Catching up… I watched this three weeks ago, and the only note I took says:

Unfun intellectual/political word games

Obviously it’s a complicated (if unfun) movie, so a one-line review will not do. This is where my lack of biographical knowledge on Godard (and lack of interest in 1960’s politics) holds me back, because this feels like an escalation of ideas about consumerism and radicalism and societal ills from 2 or 3 Things and Weekend… but it also feels like a parody, its characters deluded comic-book Mao radicals. This doesn’t seem right, since the ideals of our main characters seem similar to Godard’s own, in his later, more boring works.

Feels like we spend forever in the primary-color apartment with young commies Jean-Pierre Leaud, Juliet Berto (her first year in film) and Anne Wiazemsky (star of Au Hasard Balthazar the year before). But there’s also an assassination attempt, a guy exiled from the group, suicide, some fun self-reflexivity, and an endless train conversation with a philosophy professor. Literature references abound, apparently, and name-dropping of Katy’s favorite theorists.

Played Venice the year Belle de Jour won, tying China is Near for a jury prize.

Anna Karina (between Vivre Sa Vie and Alphaville) tells her classmate Sami Frey (Thérèse Desqueyroux, a couple William Klein movies) that her employer keeps cash in the house. She starts dating Sami’s friend Claude Brasseur (the younger Brasseur in Eyes Without a Face), who hears about the money, and the three plan (barely) a heist. Thanks to Arthur’s big mouth, some armed criminal relative finds out and intercepts them, then Anna and Sami escape following a deadly shootout. But the movie’s not about what it’s about, it’s about how it’s about it.

Another rewatch from 2003, a pre-blog year when I watched a ton of movies that I now barely remember. My belly is a table.

Piecemeal protest doc with surprisingly great location footage and interesting scenes, each one a bit too loud and going on for too long. The pieces are mostly unsigned, but I believe Chris Marker put the project together, and some segments are either identified online, or just very easily guessed (ahem, Resnais). They mention that Joris Ivens shot on location – most everyone else stayed home and used stock footage or filmed protest marches.

“It is in Vietnam that the main question of our time arises: the right of the poor to establish societies based on something else than the interests of the rich.”

Cluster-bomb:

Supposed to be President Johnson:

The Resnais segment is interesting before it wears out its welcome. Bernard Fresson (of a few Resnais films, including a small part in Je t’aime, je t’aime) is playing “writer Claude Ridder” (name of the lead character in Je t’aime, je t’aime played by Claude Rich) while a woman Karen Blanguernon (Rene Clement’s The Deadly Trap) glares from the corner of his office. This segment was written by Jacques Sternberg (Je t’aime, je t’aime, of course), so perhaps Claude Ridder was his standard lead character name, since this Ridder seems too impassioned to be the heartbroken dead soul from the feature. “Ridder” monologues on the war, politics, and his own inability to make change. “A spineless French intellectual articulating excuses for his class’s political apathy,” per the NY Times.

Next, a history lesson using stock footage, photographs and comics, drawing connections to the Spanish Civil War (the Resnais had mentioned Algeria).

Then Godard, who monologues in front of a giant film camera, talking about the distance, his inability to connect with the war itself, or even the French working class, the focus of so many of his films. Since he can’t film on-location, he inserts Vietnam into his feature films. “I make films. That’s the best I can do for Vietnam. Instead of invading Vietnam with a kind of generosity that makes things unnatural, we let Vietnam invade us.”

After a jaunty music video to a protest song by Tom Paxton, a longer somber voiceover reading the words of Michele Ray who spent three weeks with the Viet Cong, showing her footage before it goes crazy at the end.

“Why We Fight,” in which General Westmoreland explains the official U.S. position on the war, filmed off a TV while someone zooms around and twiddles knobs. Title must be referencing the 1940’s U.S. propaganda film series Why We Fight, which Joris Ivens contributed to.

Anti-napalm rabbi:

Monologue by Fidel Castro, who gives his theories on guerrilla warfare and how this applies to Vietnam. The new wavers seemed to have easy access to Fidel back then.

Ann Uyen, a Vietnamese woman living in Paris discusses Norman Morrison’s setting himself on fire outside the pentagon, and what that meant to her people. “We think that in America there is another war, a people’s war against everything that’s unfair.” Then an interview with Norman’s widow, who seems in sync with Norman’s politics. This was by William Klein.

War protest zombie walk, probably shot by Klein:

Marker’s outro:

In facing this defiance [of the Vietnamese], the choice of rich society is easy: either this society must destroy everything resisting it – but the task may be bigger than its means of destruction – or it will have to transform itself completely – but maybe it’s too much for a society at the peak of its power. If it refuses that option, it will have to sacrifice its reassuring illusions, to accept this war between the poor and the rich as inevitable, and to lose it.

Cinétracts (1968)

I watched a collection containing roughly half of the Cinetracts, an anonymously-directed series of two-to-five-minute shorts. The first few seemed to be protest-photo montages, and I thought watching a bunch of these in a row would be tiresome so I spaced it out over a few weeks. Some are very different though, telling stories/poems with intertitles or scrawling words directly onto the photos, using different forms of movement and speeds of editing. Some use zooms and dissolves, bringing the photos to life, others are simply long takes of photos interspersed with titles, wordplay, pages from books.

Contributors supposedly included Godard, Marker, Resnais, Gorin, Philippe Garrel (same year he made Le Révélateur), Jackie Raynal (editor on half the Six Moral Tales), Jean-Denis Bonan (Jean Rollin’s editor at the time), Gerard Fromanger and Jacques Loiseleux (later cinematographer for Ivens, Pialat and Yves Boisset). Marker was busy – this project overlapped his SLON collective and Groupe Medvedkine.

Gary Elshaw has by far the most useful work on the Cinetracts online, even if it’s only about Godard’s contributions.

The purpose of the Ciné-Tracts, as with most of Godard’s 1968 film projects, was to offer a critically alternative source of ‘news’ or information in contrast to the commercially offered mediums available. … The state censorship of the media throughout the events of May necessitated communication along different lines than had existed before.

Other online writing on these tends to focus on determining which ones Godard made (and they can’t seem to agree).


Casque Bleu (1995)

Info dump by a cynical Frenchman who acted as a UN peacekeeper during one of the Yugoslav wars. He speaks rapidly in close-up, with occasional title cards for different topics and cutaways to a photo album.

“When you’re in a country at war, armed, and you have orders not to use weapons, in actual fact you are on the side of the aggressor, the one who’s trying to conquer the land.”


Description of a Struggle (1960)

Watched this again with much improved picture quality and English voiceover. Had been burning to see it again since watching Dan Geva’s Description of a Memory. Still great, but I think I prefer Sunday in Peking. Noticed this time when the voiceover said “bar kokhba,” which is apparently not only the name of a John Zorn music project.

“People have become slaves to probability.”

Been waiting for this to come out in HD so I could watch it again, and didn’t have to wait long at all – because we live in the glorious future. Cool looking movie and Eddie, in his eighth film as Lemmy Caution, is a convincingly noir hero. But it’s got a strangely somnambulist atmosphere, and sometimes it feels like I’ve been given prank subtitles.

“The meaning of words and of expressions is no longer understood.”

Lemmy is visiting Alphaville from the outer countries, guided by the lovely Anna Karina, daughter of some important professor. I think Lemmy asks some questions, tells some lies, shoots some guys, then confounds the computer controlling the city (voiced by a mechanical voice-box) using poetry.

“No one has lived in the past and no one will live in the future … The present is terrifying because it is irreversible.”

Soundtrack features big dramatic music, shrill morse-code tones and a croaky Central Scrutinizer voice, each annoying in its own way. Welles regular Akim Tamiroff plays a short-lived ally, Howard Vernon (Dracula and Dr. Orloff in France and Spain) plays the professor, and Christa Lang (not yet married to Sam Fuller) plays a “seductress third-class”.

Lang and Tamiroff:

Vernon:

K. Phipps:

The supercomputers of the early and mid-1970s inevitably shared DNA with HAL, the murderous companion computer of 2001: A Space Odyssey, whose influence can be felt throughout the decade (and beyond). But HAL had his antecedents, too, and in many respects he and his brethren share much in common with an unlikely source: Alpha 60 of Jean-Luc Godard’s 1965 film Alphaville … To create the technocratic totalitarian state of Alphaville, Godard looked no further than the newest additions to Paris: buildings made of steel and glass controlled by pushbuttons and glowing under fluorescent lights. As Jacques Tati would a couple years later with Play Time, Godard considered the price of this progress and wondered where humanity could live in it, and what kind of life people might lead there.

Slogan on cover of the press book: “Ideas separate us, dreams bring us together.”

An essay film without the essay? At least he’s removed the parts of his argument that would allow a simpleton like me to follow along. So far my experiences with Late Godard: I loved Nouvelle Vague even if I rarely understood it. Repetition, layering, stolen quotes as dialogue, showy editing of picture and stereo sound. Also, traditionally gorgeous cinematography and a somewhat decipherable story – both of which disappeared for Histoire(s) du Cinema and Éloge de l’amour, where the layering is increased and I’m less able to follow what he’s on about. Couldn’t make head nor tail of Notre Musique, which I saw in theaters with no preparation.

So now Film Socialism(e) seems like an Éloge de Histoire(s), the onscreen text and stuttery editing and quoting, rambling scenes and an (apparent) essay film with an (apparent) narrative short dropped in between them, all to mysterious purposes. A mix of cameras: wind noise and low-res picture, then sleek HD with the colors enhanced. Apparently full of wordplay that makes no sense in translation, hence the poetically incomplete English subs in the premiere (not the version I watched). Hard stereo panning, as I discovered re-listening to the movie in headphones while searching for articles online.

“It’s impossible to propose an off-the-cuff interpretation of an object we wouldn’t know how to describe” – the Film Socialisme Annotated article found on Moving Image Source.

Film Socialisme in the news: an economist in the first section was killed in the Charlie Hebdo attack and the boat on which it was filmed sank.

Focus of the third section:

“The day will come when language will turn itself against those who speak it,” presumably related to his next feature Adieu au langage, but I prefer to think of Pontypool.

Played in Cannes alongside I Wish I Knew, Aurora and The Strange Case of Angelica.

“Let’s bring back duration.”

Excerpts from A. Picard’s article for Cinema Scope:

The first section of Film Socialisme, or “movement” (as this film, also, is about notre musique, our harmonies and disharmonies), takes place on a cruise ship touring the Mediterranean; the second follows the French family Martin who run a garage and are hounded by a camera crew after one of its members announces a candidacy for the local elections; and the third is a coda collage … Editing images so that they emerge as the visual equivalent to his infamous aphorisms, Godard has increasingly become “interested not only in thought, but in the traces of thought.” … French philosopher Alain Badiou delivers a speech on Husserl to a large, empty room filmed in a long shot emphasizing the space and weight of absence. Godard says an announcement was made over the loudspeaker inviting all passengers to attend and not a single soul showed up.

Patti Smith and Lenny Kaye:

from Godard’s interview in Telerama:

“Palestine is like the cinema: it’s searching for independence.”

“[People] have the courage to live their life, but they don’t have the courage to imagine it.”

Berenice (1954, Eric Rohmer)

An Edgar Allen Poe story about a talky, sickly shut-in who stares at everyday objects all day is an odd choice for your first film. The guy (Rohmer himself!) lives with an epileptic cousin, becomes monomaniacally obsessed with her teeth, and eventually they get engaged since neither can deal with the outside world. But she dies one night, and he takes this very melodramatically, then awakens from a fugue days later having dug up the grave and stolen the teeth. It’s all narration and sound effects, shot by Jacques Rivette, still a couple years before his debut short.

Khan Khanne (2014, Jean-Luc Godard)

“This is not a film anymore, although it is my best.” What Godard sent to this year’s Cannes instead of appearing in person. Godard is his usual latter-day self, acting the scatterbrained professor, possibly quoting Hannah Arendt and/or referencing Chris Marker, cutting in excerpts from Alphaville and King Lear, using camera shots and sound editing that make it seem like he doesn’t know what he’s doing, ultimately making little sense to me, but with a weirdo bravado.

Adieu a TNS (1998, Jean-Luc Godard)

Swaying, smoking, Godard recites a singsongy poem over gentle accordion in three parts, the framing tighter each time. I’ve read that this was “a bitter and mournful farewell to the National Theater of Strasbourg.”

The Accordion (2010, Jafar Panahi)

Two brothers play music for spare change, not realizing they’re outside a mosque. A guy threatens to report them to the police, takes their accordion and runs. But it turns out he’s just a poor bastard hoping to earn money with the instrument, so the kids join him instead of killing him with a rock, which had been the other option.

The Nest (2014, David Cronenberg)

Single-take nine-minute shot from first-person perspective of surgeon (Cronenberg) interviewing patient (Evelyne Brochu, Tom’s ally/coworker in Tom at the Farm) who claims she has a wasps nest inside her left breast. Doubles as a commissioned short for some exhibition and a trailer for his first novel, Consumed, out this fall.

Gradiva (2014, Leos Carax)

Another gallery commission featuring a naked girl. This time the girl has gone to buy cigarettes, returns and has a short conversation with Rodin’s The Thinker.

The Legend of Hallowdega (2010, Terry Gilliam)

Unfunny fake investigation into haunted goings-on at the Talladega racetrack from a Daily Show writer. Just terrible. I won’t give away the twist comedic ending because I’m too embarrassed. Ends with a nice Wolf Parade song, at least.

On demande une brute (1934, Charles Barrois)

Early Jacques Tati, who wrote and starred as a hapless actor who accidentally signs up to be a wrestler. Despite all the time spent on audition scenes and the wrestling match, the only good bit is when he tries to keep his shrew wife from absentmindedly eating a pet fish at the dinner table.

Gravesend (2007, Steve McQueen)

Beautiful shots that seem to go on longer than they should, check, yep it’s the guy who made Hunger. One of those art installation pieces that is very cool to read about and less fun to watch. I wanted to like it, and almost did…

From the official description:

Gravesend uses a documentary approach to focus on the mining of coltan, employed in the manufacture of cell phones, laptops and other high-tech apparatus. The film cuts between two sites: a technological, highly automated industrial plant in the West where the precious metal is processed for the final production of microelectronic parts, and the central Congo, where miners use simple shovels or their bare hands to extract, wash and collect the ore on leaves. .. coltan, traded at an extremely high price, represents one of the key financial factors in the armed conflict of the militia in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, where decades of civil war have cost several million human lives.

Away From It All (1979, John Cleese & Clare Taylor)

Fake travelogue disguised to look and sound like a real one (unless you recognize John Cleese’s voice), very gradually straying from the company line, slipping in notes of humor and aggression. Stock footage takes us from Rome to Venice to Ireland to Bulgaria to Vienna to New York, back to Venice to Acapulco, to a rapid montage of vacation spots as the narrator begins ranting about existential terror. Accompanied Life of Brian in British theaters.

“Mommy, what’s language?”
“Language is the house man lives in.”

Seems like a game-changer for Godard. His features just previous – Masculin Feminin, Pierrot le fou, Alphaville – have character-driven stories bursting with related (and unrelated) ideas. For this one, the ideas finally overwhelm the story, and it ends up more an essay film than a narrative, moreso even than the later Weekend (with which 2 or 3 Things shares a color/visual scheme). I haven’t seen Made In USA or La Chinoise, released between this one and Weekend, but it seems this marked the beginning of a new period, a brief fascination with social and economic issues before politics took total hold instead, but either way leaving behind the manic film-love of the first half of the 1960’s.

Nice of commentary-guy Adrian Martin to explain what is happening in what little narrative remains: a day in the life of a consumerist woman (Marina Vlady of Chimes at Midnight) coming from new high-rise suburban apartments to Paris to work as a prostitute. She speaks in nonsequitur inner thoughts and philosophies, often addressing the camera (as do the other characters), and Godard whispers narration, throws up title cards and takes total sidetracks (incl. pillow shots of road construction). Red/white/blue colors are prominent, as are images from commercial products.

Vlady: “Something can make me cry, but the cause of my tears can’t be found in the traces they leave on my cheeks. By this I mean you can describe everything that happens when I do something without necessarily indicating what makes me do what I do.”

The universe in a cup of coffee:

Vlady at left, with Anny Duperey of Stavisky:

Interminable sidetrack to a cafe where Juliet Berto and some dude have ineffective conversation, a couple of guys quote randomly from huge stacks of books, a prize winning poet converses with a young fan, and a woman ceaselessly plays a clattering pinball game.

Movie posters seen: Keaton’s The General (hung upside down), Ugetsu.
Mentioned: Nanook of the North.

The universe in a cigarette end:

A. Taubin says it’s also about “the city of Paris, which in the mid-1960s was at the center of de Gaulle’s project to modernize France. 2 or 3 Things depicts the violation of both the city and Juliette, who has bought into the Gaullist economy.”

The trailer has scenes interspersed with titles (“Her: the cruelty of neocapitalism… Her: the modern call girl… Her: the death of human beauty”), and is completely silent.

I have a rocky relationship with late Godard, but was determined to watch this because of its appearance on Rosenbaum’s top-hundred list, so I watched a few others to prepare: from the pre-’68 Weekend to the Criterion-issued Tout va bien to a couple more Rosenbaum-approved films, Ici et Ailleurs (hit) and King Lear (miss). Even with all those and Histoire(s) and In Praise of Love under my belt, I don’t feel like I understand or appreciate post-’68 Godard sufficiently, but I reluctantly watched this one anyway, sure that it’d be a flop. Sure enough, it’s completely impenetrable, possibly even pretentious. But I loved it.

The picture is divine, shot by the great William Lubtchansky (the year before La Belle Noiseuse) with art direction by JLG’s Ici et ailleurs partner Anne-Marie Mieville. The camerawork feels closer to the Straub/Huillet movies I’ve seen than to anything by Godard (maybe if I remembered In Praise of Love better). Sound design draws attention to itself (music cutting on and off abruptly), as do the editing and camera. The complete soundtrack to the movie (dialogue and all) was released on CD, and I think the music of both Nouvelle Vague and For Ever Mozart was compiled from the works of the ECM label – have to check them out sometime.

There’s as much voiceover as onscreen spoken dialogue. The characters, if that’s what they are, talk past each other in quotations and philosophy. There’s very little direct story that I was able to decipher, but apparently there’s a plot going on with Alain Delon playing identical twin brothers (or possibly not), one of whom drowns (or possibly he doesn’t). Delon hangs with rich Helene (Domiziana Giordano, the guide in Nostalghia), whose maid Cecile (Laurence Cote of Gang of Four) keeps getting hit by people. That’s all the overt class warfare I found – Helene visits a factory she owns at one point, but no Tout va bien-style uprisings occur. Oh, maybe there’s more class warfare than I realized, since apparently Delon was a drifter taken in by Helene. I caught that at the beginning, but after seeing him in all the nice suits later on, then the identical twins thing, I got thrown.

Rosenbaum on theme: “In part a sustained reverie on what it means both to be rich and not to be rich, and the contrapuntal role played here by the wealthy characters and their servants is part of what makes this film so operatic in feeling.” Elsewhere he’s called it “a meditation on the end of the world.”

M. Sooriyakumaran on plot:

While driving along a stretch of highway in the Swiss countryside, a wealthy industrialist, Helene Torlato-Favrini, finds a drifter, Roger Lennox, lying by the side of the road. They instantly become lovers, but it’s not long before they start bickering with one another. One day while swimming, Helene (accidentally?) pulls Roger into the water and then watches from her boat while he drowns. Several months later, Roger’s twin brother Richard (or perhaps Roger himself, pulling a Lady Eve) turns up at Helene’s mansion, driving a convertible and wearing a fancy suit, to ask for a job in her company. He and Helene also become lovers, but this time it’s Richard who wears the pants in their relationship.

G. Santayana:

Although Nouvelle Vague has more of a story than many recent films by Godard, it is his most rigorously composed. It is his most insistently citational. With texts drawn from William Faulkner, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Baudelaire, Jacques Chardonne, Rimbaud, Dante, Dostoievsky, Howard Hawks, and innumerable other sources, everything in the film comes from somewhere else.

I’d heard this – an interesting idea, making a movie using only stolen dialogue. But the dialogue is all really great, and I couldn’t identify any of its sources, so the thought that it’s stolen hardly matters. Ah, the recurring dead bee query comes from To Have and Have Not, and Helene’s last name was nabbed from The Barefoot Contessa.

Santayana again:

If Passion is about light, Nouvelle Vague is about time. It is about waves ever returning – and the gift of empty hands. Indeed, the outstretched hand is the recurring visual motif in the film. … It is the natural world to which the characters aspire – to be at one with the cyclical rhythms of nature, mute in their magnificence, like the horses ever-present beside the cars. … For all their playfulness and outstanding inventiveness, [Godard’s] late films are, however, mournful in tone. They seem like products of a civilization that is coming to the end.