Unlike many of the other road films we've viewed in class, Straight Story's protaganist, Alvin, is not looking to escape from anything but rather the road acts as a way for him to find out more about himself. Alvin is different from most of the characters we've seen so far due to the fact that he is an elderly man who is quite content with most all aspects of his life. The only thing that seems to bother him is the fact that he hasn't spoken to his dying brother in 10 years.
As a poor-sighted elderly man, who wants to embark on his journey alone, Alvin turns to the one mode of transportation he is comfortable with: a driving lawn mower. On his 6 week long, 300some mile journey, Alvin encountered many people and situations that would've been completely passed by had the journey been taken in a car. On the country roads, Alvin is able take plenty of time to think about his life and his relationship with his brother. Time which he wouldn't have had if he had simply gotten a ride from someone or taken a bus.
Ruth Hottel states, â€śVarda consciously moves marginalized figures to center stage in her films and affords them a central role normally denied them in the dominant system.â€? This is clearly the case in her film, Vagabond. As Varda states, â€śa well-written film is equally well-filmed, the actors are well-chosen, as are the locations. The cutting, the movement, the points of view, the rhythm of the shooting and of the editing have been felt and thought out like the writerâ€™s choicesâ€? (Hottel 676). In Vagabond, Varda disrupts the male gaze with every movement of the camera and most importantly, the actress she choices for the main role, Mona. Mona is a solo woman on the road with only her body. Her rawness is capture throughout the film, capturing the raw reality of life as a female wanderer in Europe. The way Varda shoots the entire film is as if we are looking at Mona through the eyes of Varda, a powerful female which greatly disrupts and challenges the male gaze. Through the lens of a female, the viewer is able to see Monaâ€™s brutal reality of life. As one of the docu-testimonies stated, â€śThatâ€™s not wandering, its withering.â€? Yet, Mona seems very content with her life and is educated. At every moment that Mona is invited to a world of stability, she rebels as if she is afraid of disappointing someone or incapable to pursue her goals. At the goat farm, she is offered a life of stability and shelter; yet, she rebels and refuses to feel trapped or controlled by a boss or a partnership. Thus, she roams aimlessly throughout the cold winter, alone, only with interacting with others for her own personal pleasure of alcohol or drugs. She finds these vices in order to numb herself of the true loneliness she feels. Her loneliness and desire for interaction with people is revealed when she states to the college professor that she wants to be a babysitter and while at her stay at the goat farm, she repeatedly tries to connect with the farmerâ€™s baby boy. All such events truly disrupt and destroy the male gaze in this movie. The viewers see her as something real and not as a sex object through her independent personality and her clothing, never revealing and only used as a means of survival during the tough winter months in France. The lens of the camera is through the eyes of a woman and shots are never pursued to expose or objectify Monaâ€™s body. We see her body in one shot because she is one complete human, not parts of the female body meant to be objectified through close ups. In the end, Mona life purpose of a free life, with no restrictions leads her to her death in a ditch, forgotten from society and washed away as easy as the wine that covered her face.
"...through this contrast of movement versus immobilism, Varda subverts the traditional codes of classical narrative cinema which depict man as the gender on the move and women as static" (Hayward 288).
The use of cinematic elements to depict cultural ideals and make personal statements is both abstract and yet blatantly resounding. We never seem to be able to catch Mona, as Hayward states in the reading. From the beginning, people's perceptions of her are always expressed when she is out of grasp. When the woman Mona travels with for a brief period tells a man to go find Mona, when he does she is belligerent and she "scares him away". This represents that although she has reentered a life she fled from, she cannot be contained and continues her free exploration, depending on no one. I finished the film not feeling quite like I knew her, her motives, or why she was the way she was, but I still felt satisfied that the film had portrayed exactly what it was meant to.
Although the music used throughout the film always had a threatening tone, it greatly contrasted Mona's fairly consistently calm demeanor and lack of fear. It made me feel that I should be concerned about Mona, yet many events led me to believe that despite the music and common assumptions, she was doing fine on her own (early on in the film, at least). At times, we were led astray by the personal accounts of the people she encountered. One man said, "Female drifters are all the same, loafers and men-chasers". Yet when we watched Mona in action, these did not seem to be her sole motives or goals on the road. It was this constant 'mixing up' of perceptions that, to me, shattered cinematic norms. In some scenes, she was depicted as homeless, yet when she stayed with Assoun, she was said to "live outdoors". This euphemism was another way in which the viewer couldn't create a stereotype of the main character, because she was constantly evolving in the eyes of others.
"Vagabond...deconstructs and reinvents the [road film] genre in terms of narrative structure, film style, and thematic tone" (Laderman 265).
Whereas American road films like Easy Rider promote the notion of wandering freedom, the European road film seems to assume a much darker tone, refusing to romanticize a protagonist's desire for rebellious travel. The 1985 French film Vagabond is a prime example, using elaborate camerawork (alongside ominous music and interesting symbolism) to de-mystify freedom into a false ideological construction. Tracking shots, in which a camera "follows" or continues moving without edit, come to represent the film's theme of aimless, isolated mobility. It begins with a slow gaze across a winterized crop field, taking in the landscape, before stopping to zoom in on main character Mona's froze corpse. This disturbing imagery is briefly followed by a beach scene in which the camera glides over sand and sea to link with the director's voice-over narration on how she believes Mona must have risen up from the water. Then, Vagabond's signature music kicks in and we've backtracked to just plain disturbing. Accompanied by "minor, almost atonal" keys, the next tracking shot travels slowly down the highway and catches up with our anti-heroine, hitchhiking and going nowhere fast. Within these first few (cold and distant) minutes, we learn of this waif's overall insignificance and how "life will continue after she dies." This is presumably why the camera always shifts to some object or setting instead of zeroing in on Mona and her various predicaments (even when she is raped in the woods, we found ourselves staring at branches in confused horror). Mostly, she wanders in and out of these tracking shots with no mind paid, as if to suggest that the landscape is more focused than she is; that there is an interconnectedness that will always go beyond her. One shot I found particularly engaging is where a man keeps up with the camera on a bicycle, while Mona falls out of the frame to fix her broken boot. However, Vagabond lets us know from the very beginning what exactly we have on our hands. Not only is Mona first seen dead in a ditch, but we have contrasting shots of policemen zipping her up in a body bag with the washing of wine off various village surfaces (we later learn where this comes from: the "bizarre pagan ritual" that involves vine-wound men dousing wandering strangers with wine dregs). There's a reason it looks like blood and is found between scenes of her body's disposal--because Mona is all-too-easily washed from society's memory.
Vagabond is a compelling and disturbing portrait of a young single woman... while the action dramatizes Mona's aimless mobility, it is really the moving camera that conveys it with forceful if oblique pathos.Laderman 265
Mona does not let anything move her on but herself. When she is at the goat farm and the man gives her stability and every reason to stay settled for a time, it is herself motivation that pushes her to "move on".
This film definitely embraces a feminist counter-cinema by disrupting the power of the male gaze and phallocentrism. There are a few times where men look at Mono as an object, but she flicks them off and the men completely forget about her. She is not at all like Rebecca from Girl on a Motorcycle who definitely felt the male gaze and the power of the phallos.
The moving camera helps move along the action and narrative throughout the film along with Mono's motivation to keep moving.
Vagabond "suggests that the culture that in some way spawned Mona may have inadvertently contributed to her tragically meaningless death."
"Mona does not cruise the highways on a sleek motorbike, sporting a sexy leather jacket, wreaking subversive havoc. This European road movie refuses to romanticize rebellious driving/traveling, as most American road movies... do."
--David Laderman, Driving Visions: Exploring the Road Movie, p. 267
Unlike the typical American road movie, Vagabond's portrait of the road is far from glamorous. For Mona, the road is not a medium used to reach to her lover, sex or romance, it is her home. Unlike Rebecca, Mona is not viewed in a sexualized manner, her clothes are loose fitting, dirty, and leave much to the imagination. Rebecca is victim to the male gaze and fetishism. She does not object to a stranger raping her while Mona's similar situation provokes a very different feeling. Rebecca's rape is seen as romantic, making love to a complete stranger. Mona is completely detached from the world around and therefore detached from the male gaze.
â€¦â€?the effect is to unfix the gaze, to render it inoperable. Because there are so many points of view, Mona cannot be caught in any of them. In this criss-crossing of gazes, Mona has already moved on or has not yet arrived.â€?
Our Vagabond, Mona, has taken over the road as her own. She embraces an â€śI donâ€™t need anybody,â€? sort of attitude as she makes her way. Although she does use people (for rides and food handouts) they do not own her, she will move on the second she wants to. This film does a good job of keeping Mona dirty and unkept, however her face remains pretty. Even though she is rarely the subject of the male gaze, she is not intolerable to look at.
Mona is on her own and happy to be. Vagabond is able to disrupt the power of the male gaze by reinstating the power of the woman. The people carrying the narrative and reminiscing about Mona are most intrigued by the fact that she a woman vagrant, not by her beauty or feminine wilds. She, of course, encounters men on her journeys, but is never overpowered by them â€“ she is the leading role and she carries the story. I also think it is important to look at some of the most influential relationships that Mona creates are with women, which is very unlike Girl on a Motorcycle. The woman who picks Mona up in her car begins to care a lot about Mona and her well-being. They create a friendship, and this woman takes better care of her than any of the men she encounters. This friendship, again, reinstates the power Mona has and the power of women in general.
What struck me most about this film were the many small specific examples that helped to create a counter cinema. The disjointed narrative and tracking shots are two broad examples, but Vagabond nudges our mind away from the classic road film in more subtle ways as well. In the film both agriculture and urban enviroments are portrayed as prisons. Shots composed through metal spikes, bars, or fences are frequent. There are also many shots of the trees as bars against the sky. In the opening scene as she is coming out of the water on the beach the frame is sectioned by fence posts. The road is also the thing that dictates what she should do, and the first thing she ignores, when she walks past a stop (no trespassing?) sign. This representation of the road not conquering nature, but rather as a prison created by it is the exception in road film.
These are aspects of her feminist cinecriture which are political because - as with feminist writing which refuses to inscribe contours - in their disgressiveness they go counter to dominant male-filmaking practices and are therefore, counter-cinematic. An it is also true that her particular approach of textural intertexualization is equally counter-cinematic in that it works 'in opposition to the naturalized dominant male discourse to produce textual contradictions which would de-naturalize the workings of patriarchal ideology.
This film is a very unique one of it's time. It begins by taking a new look into the road movie. The main character, Mona, (a woman) is not seen as a sex object as in previous films of this era. She is seen as having a difficult and trgic life. She fights through her struggling life, but most of all she is seen as having a past. By adding this component we add depth to her character.
The use of flashbacks and tracking throughout the film gives the audience a different feel to the story. Often times Mona is not seen as the object to be looked at or filmed. The camera often 'stumbles' upon her while filming and then wanders off again. The use of flashbacks in the film can be distracting and confusing which consist many times of flashbacks within flashbacks.
"Unlike in most American road movies, this road is no refuge from home, no vehicle of revelation or redemption or critical insight--except, perhaps, for the audience, testimony to the film's unique form of cultural critique, which occurs not so much within the film but rather as a result of watching it." (Laderman, 270)
In Agnes Varda's film Vagabond (1985), it became clear from the beginning how a feminist cinema could work to counter the male gaze. The tracking shots in the film are really telling in that they tend to follow other objects in the mise-en-scene, as opposed to our main character, Mona. Oftentimes, Mona enters the mise-en-scene or leaves it while the camera stays still. She is just passing through in this sense. She is not necessarily telling us her story, the interviewees help to tell it juxtaposed with flashbacks to Mona's travels. Another interesting point is that many of the men in the plot are not to be trusted. The mechanic lies about raping Mona in her tent and the truck driver lies about kicking her out because she would not sleep with him. A man who claims "I've been watching you" rapes Mona in the woods after she is dropped off. These speak to the different things a woman has to worry about while on the road as opposed to things a man has to worry about. They are quite different and even though Mona chooses not to sell her body or use it in ways that the character of Rebecca does in Girl on a Motorcycle, it still gets abused in situations that are out of her control since she has chosen to drift by herself. Mona is never sexualized in the same way that Rebecca is and this is done through the camera work which works against a male gaze and achieves a different effect in its portrayal of Mona. Mona's apathy towards her situation and towards any type of critique of the culture in which she lives makes it quite different from the quests in American road movies. Like Laderman says, the cultural critique does not come straight from Mona's mouth, but as a result of watching the film and then thinking about it. It is in the act of watching that we can think about how Varda critiques French culture.
Mona is te ultimate hippie/punk waif: she shows little emotion, has no direction, does not care what happens to her, nor where or how she goes. Laderman 266
Vegabond is the first film that we've watched so far that was willing to give not just the lead role to a woman, but not overly sexualize her at the same time. Unlike Rebecca in Girl on a Motorcycle it is not a man that is pushing the story along or guiding the woman. Mona was challenging the role of women in film. She was not shown as a piece of meat all pretty for the men to look at, but she was grungy, smelly, rough, and had many manly characteristics. It was very clear to see that the male gaze was disrupted in a big way in this film. Mona was the one "using" the men for drugs and food and then leaving whenever she chose. This is very different than what we have previously seen, with the women being under the control of a man. Many times throughout the movie Mona could have almost passed for a man. She sat with her legs wide open, spit, smoked, didn't bathe, this was unheard of for a woman to do. She really broke the barrier's that had been on women in films prior to her role. She also showed that she wasn't jealous of the freedom of a man, because she just took that power and freedom. She didn't wait for it to be offered to her.
"Perhaps the ultimate road movie outcast, Mona does not cruise the highways on a sleek motorbike, sporting a sexy leather jacket, wreaking subversive havoc" (Laderman, 267).
Varda does an excellent job in Sans toit ni loi , proving that the power of the male gaze can be disrupted if techniques like the tracking shot are used and the non-normative perspective is considered. Mona as a a character escapes the recursive panopticon framing and the "looked-at-ness" with her animalisitc qualities and how Varda does not allow the audience to get to know Mona, the use of the docutestimonals helps assure this. Unlike Rebecca, Mona is not your everyday sexualized main female character, her every move is not controlled by a man and she is not seen as "lack" or as being castrated. In other words, Varda makes an effort in making Mona come across as being a discarded body and I felt as if I was wasiting my time along with Mona. As a spectator you get to see how masculine Mona may come across, always eating, her dirty teeth, her spitting, and the shot when Mona and the professor are drinking beer it is like a line is drawn down the table emphasizing the difference in what it takes to be feminine, with the clean, manicured red nails versus Mona's very dirty nails and hands.
" And it is also true that her particular approach of textural intertextualization is equally counter-cinematic in that it works 'in oppostition to the natualized dominant male discourse to produce textual contradictions which would de-naturalize the workings of patriarchal ideology'(Cook 1985, 198)." -Hayward, 291
"Vagabond" is a film of the feminist counter-cinema because the narrative structure that Varda employed in the film was against the norm. The entire film was in flashback and the audience knew the ending/outcome right from the beginning when Mona was found dead.
In terms of working against a partriarchal ideology, from the beginning of Mona's story, an independant woman is portrayed and is able to go on the road by herself with practically nothing and gets by fairly well until she gives up. Everything Mona encounters is from a decision she willfully made, from her deciding to leave her mundane life as a secretary, to earning money doing odd jobs, to her death. "Vagabond" is a feminist counter-cinema film because the main character is a woman who does what she believes in and through a series of her own decisions, she chooses to live her life according to her own ideas and values. Mona doesn't care about her appearance, definitely disrupting the male-gaze and object-to-be-looked-at mentality that was seen in "Girl on a Motorcycle", where Rebecca was very concerned with how she looked and was viewed by all the males in that film. "Vagabond" is an empowering feminist film because Mona is a woman who lives for herself, not letting a male dominating society hold her back.
"Mona is rarely at the beginning of a tracking shot, she either walks in or is picked up by the camera and, equally significant, in all of these tracking shots, she and the camera.." pg 4, Hayward.
This quote itself proves the fact that there is counter-cinema techniques going on because the male gaze has lost its power in this movie. The woman is no longer the object to be looked at through the male eyes or the viewer's eyes either, she is just another character in the movie. She passed through the camera and didn't represent a sex symbol especially since she hadn't taken a shower the whole movie, nor did she change her clothes. The interesting thing to me is that dhe still made a good impression on some even though she was rudest women I've ever watched in a movie. The male gaze was always interrupted except that of the mechanic that either had sex with her or raped her, I'm not sure. This is definitely a feminist film which is evident by the way Mona is presented; she has no significant ties to men besides to mess around with, she is fully clothed, she isn't seen as a sex object and she has an independent life of her own. She doesn't have anywhere she needs to be or anyone to tell her what to do, and if she doesn't like the person she gets a ride with, she leaves. The camera looks at the scenery and the people around Mona and Mona is just there. The phallus no longer has the control of the movie or the women, because Mona isn't in search of a life-long partner, she is a traveller and would have always been that way.
Mona thumbs her nose at both the conservative work/home ethic and the liberal sixties alternative.
Throughout the movie Vagabond Mona is no longer seen through the male gaze. Although this film starts off gazing over Mona's cold and dirty soulless body, it does not continue with this type of gaze. As we see in the film Mona is a "true" punk of her time. She does not care or want to find home, work, friends or comfort. She simply chooses to drift. One way this movie disrupts the male gaze and phallocentrism is by men not being able to control what she does. The man at the farm tries to provide work and help for Mona but Mona chooses not to work. Her uncaring mindset makes her show distaste in receiving help. This disrupts what would have shown a male figure assisting in improving in her life and would have changed the story completely if she would have agreed. If you were to compare the farmerâ€™s wife to Mona there is much difference. The farmerâ€™s wife seems stuck. She has little freedom and many duties. She is seen as controlled by a man. She can only alter her life in little ways and could never be on the road. Mona on the other hand is the opposite. She has nothing holding her back. She has nowhere to be, yet she chooses to go nowhere. Her choice to go nowhere seems frustrating but is extremely powerful. Mona shows that her decision to do nothing and be careless IS actually a decision which WAS made and is now being followed through. Mona IS â€śThe Queen of the Roadâ€?. Mona seems to not care about any outcomes in the end of this expedition. She is in full control of herself and her actions. Mona would rather sleep in her freezing tent, in midwinter, than receive assistance from any male figure. This road film is more about Mona than about the road. Her punk character is the story of the play, rather than the plot also disrupts the phallocentrism that could occur. Her destination is unknown. Throughout the film the characters are more concerned with making sense of her aimlessness rather than thinking of her as a poor, homeless, female. Her refusal for a â€śhomeâ€? and assistance take away from the male gaze. In the brief moments of actual gaze, it is done by a woman whom wishes to be free and held like Mona is. Mona is the queen of the aimless road.
"These recurring, almost nonnarrative traveling sequence shots convey her wandering mobility with more coldness and distance than a more typical road movie driving sequence" (Laderman 268).
In the film Vagabond, the film techniques and camera movements Varda uses throughout Mona's journey, help to create counter-cinema and disrupt the phallocentrism and male gaze that is usually seen in road movies. These camera techniques include the recurring traveling sequences that Laderman mentions in the quote above. In these specific shot sequences the camera tracks Mona but in the end does not follow her but continues to pan on stopping on inanimate objects. Using this technique, Varda forces the viewer to look away from Mona and not focus on her throughout the entire film creating the "distance and coldness" Laderman describes. This action disrupts the focus of the male gaze and in effect allows Mona to blend in with the surroundings rather than be the center to be framed or objectified. Also these tracking techniques create counter-cinema and disrupt the male gaze by emphasizing the fact that Mona is walking and that she is her own vehicle. Vagabond is completely different from other road movies in the way that there is no vehicle to fetishize or feeling that the vehicle is what helps the characters escape. Mona is her ride and means of transportation. She is not dependent on a vehicle like in Girl on a Motorcycle but is completely in control and drives her own narrative. Vagabond definitely creates counter-cinema as Mona disrupts the male gaze by being in control of her own journey and not being driven or influenced by anything other than her own choices and desires.
"Perhaps the ultimate road movie outcast, Mona does not cruise the highways on a sleek motorbike, sporting a sexy leather jacket, wreaking subversive havoc" (Laderman,267).
The way in which Mona is depicted in Vagabond breaks free from the desires of the male gaze and instead projects a strong femininity that goes beyond the narrow definition of a woman that we see in other films. The scene in which Mona and Madame Landier are in a diner displays the contrast between Mona and Madame Landier, who is a more typical model of femininity. The camera focuses on the women's hands. Mona's hands are rough and her nails are short and dirty, and are shown beside the woman driver's hands, which have long painted nails and are clean and soft. Mona is dirty, smelly, and alone. She is constantly on the move, not moving towards a man as Rebecca was in Girl on a Motorcycle, but moving without destination. Though she doesn't fit into society's mold of what a woman should be, Mona is well-liked by many people who she encounters. Mona meets a man who becomes attached to her, and she leaves him without warning. This is another example of a way in which this film embraces feminist counter-cinema. Mona represents freedom-not only because she is a wanderer, but because she is living for herself and no one else.
â€śâ€¦Varda presents us with womanâ€™s image demystified, and the effect is far from soothing for the other characters, particularly for the men. She upsets the trajectory of objectification and its bolstering of the system, and turns the look back toward the camera and the spectator.â€?
Vagabond as a film disrupts the male gaze and how women are looked at by making the main character and her journey the focus of the movie. The character is not obsessed with men, and the movie does not focus on a any part of her as a sexual being. She is simply a woman on a journey, alone. The film also runs counter to the male gaze in the ways in which Mona reacts to the treatment that she recieves from men. She ignores or rebuts their comments when they focus on her as a woman- for example, at the beginning of the movie when the driver that she hitches a ride from kicks her out after his comment about there being a bunk in the back of the truck and she replies unfavorably. She keeps a low profile throughout the movie- no makeup, dirty, dressed all in black, and quiet. She tries not to catch people's attention unless she needs something, and if that occurs, she is very forward in the ways in which she expresses those needs. Mona gives off the appearance of being self-sufficient and independent, which is the total opposite of how she would be presented if the film were to be oriented towards the male gaze and its themes.
"Perhaps the ultimate road movie outcast, Mona does not cruise the highways on a sleek mortorbike, sporting a sexy leather jacket, wreaking subversive havoc." (Laderman 267)
While reading Laderman's Driving Divisions, there is a part where he refers to Mona as possibly the genre's fisrt serious "Queen of the Road." Mona was a different looking woman compared to all the women we have seen in previous road films. In my opinion, it didn't seem as if she was portrayed as a sex object and I didn't feel there was a lot of phallocentrism, if any, in this film. Mona did not act like a "predictable" woman would act. She never showered, didn't really care what others thought about her, and she didn't know where she was ever going to end up and she was alright with that. She received a lot of criticism about how she lived her life and even though she let it get to her sometimes, she usually just brushed it off and became a passenger in someone else's car. She didn't stay in one place for long and maybe that was her way of avoiding any male gazing or phallocentrism. This film was definately different from the other women road films we have seen because it was not revolved around the male gaze. Instead it was revolved around where Mona would end up next. Mona was the one in charge of herself, very independent, and that was extremely clear throughout the movie.
Mona for the most part escapes the male gaze by having attributes which are distinctly unfeminine. She is dirty, we are told she smells terrible, she smokes constantly (she cigarettes she rolls herself), she is vulgar and anti social. Cinematically she is unconventional which as Hayward suggests distracts from the male gaze. Her theme lacks melody and its harmony is abrasive, tracking shots will focus on objects other than her (trees, cars, etc). Still Mona does not completely escape being sexualized. Mona is looked at with the male gaze on occasion when we look at her though certain male characters. the young men on a motorcycle in the beginning of the film view Mona as a sexualized being as she emerges from the sea. This scene was related back to Botticelli's Birth of Venus, The male gaze is extended into the next shot when we see the young men looking at post cards and discussing women and robbery. The male gaze is also intentionally present when Mona washes the car at the gas station before being raped.
As David Laderman says in Driving Visions, "Vagabond's moving camera becomes the central expression of the film's theme of mobility" (265). This cinematic technique is one of the most important disruption to the power of the male gaze because Mona is rarely captured/objectified by the camera. The camera is constantly sweeping by, thereby decentering Mona and focusing more on the rest of the mise-en-scĂ¨ne. Thus Mona is rarely subjected to the male gaze and as the object to-be-looked at. She is becomes progressivly filthier thereby unfetishizing her, unlike other movies which fetishize and stylize women to the point of "perfection." The narrative structure too disrupts the power of phallocentrism simply by having a female as the protaginist of a road film and beyond that, that she drives the narrative, not men like Girl on a Motorcycle. She is a drifter, but she has no one completely dictate where she goes next. For example, when the sheep farmer gave her land to stay and plant potatos, Mona decided that that wasn't what she wanted after all and did not follow the farmer's advice. In some ways the film could be critiqued as a quasi-feminist film because of all of the violence done upon Mona, but the cinematic techniques and the narrative structure features discussed above embrace the feminist counter-cinema.
As quoted from David Ladermanâ€™s book Driving Visions â€śMona is ugly and disheveled; she has no car nor any impulse to drive, a truly disturbing homeless drifter.â€?
Vagabond embraces the cinematic techniques and narrative structure of a feminist counter-cinema film through its disruption of the male gaze and avoidance of phallocentric capture. As an audience, we are constantly looking at the other characters looking at Mona. We, like the others, are trying to figure out Mona and find ourselves much less interested in sexualizing her.
"With the alienated and alienating Mona, the film disrupts the classical structure of the look and narrative because she refuses that place culturally assigned to the woman. Even though her masquerade is undermined at the end, she does not return to society, choosing instead to return to the land." (692 Hottel).
The film Vagabond by Varda we are introduced to a different female lead. While men throughout the film find Mona attractive and make mentions of her physical appeal she is quite different than the typical woman objectified by the male gaze. Not one point in the film is there any scene in which Mona does not have her clothes on. Where the film could have gone the route in showing her body, it chose to keep on the track of having her covered, opposing the overused sex object.
We do encounter a scene in which Mona is attacked in the woods which plays into male domination. However, she does not ever stay with a man which provides her with great independence and a tough exterior. Though she is dependent on others to give her food and at times shelter/work, she always ends up on her own continuing her journey on the road.
Her death is interesting in the film. As the quote above states, Mona does not give in in the end and leaves her body with the land. Mona's journey was about her not conforming to mainstream society. While she could have stayed in one place and kept a job, she chose to continue her vagrant life on her own. Her death could be seen as her "punishment" for not conforming. She took to the road, but the road gets her in the end. It consumes her much to the point of exhaustion. Mona having already lived a life of conformity clearly would have understood that it would be easier to leave her journey and find a job and a place to live, but she stuck to her life outside society's standards. She lived and died with the road.
"...the effect is to unfix the gaze, to render it inoperable. Because there are so many points of view, Mona cannot be caught in any of them. In this criss-crossing of gazes, Mona has already moved on or has not yet arrived. Varda represents this phenomenon visually through the contrasting images of Mona's wanderings and her speculators' immobilism..." (Hayward 288).
In the movie Vegabond, the main character Mona is not followed by the male gaze, nor does she seem to be bound by phallocentricism like some of the women in other movies we have seen. Rather, Mona is an independent, lone woman who feels the need to take her show on the road. The viewer does not know necessarily what she left behind, but the viewers does get to see that wherever she travels, she is playing by her own rules, not by those of the male characters around her. Every stop that Mona made along the way, it was almost as if she was looking for a place to permantely settle, but the minute she was given direction or criticism of her lifestyle, she was on her way again. It was as if she desired to be off the road, but only if she was the one who in charge. The road, in a way, gave Mona her independence from phallocentricism.
The male gaze was also missing from this film. Mona's character was dirty; she never bathed throughout the entire movie. In fact, there were numerous comments from both female and male characters talking about her lack of cleanliness. Mona travelled the road alone. She had nobody to impress, and even if she did, I still do not think she would have washed herself up. I took that as another sign of her independence. The other characters took it as a sign of disgust and no male character really had the desire to 'gaze' at her.
Mona did not follow the typical feminine mold of what a woman is supposed to be and as a result, she was able to rid herself from phallocentricism and the male gaze.
"And yet, surprisingly, the dismal rambling of this apathetic, nihilistic drifter becomes the starting point...for a uniquely polictical criticism of French culture and French national indentity...She passes through the lives of various characters - that is, through a landscape as much social as it is literal - provoking various reactions" (Laderman 266).
In the 1985 film, "Vagabond," Agnes Varda successfully counters the power of the male gaze through the story of Mona, a drifter and hitchhiker in France. This narrative embraces those of feminist counter-culture cinema in that Mona is the driving force behind the movement and action of the film. Unlike "Girl On A Motorcycle," where Rebecca was driven by the male gaze, Mona is driven by herself. Her cause for moving is her own doing, and not a result being objectified and under the permanent gaze of a man. When Mona is living at the goat farm, she is offered a place to live, land to work, but as she is turned off by stability, she doesn't take advantage of this. As the fatherly goat herder attempts to point out her character flaws and make her do something with herself, she calls up the driving force inside her, moving on. This shows that she is in no way captured by the phallocentric world, but rather she is living and moving for herself. There are moments in the film where men objectify Mona's body, but as she does not recieve their male gaze, their objectification falls short and becomes meaningless (example: when some boys are taunting her at the water hose, she flips them the bird and they quickly forget her).
After reading the David Laderman chapter he talks about how road films in the U.S. are different from films in Europe. I've always enjoyed foreign films more than American film, but was never sure why. Upon reading his words I recognized that we do indeed have different perspectives. These differing perspectives create better/worse films. Of course this is only my opinion.
Mona was a woman who wanted a different life, so she went out on the road. She was happy with the way she lived even though she didn't have much. The men around her saw her many times as vulnerable ad rarely took advantage of her. In American cinema, I feel there would have been many more sexual advances toward her. This film took a look at the vagabond lifestyle and how she had to survive. It was a narrative of her life, and not much more. Some subtle hints were intertwined to let us know, even though we already did, that she was going to die in the end. One example of this was " when they die, think of me", she said this when referring to the sick trees.
Personally, I enjoy European/foreign cinema more because of the narrative, the way it is artfully put together and the different viewpoints. American Indie films also have the same feel to them.
â€śWith the alienated and alienating Mona, the film (The Vegabond) disrupts the classical structures of the look and narrative because she refuses that place culturally assigned to the womanâ€? (Hottell). One of Hottellâ€™s closing statements explains Vardaâ€™s approach to a feminist counter-cinema film. Varda uses the narrative, the camera, and voice-over to disrupt the power of the male gaze and the phallocentric capture of a woman as an object and to-be-looked at. By creating a story about a solo traveling woman who never bathes shields Mona from the male gaze and being an object to-be-looked at. Covered in dirt and stench, Varda creates character that doesnâ€™t care to-be-looked at thus not drawing the male to gaze at her. Varda uses the camera to show Monaâ€™s travels, the spaces she passes through, and the people she meets. Only at the beginning, when Mona arrives from the sea, does the camera objectify her. Mona is never framed or looked at secretly through a window by a male gazer. Many tracking shots limit the about of frames solely on Mona. This limits the amount of time spent of framing the female body, thus allowing for more emphasis on the narrative and ideals of the character herself. By framing the story at the beginning of the movie, Varda herself in a voice-over, explains what will happen in the film. The use of a female voice removes the phallocentric element that most films posses. The use of the tracking shot, female voice-over, and almost no objectification of Mona with the camera Varda creates a feminist counter-cinema film the disrupts the power of the male gaze and phallocentrism.
The representation of this experience- through a series of flashbacks which, at times even, become imbricated-is instance it causes a disengagement from the story- thus preventing it from becoming an ideological fil about vagrancy...(it becomes a film about) the effect to unfix the gaze and to render it imoperable. Because there are so many points of view, Mona cannot be caught in any of them.- Hayward 287-88
The film Vagabond is still a film of rebellion, even more so then Easy Rider and Girl on a Motorcycle that claim to be rebellious but do not show it through cinematic technique. Those flim's center around the American fetishism of sex, and mobility and excitement of a vehicle. Easy Rider and Girl on a Motorcycle have the same linear movement from start to finish, looking for an answer, not being fulfilled and end in tragedy. Vagabond is a film that not only claims to be rebellious by it's plot and character's words but also in actions, filming in un-linear sequence, and less valorization of the main character, Mona (who becomes of of an anti-hero). In this film there is not much meaning in the quest, expect when Mona mentions that she does not want to be a secretary and more and found that unfulfilling. The narrative doesn't answer many questions, moves backward from a death scene in the beginning, and leaves the view to fill in the voided areas and unanswered questions. This film wasn't necessarily and film to find out who this girl was and what he life was like before. It was more of a French cultural critique and statement that even if you seem to be free, really you are not if you cannot provide shelter, water, and food for yourself.
The male gaze is unfixed in this film by not having a beautiful main character submsive to male desires. Although Mona is shown with out clothing and raped, she is not fetishized like Rebecca in Girl on a Motorcycle. Unlike Rebecca who's goal is to find her new man wearing tight clothing being transported on a gift from him Mona is her own independant self. She is not looking for acceptance and doesn't have a goal in mind at all. She is a dirty, unattractive wanderer that doesn't have a male companion, male goal, or male desire. There is no pleasure that comes from looking at Mona, and this is what disrupts the scopophillia. She is not passive and pretty. She is ugly, independant, and unmotivated to be anything else the a homeless slob.
The European road movie grounds the meaning of the questâ€¦(Laderman 248)
The film, Vagabond, embraces a narrative structure of a feminist counter-cinema through the differences it portrays when compared to an American road film. The first instance in the film when this occurs is when Mona is walking out of the sea after bathing. In an American film she would have probably been looked at as an object for the male to gaze upon for his own pleasure, but this film simply notes her presence in the background of the scene while the main focus is on the men on the motorcycle in the foreground. Another example is the reason why Mona is on the road in the first place. As she sets off on her journey there is no real way for the audience to determine where or why she is going. IN no way has she been forced to travel in the first place and the feeling of escapism is no where to be found as it would be in an American road film. This takes away from the male gaze by placing Mona in a role that more closely represents a role that a male character would possess. She talks and acts as a male would if he were to be in her situation, causing her to be undesirable through her dirty appearance and violent actions. Mona also takes on the role of a male through her interactions with others. Instead of being in situations in which she needs to be rescued or saved, she is constantly in some position of power, which weakens the phallocentricism of the film. In most situations she is the character to initiate the action instead of having the action initiated upon her. She is able to find her own ride on the side of the road, she rolls her own weed, and she ultimately determines when and where she wants to go. Her ability to be on her own and determine her own outcome is enough to take the gaze away from her breasts or her behind and to focus it more on the meaning of her journey as a whole.
As put by David Laderman,
â€śVagabond features a Road Woman â€“ perhaps the genreâ€™s first serious queen of the Roadâ€?
Within Agnes Vardaâ€™s landmark feminist critique film Vagabond (Sans toit ni loi) there are various elements that embrace the cinematic techniques and narrative structure of a feminist counter-cinema film. At the start of the picture, it seems that, like most films, the look will be primarily from the male perspective with Mona emerging from the sea in a silhouetted light of the day that seems to embrace the phallocentric view of men. However, from that point on, the film begins to disrupt the power of the male gaze by having Mona reject the phallocentric dominance of men over women through her look, body language, actions, and dialogue. One of the most pronounced actions of Mona is her ability to initiate most actions; begging for rides, asking for water, and beginning the look between herself and other people, specifically male. Throughout the film Mona is the one to initiate a gaze between her and a male, being the one to stare down the image of another, instead of having it be the other way around. In addition, with certain people, Mona rejects the attention and gaze others may give to her through her body language and sudden shift of attention, such as when she enters a local diner and begins a gaze at a young man, but as soon as he reciprocates the gaze back, leaves him to ponder at the bar. With relevance to rejecting a certain gaze within the film, Mona also formulates the narrative structure of a feminist counter-cinema by being the main force to drive and facilitate the plot. Mona does not answer to anyone but herself, and only for brief moments does a male have a link to the drive and survival of her life. David Ladermanâ€™s description of Vagabond is dead on; Mona fits at the first queen of the road.
"-to show how her filth is accrued and her clothing diminished; and the last memorable trace on her body, the red stains, is the last to receive elucidation (Hayward, French Film)." Firstly, the way in which Mona is dead lying in the ditch does not display any form of sexual desire like the deaths of most women in films so that even in her death a woman must resume beauty. Further, Vegabond does not place specific attention to images such as the male gaze so that we as the viewers may see and create our own meaning and visions rather than be forced to think in one narrow way that the film creator tries to shove down our throats as feminist Jutta Bruckner was saying in the same article. The women's beauty are not overtly stressed so much and even when Dr. Landier is shown partially nude in the bath tub the scene does not seem overly sexualized but completely normal. I do however find it not suprising that the only nudity we saw was that of a woman which perhaps was to prove a point. Although many of the men who had run into her along the road had talked of her as though she was rather beautiful her image and way of dress did not stress any particular body parts that a man didn't have as well such as her hair and eyes. When the men spoke of her it was more the fact that she was a female loner that excited them. The main character Mona in this film was portrayed much differently than the woman on a motorcycle. Also, to go along with not only the images of Mona but her attitude and the scene where she spits out of the camper and other scene where she keeps rubbing the snot from her nose with her sleeve do not follow the gender norms of a patriarchal society.
In what ways is â€śVagabondâ€? a film that embraces the cinematic techniques and narrative structure of a feminist counter-cinema -- disrupting the power of the male gaze and the phallocentric capture of woman as object to-be-looked at? (Start your blog entry with a quote from the readings.)