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La Bonheur (#110 of 1)

Agnès Varda’s Le Bonheur on Criterion

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Agnès Varda’s Le Bonheur on Criterion
Agnès Varda’s Le Bonheur on Criterion

Shortly after making a then-controversial but now little-seen gem named Le Bonheur, Agnès Varda wrote that she had envisioned the film as “a beautiful summer fruit with a worm inside.” More than forty years later, one hears in this statement echoes of Buñuel’s anti-bourgeois perversity, Sirk’s subversion of lush surfaces and narrative clichés, as well as the basis for a whole tradition of American films (exemplified by David Lynch on one end and American Beauty on the other) that claim to expose the demons lurking behind the white picket fence. Then and now, there is a great pleasure in watching forces of chaos and insanity eat away at the glamour of cinema. When Le Bonheur (meaning “happiness”) opens to the carefree strains of Mozart and images of sunlight, sunflowers, and family members hand-in-hand, the contemporary viewer is immediately clued into the joke, having been taught by years of hyper-ironic filmmaking to respond to these symbols with scorn. We can already guess the film is about the tyranny of eternal happiness. What follows is, indeed, a story that demolishes the initial portrait of domestic bliss, replacing it with a version that is cruel and animalistic. But the predictability stops there. The power of Varda’s film is that it remains startling even in our savvy era, leaving us as uncertain and suspicious of its intentions as its first audiences must have been.