Auteur Point about the Conversation over the Table


When Paul and Camille have their talk at the table as the camera swivels back and forth quickly, it is similar to the breakfast conversation in Alphaville. The camera plays off the sudden tonal shifts in the conversation, highlighting how quickly emotions can change. But another way to read the scene is to say that every conversation has two layers. The surface layer is expressed visually by the back and forth camera movement and ritual gesturing. But there is a more telling layer underneath. What happens then is not that the inner feelings of the discussants are changing, but more that they are revealed, sometimes suddenly or even in spite of an attempt to keep them hidden. Godard illustrates this dramatic (and very real) phenomenon by first lulling you into a false sense of complacency with the back and forth metronomic over the table. He then suddenly reverses the movement of the camera, which has both spontaneity and a sense of surprise, which is our surprise, at her expected, and unexpected, confession. (Of not loving him, or whatever she said—I forget.) This technique, while hardly subtle, does magnify this essential multiplicity and volatility of real human interaction. And it plays with the question of whether Paul and Camille’s relationship is really changing, or merely being revealed to us, with camera work. Clouzot does something similar in Diabolique during the exquisite telephone scene, in which the two women take turns pushing the phone across a table toward one another, each challenging the other to call the police. The final resolution of that scene also involves setting up a pattern for our expectations in order to then break it.