“Taare Zameen Par” - by Aamir Khan (2007)

Taare Zameen Par (aka Like Stars on Earth, 2007) is an award-winning drama about an eight-year-old boy struggling to find his way.  Although the boy comes from a nice, middle-class family, he is dismissed by both his parents and teachers as a lazy and trouble-making loser.  The film sensitively explores the boy’s experiences from his own subjective perspective, and that is what makes the film so uniquely rewarding.

Taare Zameen Par was produced and directed by well-known Indian actor Aamir Khan, who  also co-starred in this film.  Although Khan was considerably experienced as an actor, this was his initial outing as a film director, and he was considerably assisted in this effort by screenwriter Amole Gupte, who, together with his wife Deepa Bhatia, who was the film’s editor, conceived of the story for the film.  Gupte then went ahead and wrote the film’s screenplay and dialogue, and he assisted in various other aspects of the creative design. 

Incidentally, Khan, himself, has over the course of his career not only gained much fame for his roles in high-grossing films, such as 3 Idiots (2009) and Dangal (2016), but, in addition, has also drawn considerable attention for his activities outside the cinema in connection with his support of humanitarian causes and as a social critic.  As a Muslim man married to a Hindu woman (Kiran Rao), Aamir Khan has sought to bridge social divides in India and has expressed in this connection some criticism of sectarian activities on the part of Norendra Modi and his Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in Gujarat [1].  This has led to personal attacks from Hindu nationalists, who have organized boycotts of Khan’s films.  Nevertheless, Khan remains one of the most popular figures in Indian cinema.

Therefore it is not surprising that Taare Zameen Par has a social theme and an associated cause that is likely strongly supported by Aamir Khan.  That theme, especially in terms of its wider scope, which I will discuss below, is naturally an underlying key to the film’s popularity, but there are other aspects of the production that are also of great importance.  The film’s superb production values, notably the cinematography by Setu (Satyajit Pande) and the music by Shankar–Ehsaan–Loy, as well as the remarkable performance of child actor Darsheel Safary,  have been woven together here into a uniform fabric of compassion and feeling.  As a consequence, you will likely find yourself uplifted by the telling of this tale, as have a range of critics [2,3,4,5,6,7]. 

The story of the film is actually quite simple and straightforward, and what extends the running time to more than two hours and forty minutes is the manner and degree to which various moods and feelings are lingered over.  Some viewers might become impatient over these passages, but here is where the heart of the film dwells.  The film’s story is composed of four segments.

1.  A Schoolboy Failure
The viewer is introduced to Ishaan Awasthi (Darsheel Safary), a seemingly typical eight-year-old boy with a shy smile that winsomely reveals his buckteeth.  But Ishaan is not so typical, because he is soon revealed to be a failure in school – he is in the process failing his whole third-grade year for the second year in a row.  This is odd, because Ishaan seems to come from the right upbringing.  His father Nandkishore Awasthi (Vipin Sharma) is a successful businessman, his mother Maya (Tisca Chopra) is a loving and caring mom, and his older brother, Yohan (Sachet Engineer), excels as a student and as an athlete.  But Ishaan can’t even read or write.  When he looks at a printed page, he says that he only sees letters and figures dancing about on the page. And so for fifty minutes of screen-time, we see Ishaan constantly being berated by his teachers, his parents, and his classmates as a lazy good-for-nothing. You might think this is too long, but this early portion of the film is crucial for establishing our empathy for Ishaan.

2.  Boarding School
Ishaan’s parents are convinced that the boy is just lazy and lacks discipline.  So to toughen the boy up, they ship him off to a boarding school, where the bywords are ‘order’ and ‘discipline’.  If you don’t measure up, you get punished.  And all the teachers seem to be strict disciplinarians.  We know by now that Ishaan is a sensitive boy and that this environment is only going to further alienate him.  He is befriended by a crippled classmate, Rajan (Tanay Chheda), though, and it is only through Rajan’s timely intervention that Ishaan’s suicidal thoughts at the top of a tower wall are interrupted.

3.  The New Art Teacher

Finally, halfway into the film, a new, substitute art teacher, Ram Shankar Nikumbh (Aamir Khan) is appointed at the school.  Mr. Nikumbh also works as a part-time teacher at the Tulip School for handicapped and retarded kids and is used to regarding every child as special.  Mr. Nikumbh is enthusiastic and caring, and he tries to entertain and reach out to all his students.  But by now Ishaan is so alienated that he is constantly sulking and withdrawn.
 
However, Mr. Nikumbh, unlike the other teachers, cares, and after carefully reviewing all of Ishaan’s old assignment workbooks, comes to the conclusion that Ishaan is suffering from dyslexia.  Dyslexia is a neurological condition, but it does not mean that the person afflicted with it is retarded – it only means that the subject has difficulty distinguishing symbols (well-informed viewers had probably already figured this out about Ishaan).

So Mr. Nikumbh goes to visit Ishaan’s parents and tells them about what he has discerned about their boy.  At their residence in Ishaan’s room, Mr. Nikumbh discovers that Ishaan has a gift for art, and he notices that Ishaan has even created a sophisticated flipbook that symbolically describes his alienation from his family. However, Ishaan’s parents are still convinced that their son is just lazy.

4.  Finding a Way Forward

Back in the art class, Mr. Nikumbh lectures his students about dyslexia and tells them that dyslexic people can be very bright and talented.  He tells them that some famous geniuses in history have been dyslexic – Leonardo Da Vinci, Albert Einstein, Thomas Edison, and Pablo Picasso.  Then Mr. Nikumbh goes to the school principal and gets permission to start giving Ishaan special tutoring that can help the boy catch up with his third-grade classmates. 

During this period, Ishaan’s father stops by the school, and Mr. Nikumbh takes him to his office and gives the man a demeaning lecture, scolding him for being a bad father.  This is the weakest moment in the film.  Although Ishaan’s father had the wrong ideas about his son, there is no point in belittling the man and expressing resentment towards him.  Hatred and contempt gets you nowhere.  A more positive message ought to have been conveyed. 

Nikumbh’s tutoring of Ishaan continues, though, and eventually the boy’s grades improve enough for him to pass his third-grade requirements.  Ishaan’s parents are thrilled by their son’s progress.

At the end of the year, Mr. Nikumbh organizes a school-wide art fair with a painting competition having a single prize for all staff and students.  One of the judges, by the way, is noted Indian artist Lalita Lajmi, in a cameo role.  You can guess whose painting wins the grand prize.  Ishaan has finally come out of his shell and joyfully thanks his art teacher, Mr. Nikumbh, for opening up a wonderful world of opportunities for him to express himself.  He is now a regular (and therefore special) kid.


Taare Zameen Par has earned many plaudits, but it has drawn some criticism, too [8].  Some reviewers have complained that the film is too long and too slow.  However, I felt that the first half of the film, which is just devoted to showing Ishaan’s unhappy condition, was the most affecting and invaluable part of the presentation.  It was only in the second half of the story, when Mr. Nikumbh appears and gets things moving toward a solution, that I sometimes found some scenes to be repetitive or a bit overextended. 

Another criticism has been that some parts of the film are unrealistic.  This may be associated with the misapprehension that the film belongs to the neorealistic tradition [7].  But I would say that despite the participation of numerous nonprofessional actors (mostly students), Taare Zameen Par is definitely not part of the neorealistic genre, however that term might be interpreted [9].  In fact the film is more of an impressionistic rendering of various affective states of mind.  Thus, for example, actor Vipin Sharma was chosen to play the role of Ishaan’s father,  Nandkishore Awasthi, not for any purposes of realism, but primarily for his ability to exhibit a fierce, emotive scowl towards his beleaguered son.  Indeed, it is that moody impressionistic flavour, conveyed by both the cinematic mise en scene and the intermittent musical numbers, that is the great virtue of this film.

As for the ultimate message of the film, some people might say that it advocates for a greater concern in our school systems for the proper education of students with dyslexia (whose occurrence is greater than you might think – perhaps 5-10 percent).  Yes, there is that matter of concern present in the film.  But the film’s ultimate message is one of wider scope – that every child, no matter what characteristics he or she may have, is special.  We need an education system that moves beyond the mechanical inculcation of discipline and “The three Rs” and engages with every student in the most appropriate (i.e. special) interactive way in order to teach a much broader spectrum of skills and values that can help him or her to be a better person.

The implication here is that when we say someone is ‘special’ in this context, we are suggesting that that person has unique features that may deserve our most considerate attention, perhaps even our love.  When we have people trained with that perspective, we are on the way towards developing a society where everyone can be seen as special and deserving of our compassion and love [10].  Taare Zameen Par points us in that direction.
½

Notes:
  1. “Aamir Khan”, Wikipedia, (1 November 2019).    
  2. Gautaman Bhaskaran, “Film review: Taare Zameen Par”, The Hollywood Reporter, (31January 2008). 
  3. R. Paul Dhillon, “Taare Zameen Par”, Straight, (2 January 2008).   
  4. Raja Sen, “Aamir's Taare is a nice watch”, Rediff India Abroad, (21 December 2007).   
  5. Will Kouf, “Like Stars on Earth (2007)”, Silver Emulsion Film Reviews, (19 June 2010).   
  6. Meeta Kabra, “Tare Zameen Par”, Wogma, (n.d.).   
  7. Jen Johans, “DVD Review: Like Stars on Earth (2007)”, Film Intuition: Review Database, (18 January 2010). 
  8. Derek Elley, “Taare zameen par: Every Child is Special”, Variety, (28 December, 2007).   
  9. The Film Sufi, “Aesthetics of Two Neorealist Films: ‘Open City’ and ‘Paisan’", The Film Sufi, (18 November 2008).   
  10. Paranahansa Yogananda, Autobiography of a Yogi, Self Realization Fellowship (1946).

Aamir Khan

Films of Aamir Khan:

“Into the Inferno” - Werner Herzog (2016)

Over the course of Werner Herzog’s prolific fifty-year career in filmmaking, he has shown himself to be uniquely talented in both the theatrical and documentary arenas.  In both of these genres, he has been extraordinarily creative, and he has consistently produced narrative foci with respect to both of these forms that somehow manage to convey his deeply felt existential perspective. 

In some ways Herzog’s documentary films are perhaps the more remarkable, because many  people would ordinarily expect documentary films to be relatively objective presentations of reality and therefore outside the scope of emotive, personal injections from the filmmaker.  But as I have remarked in other essays, documentary films exist across a wide spectrum, from full “Objectivism” at one end to full “Interactionism” at the other end [1,2,3,4].  And Herzog’s films lie at the Interactionism end of this spectrum [5]:
“Herzog is so much on the Interactionist side of the ledger that his documentary films not only include his personal perspective, but seem primarily to be his own personal essays about the world – he, himself, is an implicit focus of the film, and the “reality” depicted is self-consciously Herzog’s own reality.” 
And Herzog’s recent Into the Inferno (2016) is another representative example of this approach.  This is a film about volcanoes, and as he often seems to do, Herzog has traveled around the world assembling visual footage and then assembled it all into a fascinating narrative.  Volcanoes, perhaps because they symbolize for him Nature’s unfathomable wrath, have always been a fascination for Herzog, and he has focused his lens on them in several productions, going back all the way to his La Soufrière (1977), a short documentary about the La Grande Soufrière volcano in Guadeloupe in the Gulf of Mexico.

Indeed Herzog’s pessimism about the nihilistic nature of the natural world is a theme that runs throughout his oeuvre.  Consider these representative past opinions expressed [6,7]:
“I don’t see [the jungle] so much erotic. I see it more full of obscenity. It’s just – Nature here is vile and base. I wouldn’t see anything erotical here. I would see fornication and asphyxiation and choking and fighting for survival and growing and just rotting away. Of course, there’s a lot of misery. But it is the same misery that is all around us. The trees here are in misery, and the birds are in misery. I don’t think they sing. They just screech in pain.”
and
“There is a harmony [in nature] . . . it is a harmony of overwhelming and collective murder.”
Of course, Herzog doesn’t focus exclusively on his own obsessions, and here in Into the Inferno, there is also coverage of vulcanology, which is mostly provided by volcanologist  Clive Oppenheimer, who is frequently shown giving his account of the various volcanoes that Herzog and his crew visit.  In fact we might say that Oppenheimer provides a more down-to-earth Objectivist perspective that counterbalances Herzog’s.  And we might also assume that some aspects of this film were inspired by Oppenheimer’s book on volcanoes, Eruptions that Shook the World (2011) [8].  Herzog had earlier met Oppenheimer when he filmed a volcano sequence and some volcanologists on Mount Erebus in Antarctica in connection with his documentary film Encounters at the End of the World (2007).

But apart from looking at volcanoes as wondrous, and often disastrous, natural phenomena, Herzog is interested in the various ways volcanoes have affected the belief systems of human cultures living in their vicinities.  So we pass back and forth in this film between the objective phenomena side and the underlying human belief side with respect to these terrifying events.  And as we proceed, Into the Inferno’s coverage of all this material is artfully presented in six distinct sections.

1.  Introduction
The film begins on Ambryn Island, Vanuatu, in the South Pacific, where we are introduced to very primitive natives who have strong religious beliefs about volcanoes.  Herzog also introduces the viewer to general volcanology, Clive Oppenheimer, and the term ‘pyroclastic flow’, which refers to a fast-moving current of hot gas and lava that moves off from a volcanic eruption.  In this context reference is made to Katia and Maurice Krafft, two enthusiastic and pioneering French volcanologists who loved to photograph volcanic eruptions up close, but who were killed on one of these occasions in 1991 by an overpowering pyroclastic flow.

2.  Indonesia 

The scene now shifts to Indonesia, home of the greatest number of active volcanoes in the world.  There at Lake Toba, they visit the Babadun Observatory, which is devoted to sophisticated monitoring of volcanic activity in the area.  They also learn about a number of native beliefs and rituals, some of which are concerned with making ritual offerings in order to appease angry sea gods.  These rituals and monuments are not just of ancient origin – Herzog and his crew visit a bizarre and very large Catholic church in the shape of a nesting bird that is still under construction.

Again the volcano is a symbol of divine anger towards humanity.  In this regard Herzog observes,
“Of all the volcanoes in Indonesia, there is no single one that is not connected to a belief system”.
3.  Ethiopia
In Africa, an area that has always fascinated Herzog, they visit the Afar Region, which is a unique geological area that is 300 feet below sea level and is lined with volcanoes.  This is also the hottest place on the planet.  But here the focus is on anthropology, since it is believed that the first homo sapiens lived here some 100,000 years ago.  Oppenheimer spends some time talking to University of California, Berkeley, Professor Tim White, who is an enthusiastic on-site investigator of this topic.

4.  Iceland
In Iceland, the total landmass of which is volcanic, they visit the Westland Islands.  There they discuss the famous Laki eruption of 1783.  The wide extent of this eruption and the eight-month period over which the eruption lasted had extensive worldwide impact on the climate and make this one of the most important volcanic eruptions in human history.

5.  North Korea
The most interesting part of the film for me, though, was the segment in North Korea.  There Herzog goes to see Mount Paektu on the Chinese border.  This mountain, which has a history of volcanic activity, has been adopted by the North Korean government as a symbol of power and dominance, and its image is extensively employed in government propaganda.  There on the mountain Herzog shows a group of uniform-clad students looking over the crater’s edge and robotically praising in unison the mountain’s unconquerable power. 

Herzog offers little explicit commentary here, and he pretty much lets the government spokesmen (who have presumably been assigned to him) speak for themselves.  But their robotic praise of government propaganda platitudes attest to the government’s despotic control of all social discussion.  In North Korea, there are no international phone lines or public electronic communication media connected with the outside world.  And there are no newsstands and no advertising – only public postings of government announcements.  Herzog comments:
“But in all this display of the masses, I find an underlying emptiness and solitude.”
6.  Vanuatu (again)
We finally return to Vanuatu and visit Mount Yasur on Tanna Island.  There the primitive natives have established a new cargo-cult god, who they fervently believe was created by a volcano and who protects the local people from Nature’s angry vicissitudes.  This god is a mythical American GI, named John Frum, who is believed to have descended from the clouds to their island.  Access to and information about the god Frum is possessively controlled by the secretive local chieftain, Isaac.

In the end we come back to the local clan-head of the primitive tribe who had been interviewed at the beginning of the film.  He relates how terrified he was when he once looked down at a lava lake and  wondered if it would one day sweep over all of the natural world.  In fact, he concludes morosely, he thinks in the future that all the world’s volcanoes will collectively erupt together and destroy everything.


These parting words reflect Herzog’s generally pessimistic view about nature – that it is a world dominated by brute power and destructiveness and that it holds no quarter for the wishes and aspirations of any living things.  And this somber message is enhanced by Herzog’s measured and reflective articulation of it in voiceover.

This irresistible potency for annihilation is apparently what inspires and fuels the drive of the despotic North Korean government, and that particular segment of the film which explores their fascination for such a nihilistic metaphor was particularly compelling.

In general, we might observe that the Herzog side of Into the Inferno’s narrative provides a  somewhat disturbing cataloguing of the many different ways that a mysterious and destructive natural phenomenon, the volcano, has been used as a cultural instrument.  And interestingly,  this instrument is used to further various social aims in human societies that are unrelated to the phenomenon evoked.

Nevertheless, there is beauty and wonder in Into the Inferno, too, and this is partly embodied by the enthusiastic volcanologists and other scientists who strive to learn more about the natural world and man’s origins in it.  And in addition, there is also the fascinating imagery of the lava flows and eruptions, themselves.  These have a haunting effect on the viewer which lingers in the mind long afterwards.
½

Notes:
  1. The Film Sufi, “Interactionism”, (label), The Film Sufi.      
  2. The Film Sufi, “‘Where to Invade Next’ - Michael Moore (2015)”, The Film Sufi, (19 August 2019).
  3. The Film Sufi, “‘SiCKO’ - Michael Moore (2007)“, The Film Sufi, (10 February 2010).
  4. The Film Sufi, “‘Avatar’ - James Cameron (2009)”, The Film Sufi, (16 May 2010).
  5. The Film Sufi, “‘Lessons of Darkness’ (1992)”, The Film Sufi, (30 May 2010).
  6. Werner Herzog, “24 Wonderfully Bonkers Werner Herzog Quotes”, (Compiled by Nico Lang), Thought Catalog, (24 April 2013).   
  7. from Les Blank, Burden of Dreams (1982), which is about the shooting of Herzog’s Fitzcarraldo (1982).
  8. Clive Oppenheimer, Eruptions that Shook the World, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, (2011).

"La Rupture" - Claude Chabrol (1970)

Claude Chabrol’s La Rupture (The Breach, aka The Breakup, 1970) is in my opinion his finest film, but it is a hard one to classify.  It can be considered to be a thriller, a film noir, a horror film, or a philosophical fantasy, but it seems to escape the boundaries of all of these genre types.  From any angle, the film turns out to be not what you would expect.  For this reason the film has been a puzzle to many viewers and has had a variety of critical responses [1,2,3,4,5,6]. 

Scripted and directed by Chabrol (Les Cousins, 1959), who was one of the original members of the French New Wave (Nouvelle Vague), La Rupture was based on Charlotte Armstrong’s novel The Balloon Man (1968).  The film featured excellent production values, particularly in connection with Jean Rabier’s skillfully restless cinematography and with Pierre Jansen’s eerie musical score.

The film features a virtuoso performance in the lead role on the part of Stéphane Audran, Claude Chabrol’s wife, whose portrayal of earnest, steadfast feminine authenticity represents a key narrative element to the story.  In fact we could say that a basic theme of the story is that of persistent innocence that is victimized and virtually engulfed by corrupt social elements.  But what makes this whole thing fascinating is the surreal and expressionistic way that this theme is presented. 

Indeed, the expressionistic element is an explicit feature here, inasmuch as Chabrol has remarked that La Rupture belonged to his Fritz Lang period – Lang having been a noted German Expressionist filmmaker [1].  However, Chabrol’s expressionistic presentation is different than the usual fare, which I have characterized by the following [7]:
“In their paintings, Munch and the German Expressionists presented a world that is distorted and coloured by the inner emotions evoked in the subjective viewer. This is a highly charged, emotional world vastly different from the photographic reality captured by a camera. The attempt is made to show that there is not so much a separation from the inner state of the subject and the external world as perceived by that subject. For example, when the subject is fear, every aspect of the physical world is shown to be nightmarishly oppressive and threatening.”
In other words, a distraught inner, mental world is usually portrayed in Expressionistic art by showing a distorted surrounding physical environment, often in film by means of dramatic camera angles and lighting.  But here in La Rupture it’s different – the presented physical world is entirely normal and seemingly objective.  Instead, the expressionistic elements in the film are constituted by the baroque characters that surround the main character, along with the eerie, surreal music sometimes present on the soundtrack. 

The opening title of the film offers a quotation by Jean Racine that foretells the impending atmosphere that will come to haunt the protagonist:

    “What utter darkness suddenly surrounds me.”

The film narrative proceeds through four segments.

1.  A Dramatic Marital Rupture
The film begins with a cheerful domestic scene showing Hélène Régnier (played by Stéphane Audran) happily serving breakfast to her four-year-old son Michel.  But then her husband, Charles (Jean-Claude Drouot), emerges from the bedroom with a disturbed look on his face – there is something clearly wrong with him.  Wordlessly, he throttles Hélène and then picks up his son and throws him down, giving the boy a severe concussion and breaking his leg.  Hélène manages to get up and knock her husband out with a frying pan.   Then she rushes her son to the hospital. 

Charles’s extremely wealthy parents, Ludovic (Michel Bouquet) and Emilie (Marguerite Cassan) Régnier, soon arrive and take their disturbed son to their home to tend to him.  In short order it is clear enough that both Charles’s parents and Hélène want an immediate divorce.  The only item at issue is who will get possession of the boy Michel.  The contest for the boy will constitute the driving narrative conflict for the film.

In terms of resources, the contest is between very unequal adversaries, and in this connection we are given some background concerning the marriage of Charles and Hélène.  Ludovic and Emilie never approved of their son’s marriage to Hélène, whom they disparagingly regard as lower class.  But Charles wanted to be a writer, and Hélène managed to find work as a stripteaser, and later as a barmaid, in order to support her unemployed and unsuccessful husband.  And of course this kind of work only made Ludovic and Emilie despise her even more and to the belief that Hélène ruined their son. 

Charles’s frustrations as an unpublished writer led him to taking drugs and eventually to mental illness.  With his latest outburst, Hélène now feels that even though she has loved her husband, it is no longer possible for her and Michel to live near him.  In the meantime she wants to live near the hospital where Michel is being treated so that she can see him as much as possible.  So on the advice of friendly Dr. Blanchard (Angelo Infanti), she rents a room in a boarding house directly across the street from the hospital.

2.  An Adversarial Agent is Hired
Ludovic Régnier discovers that the only way he can get legal possession of Michel is to prove that Hélène is unfit to be the boy’s mother.  So he hires the out-of-work son of a former business associate to dig up some dirt on Hélène.  This new hire, Paul Thomas (Jean-Pierre Cassel), proves to be the direct adversarial agent of Hélène, and the rest of the story follows the tussle between the unscrupulous Paul and the innocent Hélène. 

The boarding house where Hélène now stays turns out to be a bizarre theater of the absurd, featuring a number of baroque, symbolic tenants who provide the key expressionistic backdrop to the tale.  These people are
  • Mme. Pinelli (Annie Cordy) is the landlady of the boarding house and is a strict, but well-meaning, moralist.
     
  • Elise (Katia Romanoff) is the Pinelli’s mentally retarded teenage daughter.  She is perpetually cheerful and represents pure, unsuspecting innocence.
     
  • Henri Pinelli (Jean Carmet) is Mme. Pinelli’s husband and is a hopeless alcoholic and almost perpetually inebriated.  He symbolizes human frailty.
     
  • The Three Fates – Mme Humbert (Margo Lion), Mme. Claire (Louise Chevalier), and Mme. Marineau (Maria Michi) are three gossipy old ladies who are perpetually playing games of tarot cards in the boarding house parlor.  Together, these three ladies explicitly symbolize the Three Fates (Parcae), the mythical feminine personifications of destiny, who in ancient times famously controlled the fateful outcomes of people and gods.
     
  • Gerard Mostelle (Mario David) is an outrageously histrionic theater actor, who, curiously enough, ultimately symbolizes truth and authenticity.  It is he who staunchly refuses to be bought out for materialistic gain.
     
  • Dr. Blanchard (Angelo Infanti) is a very handsome and conscientious doctor who is seemingly cut out to be a heroic rescue figure in this story.  The fact that he lives at the boarding house suggests he is single and a potential romantic partner for Hélène.  But he proves to be a narrative red herring and is always too busy to be around when Hélène needs his help.
Into this mix enters Paul Thomas, who, claiming he is suffering from cancer and needs every-other-day treatment at the hospital, secures a room in Mme. Pinelli’s boarding house in order to falsely befriend Hélène and carry out his nefarious plans.  Another outrageously expressionistic character, but one who doesn’t live in the boarding house, is Paul’s sexy girlfriend, Sonia.  Sonia is an almost hysterical nymphomaniac, who is constantly demanding sex and is almost always seen naked in the film.

All of these bizarre figures suggest that when Hélène has come to live in the boarding house, she has entered into an expressionistic dreamworld from which there is no escape.  As a part of this surreal theme, there is a long shot of Hélène walking in the park and encountering a man selling balloons (recall that the title of Charlotte Armstrong’s novel is The Balloon Man [8]).  The balloons here may suggest mysterious, ungraspable dreams that float in the sky.

Anyway, during this segment of the story, Paul tries a number of tactics to ruin Hélène’s reputation, but he is unsuccessful.  All of Hélène’s associates stand by her and affirm her basic virtue.

3.  A Nasty Plan
So Paul hatches a malicious plan to sexually corrupt the innocent Elise and have it all blamed on Hélène by staging a drug-fueled automobile accident.  This is a complicated scheme, and it involves getting Mme. Pinelli, the Three Fates, and  Hélène to leave the boarding house for an extended period of time under various false pretenses.  Then he has to ply Henri Pinelli with liquor until the man is stupefyingly drunk so that he can whisk Elise over to Sonia’s apartment so that she can gleefully sexually molest the young girl. 

Moreover, in order to blame everything on Hélène, Paul ultimately has to drug her, too, and this part of his scheme fails.  So Paul has to quickly deposit the sedated Elise back in her own bedroom.

4.  The Unraveling
Meanwhile Hélène goes to the plush Régnier family home to see Charles.  There, in a moving and adroitly performed shot of 3:30 duration, Hélène explains to the still mentally disturbed Charles that, while she still loves him, she can never again live with him and that she and Michel must leave their city and move to Paris.  Then she returns to the boarding house. 
   
At the boarding house, lunch is served in the dining room, and Paul spikes Hélène’s orange juice with a narcotic.  But then Elise wakes up and reveals to others that she wasn’t so oblivious, after all, to what Sonia was doing to her as Paul and Sonia had supposed.  Paul’s evil plot is clearly coming undone.

Now Hélène, dazed by Paul’s narcotic drug, goes outside into the park, accompanied by the Three Fates, who want to protect her.  Then Charles, unwilling to give up on Hélène, arrives in a rush at the boarding house.  Alarmed by the crazed look in Charles’s eyes, Paul knifes Charles to death.  Although he is hoping to pass this killing off as self-defense, the whole murderous act was witnessed by Hélène and the Three Fates, thereby assuring Paul’s guilt and the end to his story.
  
In the final scene, Hélène, still dazed, goes outside again in search of Michel, and we are still with her in her dreamworld.  She sees the balloon man releasing his helium-filled balloons, and, deliriously, she watches them floating up heavenward into the sky as the film ends.


La Rupture ends ambiguously and with several elements unresolved.  Paul and Charles are finished, but what will happen to Hélène?  And what about Michel?  Instead of addressing these questions, we are left in another space – Hélène’s dreamworld.  And this is where Chabrol presumably wanted us to be.  In some ways, as the world around Hélène progressed relentlessly towards ever more malicious lunacy, this is the only place we could end up at. 

This cinematic descent into existential bewilderment is masterfully orchestrated by director Claude  Chabrol.  Some naive viewers, though. might consider the extravagant performances on the part of some of the actors to be simply cases of overacting, but this is not the case here.  Those performances are essential pieces of the expressionistic tapestry that Chabrol has woven for us.  In some ways, though, the most important artistic contribution to the film comes from the beautiful Stéphane Audran in the role of Hélène Régnier.  Her performance is soulful and mesmerizing as the perfect embodiment of feminine authenticity.
★★★★

Notes:
  1. Vincent Canby, “Screen: 'La Rupture':Chabrol's Melodrama Shown at Festival The Cast”, The New York Times, (5 October 1973).   
  2.  Dave Kehr, “La rupture”, Chicago Reader, (n.d.).   
  3. Andrew Pragasam, “Rupture, La”, The Spinning Image, (n.d.).   
  4. James Travers, “La Rupture (1970)”, French Films .org, (2008).   
  5. Ed Howard, “La rupture”, Only the Cinema, (30 June 2008).   
  6. Ian Jane, “La Rupture”, Rock! Shock! Pop!, (30 April 2011).   
  7. The Film Sufi, “Expressionism in Film”, The Film Sufi, (28 June 2008).   
  8. When Charlotte Armstrong’s novel The Balloon Man was translated into French, its French title was  Le Jour des Parques, i.e. The Day of the Fates.