santa claus has blue eyes review

Santa Claus Has Blue Eyes (1966)

⭐⭐⭐½ (3½ stars out of 5) 

Santa Claus Has Blue Eyes (1966) Directed by Jean Eustache

No matter how much research is done, no matter how much biography is read; the obsessions, preoccupations and enigmatic desires of this tormented French filmmaker Jean Eustache will always remain one of the most elusive mysteries surrounding this artist’s complex personality. His abstruse filmography alone is the best biographical testament we have to dissect none other than one of the quintessential auteurs of the French cinematic counterculture.

This curious and loquacious portrait of the rebellious French youth of the 60’s is one of the most indelicate psychosocial experiments that delves into frivolity, consumerist absurdism and male narcissism at its most facetious. That’s a good and suggestive way to introduce this 50-minute film that in its youthful ideals seems all innocuous and simple, verbose and fun, yet the corrosive Eustache-esque dialectic is present with an anarchic urgency that indiscreetly tells us it’s a referential self-analysis. Every nihilistic character, every superfluous dialogue, is inflamed with biting honesty throughout Eustache’s filmography. He himself once said “The films I made are as autobiographical as fiction can be”. Every raw element in his filmmaking seems to reflect a filmmaker never satisfied with himself, as a person and as an artist; just as this 1966 film flirts exhilaratingly with complicated human relationships in an unruly society constricted  by modern intellectualism and extremist ideologies, it is equally a complete critical mirror to the cinematic reforms of modernism.

As contradictory as it may sound, Jean Eustache, the self-described “reactionary”, believed that opposing the avant-garde omnipresence of the 1960s was in itself a revolutionary act. Objective filming and realist mechanisms were his rigorous and harsh way of making cinema, Jean Eustache is as far from belonging to the French Nouvelle Vague as he is as close to being one of its finest exponents.

Le Père Noël a les yeux bleus showcases the naturalistic demeanor and filmic purism that characterizes this sharp-witted director. Nouvelle Vague icon Jean-Pierre Léaud stars in this frisky, strange and absorbing street dimension of the wandering life of a young man with insubstantial purposes in life: to pick up women, and to work to save money so he can buy an expensive coat. It may sound like a discursive French narrative where pretentiousness tunes the atmosphere of its obstinate meaninglessness, however, Jean-Pierre Léaud with his classic charisma representative of Gallic youth makes the uncompromising narrative structure a compulsive cinephilic act. Watching Jean-Pierre Léaud play a smug, lazy, self-centered character shamelessly flirting with multiple girls while dressed as Santa Claus is bizarrely amusing. And the directional design that Eustache lends to this plot conveys provocative formal intimations that make his vision a hyper-realistic environment, a rough and messy diegetic sound design that infuriatingly interrupts the sonic concentration of a conversation, is a beguiling intermingling that formalizes the cinematic image with the alacrity of the streets and the unpredictability of a quasi-improvised filming.

The inevitable in an Eustache film is the apathetic, coarse and brusque portrait of the amorous prospects between man and woman, here he does not dangerously examine the existentialism of human interrelationships as in his exhaustive masterpiece The Mother and The Whore(1973) but he does approach toxicity, perhaps from a comic superficiality but still bordering on the pronounced pernicious philosophy of his magnum opus.

Every great artist has overtures, this is one of them in Eustache’s inscrutable beauty yet self-destructive filmography.

Matteo Bedon

Written by

When I'm not watching and studying films, I'm writing about them. Part-time essayist and full-time film critic.

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