Godard, Fellini, Truffaut, Antonioni, Malle, Tarkovsky, Bergman, Tarr, Resnais, Rivette, Rohmer, Wenders, Schlöndorff, Fassbinder, Herzog, Bresson, Bunuel, Bertolucci . . . .
What do they all have in common?
The men in their films are all impotent.
The primary theme of all European art cinema is impotence.
Why is this?
The most likely explanation is that World War 1 and World War 2 just 20 years later destroyed not just millions of virile men but also the confidence of those remaining.
European culture was taken over by malaise and weakness and lack of belief.
The closer to experiencing the horrors of these wars first-hand the greater the impotence.The farther from the devastation the less the impotence.
Thus European cinema is always about impotence, British cinema less so, and American and Australian cinema even less so.
Some films by the European directors are brilliant at presenting impotence:
• La Notte (Antonioni)
• The Fire Within (Malle)
• 8 1/2 (Fellini)
• Last Year at Marienbad (Resnais)
• Shoot the Piano Player (Truffaut)
• Contempt (Godard)
• Before the Revolution (Bertolucci)
Nonetheless every European director gives us men who are weak and who cannot protect or save anyone.
They are what Samuel Beckett calls non-canners—those who can’t.
Jean-Pierre Melville would appear to be an exception but in reality his determined stoic criminals can’t really function either. Their behavior is destructive and they all come to a bad end.It isan interesting variation on impotence but impotence it is nonetheless.
These directors are I believe expressing the internal state of the soul of Europe.
Will Europe regain its confidence and ability to act heroically and rise again?
Only time will tell.
© Richard Hobby