Actually, I wanted to write a whole post on 'Frances Ha'

Frances Ha.

Perhaps one of the most charming films I have ever seen in my entire life.

Shot entirely in black and white, Frances Ha is a refreshingly simple story of two female best friends: Frances (Greta Gerwig) and Sophie (Mickey Sumner), living in New York in their late twenties. Directed by Noah Baumbach, with strong references to French New Wave cinema, as well as some '80s classics such as Footloose, and with more than a hint of Woody Allen-esque characterisation.

Frances and Sophie are ridiculously close. Frances is an aspiring dancer and Sophie is into publishing. Being young, broke and living in New York, they both exist in an idolised artistic dream-world of play fighting, music, busking, house-parties and knowing each-others' tiny irritating and not-so-irritating habits to a scary degree. However, Sophie ends up with a guy that they used to make fun of together, and subsequently moves to Japan with him. Frances, although now in a confusing world of homelessness, joblessness and navigating new (much richer) friends - remains ever optimistic, and ever loyal to Sophie. The film concludes with Frances beginning a choreography career and with her and Sophie still friends, and still with a spark between them that they both might never have with a romantic relationship.

It seems strange at first that a film which is clearly set in the modern day (what with the excessive use of iPhones/ macbooks by the characters throughout the film), is in black and white. However, this simple film-makers' decision does something extraordinary: it seems to strip down the action to a very pure form. We concentrate more on the characters and what they are saying, without the 'clutter' of all the colour and 'noise' in the background. It also means that there was perhaps more attention paid to lighting, and small expressions of the face or gestures from the actors become emphasised.

The script is snappy and witty, with lines such as:

Frances: "I'm really sorry Sophie"
Sophie: "I forgive you Frances"
Frances: "Don't be a dick about it!"

"I sound like a gay grandmother"

"Sorry, I'm not a real person yet"

"What Virginia Woolf novel does this remind you of?"

 "This apartment is very aware of itself"

 "He's a nice guy. You know – for today"

(On smoking a cigarette indoors): 

 "This makes me feel like a bad mother in 1987." 

The Independent Newspaper's review of the film states that:

 "It includes such carefully observed but casually delivered lines"(Independent, 26 July 2013)

Although the script would be nothing without the quick and intelligent way in which it is delivered by the skilled, but little-known (until now) actors.

Frances herself, played by co-writer Greta Gerwig, is charismatic and has a face born for black and white film. Striking and expressive, Greta draws our eye in almost every shot - and manages to remain the charmingly clumsy-but-lovable heroine throughout. A strong character, but likable perhaps in part due to her self-consciousness, insecurity and naivete.

At the beginning of the film we almost assume that Frances and Sophie are a lesbian couple. A close female relationship is rarely shown on screen in modern-day cinema without it becoming sexualised in some way. It was refreshing to see on screen and Baumbach draws attention to the importance of close friendship relationships. The script even pokes fun at this by Frances saying to Sophie: "We are like an old lesbian couple that don't have sex anymore". It is unusual that two girls are depicted talking together about their own life together but not about men (you might want to have a look at This Guardian article about Swedish cinemas using the 'Bechdel test' ).

When Frances leaps through the streets of New York to Bowie’s “Modern Love” Baumbach refers directly to Denis Lavant’s iconic Paris sprint to the same song in Leos Carax’s 'Mauvais Sang'

I did not know a whole lot about New Wave cinema, and the way in which it was referenced in  this film before researching it. I came across a wonderful quote from a review in The New Yorker which both explains and describes the intertwining of new cinematic themes perfectly:

"Baumbach anchors “Frances Ha” in the iconography of the French New Wave and its successors. He makes the film in black and white; adorns it with music from Truffaut’s films (such as the twangy theme from “A Gorgeous Girl Like Me”); and remakes an iconic scene from Leos Carax’s “Bad Blood” with the same music, David Bowie’s “Modern Love.” Even the title is a New Wave reference: characters in Jean-Luc Godard’s “Made in U.S.A.” make frequent reference to someone whose last name is never heard in its entirety but is blasted over by dubbed-in gunshots, ringing phones, or horn honks: “Richard Po—”
The New Wave may be the enduring model for the personal cinema and signifier of directorial inspiration, but it’s also a movement of a non-academic neo-classicism. For Baumbach, the modern classics of French cinema, from Truffaut and Godard to Carax, play a role akin to the one that the films of Alfred Hitchcock, Howard Hawks, Fritz Lang, and Nicholas Ray played for the New Wave directors: the idea that one films one’s own life and thoughts in terms of the movies one loves. Baumbach is adding his own movie love to the formula of the independent cinema, borrowing that movement’s core concerns while building on a different, and—by implication—more solid foundation of cinematic experience. That’s how he writes himself into the story and implies that it is also his own. What’s more, the New Wave also signifies a cinema of youth, both of directors and of a generation of actors, whose very manner became a new kind of stardom.
In Carax’s “Bad Blood,” when Denis Lavant (himself one of the great new stars of the modern French cinema) runs through the streets to the tune of “Modern Love,” he does so with a self-punishing fury that is itself a part of his ecstasy, pounding his stomach and mixing his romantic joy with romantic agony. In Baumbach’s version of the scene, which is utterly detached from romance, Gerwig runs with an uninhibitedly sunny smile, her pain allayed and her joy unfettered. As Frances endures unexpected defeats and humiliations, she is nonetheless engaged in that most classical and univocal mission, the pursuit of happiness—and the happiness that she achieves is the second movie implicit in “Frances Ha.”
(actually the whole article is knowledgeable and well-written:

Some critics thought that the referencing was 'too heavy': Film

The framing of the last scene includes us, the viewer, for the first time - with Frances looking straight into the camera, straight at us. The scene is brighter, and Frances seems peacefully solitary. Finally the title is explained, or at least - one of the reasons for the title is explained.

Frances Ha is both a love letter to Greta Gerwig and to New Wave cinema, and like most good love letters has the perfect balance of cuteness, beauty and profundity.

Review and comment by Catriona O'Sullivan

Further Reading:

I like this review very much: Reel Deal


A bit of the back-story/ interview with Baumbach: The Guardian

Pure Film

A negative review, for a little variety: Chica go

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