Would you believe that this is the hundredth May ’68 movie I’ve watched, and the first to explain how “May ’68” started and what it was about and how it ended? Sure I could’ve wikipediaed it, but I figured cinema would provide all answers, and eventually it did. This is an essay film using only preexisting footage, mixing archive footage from Paris with thoughts on the filmmaker’s mom visiting China and on other revolutions, examining subconscious behavior of the (usually anonymous) camerapeople capturing history and noting how the framing reflects their political positions. The movie is more emotional that this academic description might sound, Joao’s soft-spoken narration leading us from one country and era to another and back again whenever it feels right, without a preconceived structure, often letting large chunks of footage play out. Anyway, I take it this didn’t open in a ton of cities, and we got it for a week plus a Q&A with the director, so sometimes it’s alright living in Lincoln.
Tag: May 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.
Onscreen text, much talk about the workers, pictures of Hitler and holocaust, calm voiceover and mentions of may 68. Yup, it’s a post-60’s Godard film, alright. Here he takes his textual analysis to new heights, obsessing over the word AND (or ET). It manages a level of interest similar to Tout va bien, significantly higher than Letter to Jane.
No onscreen credits (at least on my copy). The last Godard-Gorin collaboration, Mieville taking over for Gorin. Once again they speak within the film about its own creation and intent.
“In 1970 this film was called Victory. In 1974 it is called Here and Elsewhere.” Looks like Victory was a Palestinian propaganda movie. “Here” they stage scenes of a family watching television, and filmmakers displaying stills one by one before a camera. Lots of talk about the nature and meaning of images. It’s not as bad as it sounds.
Jean-Luc Godard’s short feature about the PLO was initially shot with Jean-Pierre Gorin in the Middle East in 1970, but when he edited the footage with Anne-Marie Mieville several years later, many of the soldiers that had been filmed were dead. Reflecting on this fact, as well as on the problems of recording history and of making political statements on film, Godard and Mieville produced a thoughtful and provocative essay on the subject. Coming after the mainly arid reaches of Godard’s “Dziga Vertov Group” period (roughly 1968-1973), when his efforts were largely directed toward severing his relation with commercial filmmaking and toward forging new ways to “make films politically,” this film assimilates many of the lessons he learned without the posturing and masochism that marred much of his earlier work. The results are a rare form of lucidity and purity.
Oh whoops – I planned to watch Weekend first, to go from the end of Godard’s beloved 60’s period, skip over his purely political post-May-’68 work with Gorin as the Dziga Vertov Group, and resume with Tout Va Bien and Letter to Jane. But I forgot, and watched this before Weekend. No matter, probably. But as I’d heard, the Godard of the 60’s never returned after ’68. This is so similar to his 60’s movies, despite the bright pop color, the custom-built sets, meta-movie voiceover, married-couple storyline and (especially) major stars. No, it’s as talky as The Owl’s Legacy.
Long-Distance Singer Yves Montand and newly-oscar-winning Jane Fonda were both known to be politically-engaged, and both were hugely popular at the time, so it was perfect casting for Godard and Gorin – plus an opportunity for them to gripe about Montand’s previous “problematic” political films. But G & G really want to polemicize at length, so they note in the voiceover that the stars were cast and given a jaded love story out of commercial necessity.
Unwitting pawns in Godard and Gorin’s political agenda:
Opens with JLG’s most cinematic-illusion-shattering move yet, close-ups on all the checks he’s cutting for the film’s stars, technicians, sets and so on. The juicy center of the film (shot in nice loooong shots, many of them motionless) consists mainly of dudes giving long speeches about union labor, class divisions, the political system.
“Under a calm surface, everything’s changing. Everything’s changing within every class. And She and He, swept up in it, also change.” Yves is a formerly-idealistic filmmaker (“a screenwriter during the New Wave”), now doing commercial work. Jane is a radio news reporter, and the two are at a factory office when the workers hold a major strike and lock the boss in his office for five days. So we get interviews with the boss (Vittorio Caprioli of Il Generale della Rovere): “the glaring injustices of Marx’ and Engels’ day are over,” and the shop steward: “our salaries haven’t kept up with increasing production, and even less with corporate profits.” It’s weird for a leftist, pro-workers movie that I can easily find who played the company manager, but not which actor played Stacquet the shop steward.
Some business in a supermarket that I didn’t understand because I wasn’t paying close attention anymore, but the long back-and-forth dolly shot reminded me of the factory scene in Manufactured Landscapes. Yves and Jane at their day jobs. Scenes of the factory in operation, of struggle in the streets. A token love-story-resolution ending in a cafe, which seems extraneous even as a joke, since the couple never got any development.
Great cross-section of the factory offices:
From an interview with a wide-eyed bathrobe-clad Godard: “It’s quite striking. When workers are interviewed [on TV], these people are given 15 brief seconds when they haven’t opened their mouths all year. We give them 15 seconds, or even three minutes, to speak. ‘What do you think of the strike? What do you think of your lot in life?’ Who can answer when he’s had his mouth sewn shut?”
Letter To Jane (1972)
An hour-long photo-essay posed as a letter to Jane Fonda, analyzing a newspaper photo of her in Vietnam talking (or, as Godard & Gorin rightly point out, listening) to some unidentified men. She’d visited the country after the filming of Tout Va Bien but before its release, starting the ridiculous “Hanoi Jane” controversy, during which the press took the actions of a movie star more seriously than the war itself.
Godard and Gorin take turns narrating (in English), and each takes pains to avoid any interest in their voice, so the movie becomes a didactic lullaby. I got bored almost immediately.
“The resistance had its youth and it had its old age, but it never went through adulthood.”
Godard already in his mournful history/memory/holocaust phase (of course, I keep forgetting this was made after Histoire(s) du Cinema). Very nice black-and-white photography and lovely, sad string music, then after an hour it turns to super-saturated color, very unique and wonderful looking. Story/character/intent-wise, though, I didn’t get the movie at all.
Part of it is self-referentially about making a film, trying to cast it. There are mentions of Henri Langlois, Robert Bresson, Hannah Arendt, Juliette Binoche, May ’68 and Max Ophuls. Didn’t feel any more like a proper narrative film than Notre Musique did. I’d say that maybe the small-screen experience wasn’t cutting it and I needed to see in a theater, but I saw Notre Musique in a theater and fell asleep. Maybe I’m not smart enough, or wasn’t prepared enough to tackle this one… it’s the kind of thing I’d be better off reading a bunch of articles before watching. I never figured out the love story, or the flashback structure, and even the filmmaking story seemed elusive. But probably it’s just because I’m an American, and it’s not for me.
“Americans have no real past. They have no memory of their own. Their machines do, but they have none personally. So they buy the pasts of others, especially those who resisted.”
There’s some anti-U.S. business, a character hating on the fact that U.S. residents call themselves “Americans,” textually taking ownership over both continents, and a slap at Spielberg (“Mrs. Schindler was never paid. She’s in poverty in Argentina”). Godard reportedly took time at Cannes to attack Spielberg further… guess he’s not thrilled that the current Cahiers crowd voted War of the Worlds as their #8 pick of the decade. C. Packman at IMDB says: “The film is a critique on Hollywood and how capitalism is destroying cinema and love. … The film succeeds in offering a philosophical problem, but demonstrates philosophy’s inability to enter into any realm other than the abstract. Godard here follows Marx’ dictum: ‘Philosophers have only interpreted the world, the point is to change it’.”
“When did the gaze collapse?”
“Before TV took precedence over life.”
No actors I’ve heard of before, and the one I liked best (Audrey Klebaner, above, as Eglantine) has never been in another film. Shot on 16mm b/w film and color video by Julien Hirsch (Notre Musique, Lady Chatterley) and Christophe Pollock (Up/Down/Fragile, Class Relations), but I can’t figure out who shot which. Punctuated by repeated title cards and blackouts.
Salon is ruthless:
Godard’s artistic deterioration has been particularly heartbreaking because, as his sensibility has atrophied, his visual gifts have matured. … The burnish of the images in First Name: Carmen, combined with the flow Godard shows in the editing rhythms and in the use of Beethoven string quartets to underscore the images, can lull you into thinking that something is actually going on in the film. … What it adds up to, though, in In Praise of Love as in the films that have preceded it, is a retreat, a shutting out of the world.
Slant calls it “an inscrutable rumination on memory and history that only Godard is meant to fully grasp.” I’m looking for raves, not pans – I watched this because it was on multiple best-of-decade lists. Reverse Shot goes gaga over the use of images, touches lightly on the story, and complains that the original title Éloge de l’amour (WordNet defines “elegy” as “a mournful poem; a lament for the dead”) has been translated to In Praise of Love.
August is 2005 Month! Katy’s not participating in this one because she thinks it’s stupid, so I watched The Regular Lovers by myself. The idea is that I miss lots of really good top-ten-list movies each year, and after three years have gone by, they’re mostly out on video so it’s time to catch up. So sometime next year I’ll have 2006 Month, and so on.
“Have you seen Before the Revolution? You know, by… (stares into camera) BERTOLUCCI?”
Yes, it’s an answer film to B.B.’s The Dreamers from a couple years earlier, which starred Garrel’s son Louis (also of Ma mère and the recent Love Songs). In the Cinema Scope interview, Philippe doesn’t seem angry or bitter over B.B.’s film, nor does he say that Bertolucci told the story wrong and that his is the real story of May ’68. He diplomatically says that there are many stories, and this film is another of them. Philippe also, modestly, doesn’t even take full credit for the final film, calling it a collaboration between himself, Rivette cinematographer William Lubtchansky, and Godard (’64-’67) editor Francoise Collin – “it depended very much on who was most awake at a given morning.” So maybe this isn’t a Bertolucci attack, the historical correction to a previous film that The Lives of Others set out to be.
So did I like it? Not so much. The high-contract black-and-black-and-white cinematography was arresting, and Garrel lives in his scenes and characters for a long time, stretching out moments and silences, which I like, but the movie didn’t grab me. I don’t feel much kinship to the May ’68 obsessives out there. I can sympathize, but I’m worlds away from understanding the feeling, what the kids of Paris thought they were doing and what actually went on. The mood I get from this film and Grin Without a Cat and even The Dreamers is the same kind of thing from the end of Fear & Loathing in Las Vegas, the end-of-the-dream “breaking the wave” speech, only angrier.
Lead characters are named Francois and Antoine – couldn’t be in reference to Truffaut & Doinel, could it? Reviewers insist this movie is a French New Wave homage, but it doesn’t feel like anything actually released in the early 60’s. A doomed, doomed feeling pervades, especially in the second half. The first half I was having trouble telling all the young male characters apart, but that’s okay because there wasn’t much Story, only Revolution – the fighting in the streets eaten up by the total blackness on the edge of the frame, the blackness finally taking over in the occasional iris-out (another cool camera trick: twice you see flashes as they shot to the very end of a film reel). The second half is a doomed, doomed love story, with Francois finally left behind by his sculptor girl (Clotilde Hesme, also in Love Songs) and killing himself with pills, his dead body discovered by cops in the final shot, cops he’s spent the rest of the movie running from (when he wasn’t smoking opium at home with his buddies).
Other differences from the Bertolucci film: no sex onscreen (nothing more than kissing), no talk of cinema (other than the mention of B.B. himself). The stylistic bits (the photography, iris tricks and intertitles, bursts of piano music, a loud dance scene) don’t seem to be trying to make the movie stand out, make it self-consciously weird or interesting, which is good because today (the year of The Wackness) it takes much more to make a movie seem weird. Rather these quirks seem to fit in quite naturally. It’s getting strong comparisons to The Devil, Probably, another film I didn’t much understand. Part of this is my fault – I didn’t pay as much attention as I could’ve during the first half, and I watched it on DVD where it’s clearly a Theatrical Experience movie. Maybe I’ll try again sometime, or just skip back to another Garrel movie.
Character notes I took: “blonde girl Charlene is marrying Yvan… Luc is blonde guy… rich Jean wants black hair girl to pose… Antoine also rich.” IMDB doesn’t list character names, but I’m not dying to know where else I can see each particular ennui-filled young Frenchman so that’s okay.