• Ravi Swami

"CE3K" - Dir: Steven Spielberg, 1977

Updated: Dec 6, 2020



I'm breaking my self-imposed rule of films viewed over lockdown that I personally haven't seen before with a film that I watched with the family via Netflix, another reason that it doesn't qualify to be included here, but then the combination of High-Definition and a dearth of anything else to watch that fulfilled the criteria of a movie for a winter's weekend afternoon that everyone might enjoy, made it too good an opportunity to pass up.


The film has been extensively reviewed and analyzed in detail, from Spielberg's trademark montage to the complex and striking visual effects, in the years since it's release at the tail end of the 70's - an era, if you lived through it, that was marked by a general fascination for the subject of the film that was partly triggered by the publication of Erich Von Daniken's books in the late 60's but had its roots in the immediate post-WWII years, referenced at the very start of the film by the discovery of a squadron of U.S fighter planes that mysteriously vanished and that effectively sets up the scenario for a film composed of "factual" material interwoven with a fictional plot.


This aspect, for me, is the most interesting part, a little like watching a Jean-Luc Godard film and spotting the references to other French New Wave films that characterized his early work - in short, a UFO-geek's dream film.


It would be interesting to speculate on how the film comes across to anyone not particularly interested in the subject though there is plenty to engage the average viewer, mainly in the way that Spielberg focusses on ordinary suburban life being up-turned by mysterious events in scenes that have an almost European "New Wave" sensibility in the way that they are shot - remove the UFO's and it becomes a domestic drama.


I could write at length about the "factual" references that are woven into the plot and in detail about Doug Trumbull's groundbreaking visual effects that resulted in some of the best depictions of UFO's in a film to date - on that point, "Independence Day" really only reverted to "B" movie interpretations - but though these details are equally interesting to me I'm going to focus instead on the presence in the film of Francois Truffaut, who speaks most of his lines in French, with Bob Balaban acting as translator.


Some viewers might wonder why a French-speaking character is even in the film and be oblivious to who Truffaut was, and while it's possible that Spielberg - clearly a fan of the French New Wave in line with his generation of film-school graduates - was aiming to inject a sense of realism and gravitas into the subject via Truffaut, an acclaimed writer and director in his own right and one of the founding members of the French New Wave, the other reason is that he was referencing a real-world UFO researcher, Jacques Vallée, whose very scientific approach in his book "Anatomy of a Phenomenon" laid the groundwork for a more serious examination of the subject.


One can only guess what his old New Wave colleague Jean-Luc Godard - last surviving member of the "Nouvelle Vague" who turned 90 this week - thought, but by then many of the leading lights of the movement had been lured to Hollywood and Truffaut was no exception - his presence in the film is one of its joys and helps to lift the film out of its "B" movie genre trappings, besides fulfilling the role of "intermediary" for the audience, here cleverly flipped on it's head to a French-speaking character who himself requires an interpreter.


My sister, who is not really a film fan but had lived for a time in France enough to be reasonably fluent in spoken French, once got into a conversation with an interesting Frenchman in a New York bar some time in the mid 1980's and it was only afterwards that her friend asked her if she knew who he was, which of course she didn't, he was just this very interesting Frenchman who was a delighted to find someone he could converse with in a New York bar...it turned out to be Francois Truffaut :).


And that, if you haven't guessed already, was my attempt at framing a film review in the context of other films I've reviewed on this blog, however tenuous the connection :)

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