Hail Mary by Godard

You will encounter this funny fellow if you decide to fill your life with film. You will then react off instinct as to whether you let him enter you. All the more better if you’re unaware of the stigma surrounding his name, and even more if you disregard everything he has to say about his work. After all, it is not about the man (in this case) but his craft. It can tell you more about him than he can about himself.

My interest in cinematic narrative is mostly in the long form. How does a man sculpt an experience? We have great living masters that do this stupendously. If you read my comments regularly you’re aware of who I rever. Take Kar-Wai for example, who is currently inventing new ways to travel. Some of the tracks he’s laying come directly from this man.

But the long form to Godard, is not narrative. It is something more like a long essay. Breillat produces such essays, but her work is un-designed, it purely reports. With Godard, you mince through what seems like trivialities, disjointed fragments seemingly part of a larger whole. There is a literary tradition which is where this comes from, Joyce, who once wrote that one should not write about people, but about the space in between them. In other words, one should avoid the central thematic of something, and focus on drawing sweeps around it instead. This can be sublime because we are confronted with nuances, we get close to the soul of a seemingly visceral notion, which we allow to enter us. Once inside, it blooms, spreading all its secrets, unfolding in swirls of grace. The ineffable center thematic is then recognized, breathing within us.

So Godard starts with a thematic, in this case, a reworking of a biblical narrative, and he gracefully allows a brainstorming of derived musings. He then intuits placement, piecing together these vignettes with arches that span for more than one scene, yet with others seemingly out of place. If you want to compare it with something literary, think of the aphorisms of the novels of Celine, or of Miller, small phrases which contain within them the idiosyncratic philosophy of a larger story, of a larger soul, except here, the narrative trots along instead of starring.

But it is up to you to see if you find this soul interesting or not. Godard works for me, because I have trained myself with modernist (romantic) literary traditions which is where this technique originates (for me at least). So it can be wonderful to see this impulse chanelled through the transcendent spectacle that is cinema.

We have glimpses of soul, through lines of dialog, through faces, through situations, through simple gestures, through text on screen. This is supported by music (mostly classical) that annotates, enriches, or actively complements what you are watching. At times, music is there fulfilling the same purpose an image would, a line of dialog, not as accompaniment, but strict cinematic substance. The effect stimulates an intellectual as well as an emotional response. This is the dividing line for the sublime. This is what the French constantly stress.

It might not work for you because you find Godard uninteresting, or because you know little of him. But if you want to try him out, I suggest you start chronologically, and only after get to this. It is not life-altering, but like the kind of rare encounter you may have with an old acquaintance, the kind where the world seems to suspend itself for one evening, it can be overwhelming, but you come out changed in small ways. How, who knows. It is mostly about how you integrate it. Look how Carax handled it and what came out. That’s life-altering.

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Categories: Notes

1 reply »

  1. Dans «Sauve qui peut la vie», le film qui enclencha le retour «populaire» de Godard, on voit une voiture de Formule 1 débarquée sur un quai de gare désert. Godard c’est ça, une Formule 1 là où on ne l’attend pas. Après, il fit «Prénom Carmen» et «Je vous salue Marie» où il déshabillait ses jeunes actrices et qui, évidemment, eurent beaucoup de succès. Mais au moins, cette génération de cinéastes, Truffaut, Rivette, Chabrol, Rohmer, ne cacha jamais que leur plaisir de cinéma était les actrices, et que s’ils faisaient des films, c’était pour la compagnie de jolies filles, qu’ils n’auraient jamais rencontrées autrement. Qu’ils aient changé du même coup la face du cinéma mondial n’est qu’accessoire, si l’on peut dire. Je caricature, merci de s’en apercevoir, mais le plaisir a été le moteur. Et comme l’on peut difficilement le constater de nos jours, c’est l’essence qui fait la différence par contre.

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