves laughing. The spectator feels something like this: 'This is absurdly funny, so absurd that it does not square with what I was expecting, which only makes it funnier, but in so doing calls into question what I was really expecting, and thus calls my responses into question, which is absurd because this is a simple story, and the comedy that disrupts this simple story is itself simple, but that does not square with what I was expecting. . . .' and so on.

It is no coincidence that Beineix should emphasise the comical with sequences involving policemen. There is a 'doubling' effect. Spectators are implicated in the film's narrative through identification with Zorg, being made to feel his panic at the thought of being a father through the various techniques oudined above. But at the same time they are forced out of that identification by a complex derision, which works at the level of both character and narrative. There are two male characters, one a law enforcer, one a law breaker, both defined as fathers: the ultimate law. And yet neither is able to cohere with the stable role implied, the policeman because he switches to absurd sentimentality and therefore over-performs the law; the law breaker because he cannot comprehend his paternity, and therefore under-performs the law.

The instability of character is compounded by the instability of narrative tone. Beineix calls on spectators to stand back from the law of the narrative and, in a typically postmodern gesture, to put into question the notion of consistent tone upon which a simpler romantic narrative might have depended, to position themselves sideways in the elsewhere of mockery and, by implication, it could be suggested, self-mockery.

Beineix's project is as much to deflate pomposity, whether in terms of morals or in terms of film narrative, by derision. The excessive image criticised by Toubiana is not gratuitous at all, but an essential part of a system that calls upon spectators to marginalise themselves, not to take themselves or the narrative seriously. Like irony, derision functions as a kind of protection, both for the disempowered youth audiences of the 1980s, as well as, one may assume, for Beineix himself, in constant disagreement with the film 'establishment'.

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