Jean-Luc Godard  



A rebel artist that has been lauded as the biggest name in cinematic history since Lumiere and Welles. He was the prime figure in the new wave of French cinema that emphasized personal style, and the creation of movies that express the director's personality, style and thoughts rather than external entertainment values and rules. This method of auteur film-making is commonplace today but was taken to an extreme during the height of the French new-wave, sometimes creating movies that were purely personal statements and explorations (Philippe Garrel was the most extreme). Godard entered the film-making scene in 1960 with Bout de Souffle using hand-held cameras, wild jump-cut editing, youthful undisciplined energy, whimsical narrative, exploratory cinema with people in the street as subjects, and other unconventional techniques and has since then explored and deconstructed cinema in every way possible. His movies were technically ground-breaking and intensely fascinating to cineasts, and they progressed through various stages, increasing in inscrutability, personal musings and intellectual esoterica while minimizing narrative. Godard, after taking apart cinema for amusement, went on to use cinema to educate, and then as a direct visual reflection of his then-current thoughts and musings, taking auteurism to its extreme limits.

At first, his movies were primarily marked with various self-aware and deconstructive techniques such as using filming, framing, soundtrack and lighting techniques that break conventions, summarizing pieces of the story or genre instead of narrating them, catching key moments of a cliched plot and dissecting them, winking and talking to the audience, showing the same scene more than once in various ways, using simple settings and characters to act out big-movie cliches, etc. All this usually keeps the viewer aware that he is watching a movie and explores or spoofs a genre through its elements instead of telling a story. After a while this became known as Godard's cinematic shorthand. Although all this meta-technique excited jaded movie buffs and caught people's attention, it often gives the impression of being rebelliously showy or merely exploratory (with a few exceptions like 'My Life to Live' or 'Alphaville') and served to alienate most audiences instead of involving them. His other trademarks include (often irrelevant) injections of political, artistic, or social musings, obscure references, anti-American polemics and numerous cryptic visuals or references.

After a prolific decade of cinematic deconstruction, there was a decade (67-78) of political documentaries and didactic Maoist manifestos with endless political preaching and pretentious didactic cinematic experiments using unusual, dense and jarring combinations of sound, image and words, often presenting the supposedly suffering masses and revolutionary elements in each society in order to provoke reactions and try to awaken audiences into Communism and revolution. After the fall of Communism, this was followed by a final period where his movies became mere backdrops to his personal and often cryptic contemplations, wordplays, mental workouts, rants and political commentaries, and the actors became mouthpieces and delivery devices for his random thoughts and aphorisms, so even the cineasts started ignoring him.

After the late 80s, Godard's movies presented purely intellectual explorations of ideas, employing a very French technique of making waves with provocative thoughts and dialectics. This, combined with the fact that Godard often tries to make film reflect his inner thought processes and mental tangents, can result in very challenging, fragmented, but self-indulgent movies. Despite the impression of a challenging intellectual art film, most of these musings are more often than not intellectual hot air, and comparing notes often leads to contradictions and whimsy. I found many of his observations to be understandable but logically wrong, and most of his movies fail to weave a compelling connecting thread between these thoughts, opting for whimsical and unrewarding intellectual exercise instead, and prompting thinking audiences to come up with their own observations. Either that, or merely serving to bring all the self-obsessed, pretentious, elitist cineasts out of the closet to wax rhapsodic with a lot of intellectual hot air with nary an insight to share about what Godard's films are actually about. In any case, Godard's movies only became increasingly more fragmented, difficult, abstract and self-indulgent over the last few decades.

Listed here are only his most impenetrable or strange, excluding most of his monotonous political experiments and philosophical film-essays, although almost all his films feature elements of whimsical playfulness, disjointed deconstruction, and meandering didactic intellectualism.

Of Some Interest

Alphaville  
A humorous satiric blend of film-noir (complete with a serious, trenchcoat-clad detective), and sci-fi. An inter-galactic agent tracking down a professor lands in Alphaville where words like love and conscience have been banned and everyone is slave to machines and logic. Rebels are exterminated and chopped up in a swimming pool by synchronized swimmers, and the dictionary has replaced the bible. The big joke and cinematic stunt is that no special effects were used, Alphaville is Paris, and his space ship is a car. Added to the mix is Godard's usual slew of obscure references and in-jokes. Probably the most entertaining film Godard ever made but that's not saying too much.

Chinoise, La  
Experimental but simple political essay by Godard on the French so-called revolutionaries and students of Communism and Mao. Political views, aphorisms, quotes, and musings on Socialism vs Capitalism and Imperialism are thrown about didactically while students physically act out and demonstrate abstract ideas using music, scores of red books, patriotic sunglasses, fake blood, gestures, etc. The more interesting and amusing aspect of this film is the attack on armchair revolutionaries, or worked-up students who make declarations and occasionally try to start terrorism but are basically lost, resulting in both scathing verbal attacks by more mature thinkers, and absurdly humorous scenes like a botched assassination due to a mental burp. A slightly more quirky and visually odd example of Godard's political films, and a preview of the many visually provocative political essays that were to come from Godard in the following years.

Goodbye to Language  
Although this is another extreme Godard latter-day whimsical creation that often seems to reflect the random flickering synapses in his head, it actually has a theme and gives the audience something a bit more coherent to chew on. Here, presumably is Godard's final (latest?) conclusion: That language is a lost cause and all the woes in the world will never improve until we go back to basics and connect with our world at the most tangible level. To see reality one must look at the world through a dog's eyes, is this film's anthem. And it tries to do just that, including many scenes of a dog interacting with its world. The actors are often stripped naked and thus made fleshy and earthly, while they aphorize about various problems with communication and the need for company to live. Sex allows them to talk. Pooping sounds make everyone truly equal. And all this in 3D, a first for Godard, for these worldly reasons. And so on, while, out there in the world, achievements are often gotten only through violence (cue political references and symbolic scenes of acted-out violence). And what is real and what is metaphor anyways? Advanced abstract studies are often mentioned in contrast with the real world, and yet Hitler managed to do everything he said he would, even though he did not invent anything. Can we conceive of Africa? ...is a question often posed to contrast thinking with reality. And technology is made fun of as new ideas are looked up on Google, or couples communicate by passing the phone silently to each other. And it all falls apart for the film's fragmented 'climax'. So goodbye to language; hello reality.

Nouvelle Vague  
One of the better latter-day movies by Godard exploring the dynamics between man and woman and relationships between people as practical business deals. A rich countess heavily involved in business almost runs over a man, picks him up and develops a relationship with him which becomes doomed when he turns out to be useless. After she coldly lets him drown to death, his much more confident and strong twin appears and develops a much stronger relationship with her. The relationship between rich and poor is also explored as a financial and social contract, love and romance are used as contrast, and women are often portrayed as receiving ideas and direction from men. This theme is interesting, but unfortunately not developed enough and most of the movie revolves around the usual Godard intellectual ramblings, quotes from books, and random aphorisms, most of which I strongly disagree with as usual.

Number Two  
A unique and more extreme Godard creation from his Maoist years with relatively strong and lucid ideas. Godard attacks the family, the relationship between man and woman, government and worker, strong governments and weaker countries, and the status of woman. Everything is hierarchical, one higher, the other lower, behind and in front, number one and number two, with number two becoming anally raped and constipated. Family vs. workplace, landscape vs. factory, or is it an illusion? Who is the boss of whom and what have we done with intimacy and sex? Godard breaks taboos, mixing pornography and politics, involving children within the family's sex life, what about parent and child? Is the boss happy? What does the unliberated woman do when she is constipated and everything turns to merde? All this is filmed as a video inside a movie, with Godard and us as detached voyeurs seeing life through machines via our mechanic eyes, wrapping it all in a theme of man vs. machine and raising the question of who is running whom. Interesting stuff, despite the fact that I don't agree with most of it.

Pierrot le Fou  
Pierrot escapes his dull society life with a babysitter who is being chased by hit-men. They live a strange life together while running for their lives. Idiosyncratic dialogue and seemingly whimsical changes in lighting, coloring and pace afflict this movie as if Godard was trying to loosely abstract ideas and cinema with directing and acting ad-libs. An eccentric exercise in story, cinema and cliche deconstruction that some intellectuals claim to have marked the end of cinema. Possibly the last purely entertaining movie by Godard after which he became more focused on politics and didactics.

3x3D  
Three short films on the topic of 3D in cinema by three European auteurs that often deal with meta-cinema. The first is an incredibly dense 3D multi-media presentation by Greenaway on Portuguese history displaying people and events in one long virtuoso take, bombarding the audience with information often with two or three layers at once. This one is technically experimental but actually just a documentary. PÍra's juvenile, obnoxious and bizarrely humorous take on the history of cinema is next, featuring audiences interacting with the screen in various ways as cinema progresses in leaps and bounds, including things like cavemen wearing 3d goggles, creatures coming out of the screen, and a mad professor called Lovekraft taking audiences and human evolution together to the next level with his cinematic invention. And finally, Godard, in a prelude to his 'Goodbye to Language' with similar themes of the impossibility of presenting reality in cinema, in a condensed provocative montage. Ruminations include abstract things that are not themselves, a building falling into its own shadow, the world as seen by a dog, and snippets of Hollywood movies or ultra-violent scenes from horror movies as self-evident in-your-face fakery.

Week-End  
A diatribe against Capitalism using exaggerations of decadence, violence, apathy, racism, patricide, chaos, greed, lust, cannibalism, and even endless traffic jams! The attack is direct, eschewing subtlety and symbolism, but the atmosphere, characters and direction are all pure Godard with obscure humor, self-aware film-making and the usual slew of aphorisms, this time mostly political.

Worthless

Children Play Russian, The  
An accompanying piece to 'Germany Year 90 Nine Zero' by Godard: an experimental, whimsical film that seems to directly reflect Godard's random thoughts and musings on the fall of Communism and the Cold War and its effect on Russia. Snippets of Russian classic cinema and works of fiction like Tolstoy's and Dostoyevsky's are spliced with random musings and Godard casting himself as a French director hired by a stingy and invasive Hollywood to film Russia, who then casts himself as Dostoyevsky's Idiot and stays in France. As usual, Hollywood and the USA is attacked with nit-picking esoteric barbs, as well as scenes of Hollywood restricting his flight to Russia in planes with a single engine. Godard presents strained arguments and praise of Russia as the origin of fiction and film projection, but, what emerges from this film is the strong historical culture of Russia and the argument that Russia will find its own way to emerge from the chaos despite invasions from the West, with Godard himself continuing onwards backed by his own engine, and the show will go on. Except that you have to sit through an hour of self-indulgent musings and rants, and a stream of random super-imposed images, in order to extract this meager content.

Darty Report, The  
One would think that Darty would know better than to commission Godard to make a film about their chain of stores. Godard seems to go out of his way to offend and attack commercialism, punishing any audience that dares to even watch this movie. For starters, footage of the Darty stores and service is superimposed throughout the movie in constant double images, along with the usual Godard random provocative words, word fragments, and wordplays, all headache-inducing. As they did often during that period, Godard and his partner Miťville narrate, throwing rapid thoughts, tangents and barbs at the footage, criticizing everything and anyone as well as themselves. The exchange of goods, the desire for goods, and the meaning of the acquisition of wealth, are all deconstructed via echoes of Godard's Marxist background, and a scene of a salesman convincing a customer is taken apart as a ruthless exchange. 'Exchange' is pretentiously explored as it pertains to memory and many other nonsensical philosophical tangents, one of them involving scenes of a knight and his deeds somehow compared to salesmen. Oh, and one more thing, Godard performs the narration as a 2000 year old robot, obviously inspired by the many machines at the store viewing the strange humans making 'purchases'. Godard's version of video-art will hurt your eyes and brain.

Film Socialisme  
I suppose it makes sense that a man like Godard who has deconstructed and criticized everything all his life would eventually make films with absolutely no constructs. After taking apart cinema, and then trying to change the world through film and failing, and after deconstructing his own technique and finding endless flaws there as well, what is left but to either abandon film altogether, or to find a way to reflect oneself on film without turning it into yet another fabrication. Since he evidently cannot bring himself to give up on film, he presents us with raw fragments instead and wants us to perform the construction ourselves. To describe this film would serve no purpose, which is why he ended the film with 'no comment'. It is simply a collection of fragments that, if you were to care, may be reconstructed with what you know about Godard's worldview, or simply reconstructed in any way you wish. There are images of history, politics and events, and snippets of people interacting on a ship or amongst family members with communication problems, reciting aphorisms, Godardisms, and obscure quotes. There is no coherence, in fact there is anti-coherence. This is the film of a man who has taken apart communication to the point where he can no longer communicate.

First Name Carmen  
Extreme idiosyncrasy posing as a comedy. Amongst the numerous whims given free reign in this muddle is the story of a revolutionary girl holding up banks and hotels, using a lunatic Godard as a front, pretending to be filming a documentary in order to help their plans. During one holdup, this girl shoots it out with a policeman until they fall in lust, and lust is soon replaced with rejection and obsession. Intercut with this seemingly simple but playful story is a group of people rehearsing some Beethoven, numerous scenes of the ocean, Godard and others of the crew appearing to comment on the way the story is going, and the usual eccentric jokes, aphorisms and highly idiosyncratic dialogue. A crime movie and the making of a crime movie explored, turned inside out, and deconstructed ad infinitum, ad absurdum and ad nauseam.

For Ever Mozart  
Completely impenetrable collection of random musings, tangents, dialogue and visuals against the backdrop of actors trying to shoot a film in Bosnia in the middle of a war (causing violent obstacles), somehow connecting war and art and exploring the effect (or lack thereof) of art on the world. I can't even begin to describe this useless chaotic mess. Basically a free-form representation of the flickering synapses in Godard's head.

Germany Year 90 Nine Zero  
A montage of film and documentary snippets, quotes, musical clips, literature, historical datums, etc. related to Germany while Lemmy Caution from Alphaville wanders around the country as an ex-undercover spy with nothing to do, searching to cross the non-existing wall to West Germany. This is linked somehow to a theme of solitude, the solitude of the individual and the state, its unique history and culture, now corrupted by the West and the cursed decadence of Capitalism. I got nothing out of this aimless movie from an angry man. A montage in itself is not educational and neither are whimsical rants.

Hail Mary  
A modern setting for the tale of Mary's immaculate conception which caused a controversy and a ban from the church. But the approach is neither blasphemous nor spiritual, only an intellectual exploration of the concept of the sublime as expressed in the mundane and the physical. Mary is an sportswoman, her boyfriend is a taxi driver, her father works at a gas station, and one day she gets pregnant despite being a virgin. What follows is a lot of art-house existential navel-gazing and poetic musings on the body vs the soul, copious nudity with attempts to find the sublime in an average human's body and genitalia (bringing to mind a Catherine Breillat movie), tangents on the creation of the universe and mathematics to explore possible spiritual sources of physical existence, and so on. Explorative but unrewarding; Just some half-baked meandering intellectual questioning.

Here and Elsewhere  
A unique film in Godard's repertoire, made several years into his Maoist period with the Dziga Vertov Group, examining footage he took in Israel and Jordan on the Palestinian 'revolutionaries' (AKA terrorists). This is actually two films in one: One is a notorious work of propaganda, with its blinders firmly on, that tries to portray the Palestinians as some kind of revolutionary group suffering under Israeli fascism where Palestinian women fight side by side with the men towards noble and socialist goals. The Fatah fighters were all killed while filming (and Godard allows the audience to believe it was Israelis that killed them when it was really Jordanians) making the project impossible. So, instead, Godard and co. sit and examine the footage with an ongoing self-reflective narrative and difficult deconstruction, attempting to take apart the failure of trying to transport people from here (France) to there (Israel) using images, sounds and words. Cheap shock tactics are used such as juxtaposing Hitler and Golda Meir, politicians with pornography, and footage of a burned human corpse, but then they point out and visually demonstrate and deconstruct the artifice of it all, proving how some sounds and images can overpower others, and how they may come together to create something unwanted while failing to transport its audience. And then they question themselves. But, given that it's all towards the goal of more efficient propaganda, and the fact that they lost the forest while musing endlessly over the trees, it's too little too late.

In Praise of Love  
An endlessly rambling movie focusing (sometimes) on the various stages of love and how these affect young, adult and old people. An important theme is that everything needs a context, usually a historical or contrasting one. This, of course, gives Godard another excuse to launch a tirade against the USA and its lack of historical awareness (so much so that they have to buy it from others and change it). Some of the scattered reflections in this essay are thought-provoking but most are either cryptic, nonsensical or even hypocritical and pretentious. The typically jarring visuals and editing techniques are even more confusing than usual. A mess.

Keep Your Right Up  
Is this what happens when a maverick intellectual film-maker tries his hand at silly slapstick? Made in the same year as the insane King Lear, and continuing the trend since Every Man for Himself to misanthropically depict a chaotic world populated by crazies, perverts and idiots, this bizarre experiment seems to be attacking the process of creating art amidst a crazy world by turning it into a crazy comedy. Like Sympathy for the Devil, this movie splices footage of a techno-pop band creating songs with other random footage that interested Godard at the time. Here we get Godard as a bumbling Idiot Prince carrying shiny reels of a film he put together to please a producer who demands a movie in 24 hours. He bumbles his way into a sports car that seems impossible to get into, through an airport with strange rules, and into a chaotic airplane where the pilot is contemplating suicide and the passengers hop from one seat to another fondling each other while reading literature. In the meantime, we follow the nonsensical adventures of a bizarre 'Individual' who tries to please his boss with strange antics, gardens a car, caddies for a man who uses golf to flirt with women, dances with a naked ghost, and other random oddities. Add to this Godard's typical random quotes or musings on creation, love and death and you have one extremely chaotic and silly movie.

King Lear  
Possibly Godard's most insane, headache-inducing and inscrutable movie. A descendant of Shakespeare is on a quest to restore and understand lost art, King Learo is a mafioso with a daughter Cordelia who has three symbolic fathers rather then the other way around, Godard is a weird rastafarian professor who speaks from the side of his mouth, Mr Alien is the editor Woody Allen, a mysterious girl in a miniskirt occasionally shakes her ass at the camera, a white horse appears, loud seagulls and random sounds plague the soundtrack, people play with sparklers while philosophizing about images and reality, and various other random scenes and dialogue with snippets of Shakespeare's play weave in and out of this mess. The movie sometimes explores the nature of reality and our relationship and connection to it via images and sounds, linking this to Cordelia's virtue of nothingness and Lear's fears, some may extract other meanings from this movie, others don't even try, but I prefer to believe that Godard was playing a joke on his commercial-minded producers.

Love and Anger  
5 artsy short films very loosely based on the theme of love and anger. The middle one is by Godard who does his typically difficult, didactic deconstruction by having one couple watch and comment on a movie that seems to be about lovers, sex and nudity (representing various governments, policies and reasons for war and revolution) but it 'lies' and manipulates using visual tricks, hiding underlying anger and evil. The other inscrutable avant-garde short is by Bertolucci who has a theatre group perform bizarre rituals while an elder is dying, after which he is dressed in religious garb. The rest are: A juxtaposition of a happy-go-lucky young man with a flower mixed with war footage (Pasolini), violence and indifference in a regular city that seems full of life, and a student debate with Marxists about various authoritarian systems that make use of justified abuse.

Made in U.S.A.  
A nonsensical political thriller filmed in parallel with the much more straightforward and thought-provoking philosophical essay 'Two or Three Things I Know About Her', with the occasional hijacking of some thoughts from that movie. It's as if Godard had gotten tired of narrative and plot by now and had much more important things on his mind, so he took a political thriller about a merciless writer and killer who seems to be investigating a murder of her friend, and replaced the dialogue with non-sequiturs or improvisational nonsense about secrets, murders, revolution, conspiracy, spy-craft, codes, underground journalism, detective work and mystery. In between this Rivette-like improvisational nonsense that toys with the thriller genre, we get revolutionary statements attacking both the right and the left, and visual statements about the emptiness of everything by applying garish colors on top of dilapidated settings, the title of the movie pointing to the USA as a symptom of this deplorable state. Another unrewarding mess by Godard.

Oh, Woe Is Me  
A completely impenetrable and abstruse meditative movie by Godard. The first part meditates on the past, heritage, myth and religion and how the past and our spiritual passions deteriorate over the generations. Then there's a mythical exploration of love, godliness and their delinquency in a tale that makes no sense, and which is told in snippets from different time-narratives spliced with insanely confusing tangents and odd scenes that go nowhere: A publisher's investigations leads him to a missing woman, who once had an argument with her husband, who, in turn, was physically possessed by a god (a trenchcoat-wearing stranger with a bizarre gravelly voice) who wanted to make love to and be loved by the man's wife. The result is an extremely confusing piece revolving around a modern-day myth, dealing with themes of divinity, heritage and love, with random scenes of cruel acts on women, impenetrable metaphysical musings, endless abstruse dialogue, a philosophical and pretentious seduction scene, and a meditative atmosphere. What a headache. No wonder Depardieu looks lost here. And of course, yet again, critics are obviously confused and have no specific insight to share on this movie, yet are all in awe of the naked Emperor and his meditative mood.

Our Music  
A sequel of sorts to For Ever Mozart. A film in three parts: The first is Hell, consisting of a colorful symphony of war images and music. The second is Purgatory where Godard and various other characters meet in Bosnia to muse about random subjects (i.e. more Godard mouthpieces), the important themes being war, violence, aggressors vs. victims, revolutionaries vs. idealists, enemies vs. co-sufferers, and the symmetry of opposites that depend on each other. This is linked to film-making techniques. The third part is a silly forest paradise where one of the characters finds herself after having blown herself up for peace. In other words, an anti-war movie that hates war for servicing evil goals instead of good ones. Hypocritical nonsense. Also included are the usual bizarre tangents, musings, incoherent dialogue, anti-Israel and America rants, snippets of thoughts and mental masturbations. Godard only seems impenetrable because he talks nonsense.

Passion  
More incoherent ramblings, this time on the themes of work, film-making, the passionate search for something to love and how this relates to real life and fake art. A film-maker shoots striking live reproductions of classic paintings that exude breathtaking beauty but that are reproduced dispassionately. They commit some random actions, ramble on about nothing in particular, argue about other irrelevant topics and take their clothes off periodically, all holding potentially passionate content but performed apathetically to make a point. Pretentious, mostly explorative, and aimless.




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