Often referred to as one of the most beautiful movies ever made, this lushly photographed film established Agnes Varda (Vagabond, Cleo from 5 to 7) as one of France's most important directors. Upon its original release, Le Bonheur (which translates as "happiness") sparked controversy with the story of an amiable young carpenter who decides that he will be happiest with both a wife and a mistress. Though Francois adores his wife and children, his passion for a beautiful postal clerk leads to an adulterous affair and tragedy for his wife. Filled with warm colors, Renoir-inspired bucolic images, and Mozart music, Le Bonheur is a sensuous poem of a film that illustrates how the search for personal happiness can lead to gratification or destruction.
Set in the Paris suburbs, this lovely tale of a tragic love triangle looks like an impressionist painting come to life, the delicately hued colors of the picturesque French countryside creating an impossibly idyllic existence belied by the churning drama underneath. A young carpenter with a loving wife and family falls for a pretty postmistress. To his bohemian philosophy it's perfectly natural to enter into an affair because it will only increase his happiness, but his wife is not so understanding. Agnes Varda creates a strange tension between her happy, smiling characters in their sun-drenched Eden and the melodrama and emotional conflict played out in that paradise, even transforming tragedy into an oddly happy ending, keeping her distance from her characters, neither judging nor encouraging them. The playful style echoes her New Wave compatriots with startling flashcuts, out-of-focus portraits, and silly word games played by both the characters and the director, but her aloofness creates a disconnection between the characters and their actions, as if they are not really responsible for the tragedies of their lives. Controversial at the time of its release, Le Bonheur remains one of the most visually beautiful films of the 1960s and a work that still offers a troubling but tantalizing dissonance. --Sean Axmaker