A sky blue wall with sunflowers painted all over, smiling ecstatically… How do you get through? Can you climb it? They laugh as you lie crumpled clutching your bruised ankle: such contempt in such self-satisfied faces. You punch them, hard in the gob – more bruises; you let off fireworks of abuse. And the sun is out! You can feel them dancing, and the sky twinkles in delight. Everybody’s friends today. Except you. On the floor bleeding, and pain like cars on the highway, branch roads all over your body… you hear an ambulance; it passes by going in the other direction. Damn that wall! Sunflowers, such ugly flowers. And no spray cans in sight, and all the bulldozers are on holiday…
Agnès Varda’s Le Bonheur suggests just there is something opaque about happiness.
It’s a strange film, which in part repels the viewer – too much happiness is like too much sentimentality. This may be its point.
The main character is happy: he has a pretty, easy-going wife; kids; comfortable job, good friends… He is content. And then he has an affair and becomes even happier! The film’s climax is when he tells his wife of the affair, and how they can all be happy together. She agrees, and they make love. Later she kills herself. There is some grieving, after which our hero meets up with his lover again. She quickly replaces his dead wife: pictures, books, furniture, mother to his children – a series of rapid images towards the end of the movie (as with Cleo 5 to 7 there is plenty of emphasis on the image and cinema technique – the language of film). Very quickly the wife disappears: her life and its effects sink deep under the lake, too deep to be remembered, while high above there’s a rowing boat with a happy family. They look down, what do they see? Reflections of their own smiling faces.
How selfish is happiness! it seems. If you don’t feel it there’s no way in – it repels. You have to be responsive to the mood to pick up the resonances. And our happy hero: forget everybody else! unless they are happy too. Totally impervious, it seems, to the effects on other people: he doesn’t see his wife, only his own happiness. He creates his wife?
The film feels like a symbol, more than a realistic drama. As if it wants to display happiness itself, to uncover its hidden side? through its projection on the screen.
There is some tension at the start, or maybe its just me, where you expect this happy family to suffer tragically – open door and gates; traffic; big woods and large lakes: all waiting for our Hansel and Gretel. It doesn’t happen. Then there’s our frustration – is nothing going to occur? But then when it does: hardly any guilt (a bit of tension quickly overcome), everybody smiling, contentment everywhere. The wife dies, some sorrow: and then all gone so quickly, and happiness is back again, in sepia colours.
There is something strange, and slightly unsatisfying here. Has Agnes conveyed it well?