MESSIDOR

Directed by Alain Tanner. Switzerland. 1979.


Talking Pictures alias talkingpix.co.uk
 
 


 
 

Home

Reviews

Features

Book 
Reviews

News

About Us

Email

 

We do not hear much about Swiss cinema but Alain Tanner (La Salamandre, Jonah Who Will Be 25 in the year 2000) was once the brightest light in the New Swiss Cinema, a movement that owed its allegiance to Brecht, Bresson, and the French New Wave. Considered one of the best of his later works, Messidor is an original, unpredictable, and disturbing film about two alienated young women in search of freedom from society. The film, in its poetic sweep, is reminiscent of Terence Malick's Badlands and could have been a prototype for Thelma and Louise. In Messidor, two girls, Jeanne (Clementine Amouroux), a history student from Geneva, and Marie (Catherine Retor), a store clerk from Moudon in France, go on the road together with very little money and no specific destination. Without context or structure to their lives, they invent a game of trying to see who can survive the longest without money and the result is self-destructive. 

The girls come from very different backgrounds but seem to be attracted to each other and share a feeling of alienation. They meet while hitchhiking. Jeanne says she is trying to escape from the noise of the city while Marie is returning home after visiting her father in Lausanne. We learn nothing about their lives before they meet; parents, friends, or school are barely mentioned. When Marie invites Jeanne to go on a ten-mile walk to her home, they decide to sleep in the woods. The next morning, instead of going home, they embark on a hitchhiking odyssey through the Swiss countryside. Through repetition of car rides with their meaningless conversations contrasted with the lovely Swiss village and alpine scenery, the film conveys the impression that we are all in a dreamlike state of "walking going nowhere" on a landscape that has surface beauty but no real substance.

Their adventure turns grim when Marie smashes a rock into the side of the head of an assailant to thwart an attempted rape. To protect themselves in the future, they steal a gun from the glove compartment of a Swiss Army officer. When Marie asks, "Where are we headed"? Jeanne replies, "The usual: straight-ahead." To no apparent end they go straight ahead, engaging in haphazard, unmotivated acts that defy society's rules. They have sex together, sleep in barns, steal food, panhandle, and threaten people with their gun. Soon, their description is broadcast on a popular TV programme. When they realize that the police are pursuing them, their quest takes on an air of quiet desperation.

Messidor is a haunting personal film that authentically captures a mood of ennui. What was their life really about? Their conversation offers few insights and it is not clear whether or not Tanner regards his protagonists with scorn or is simply saying that if you want to live outside of society's rules, you must understand the limits of freedom. When asked what their game is, Jeanne declares, "It is moving through empty spaces". "All people look alike", she says, "as if they didn't really exist". When the girls arrive in a typical Swiss village they sit in a park and look at people passing. Marie asks, "What do these people do? Where are they going? We'll never know", she says. "That's what's so maddening. We'll never know". What led these two intelligent young women to undertake a self-destructive odyssey? Since they hardly talk about their lives, their thoughts or their feelings, we'll never know. That's what is so maddening. We'll never know.

Howard Schumann
 
 
Search this site or the web        powered by FreeFind
Site searchWeb search

 
   Home | News | Features
    Book Reviews | About Us