FEATURING: Vicky Messica, Madeleine Assas

PLOT: Although there are many digressions, the two main plotlines involve a group of actors traveling to Sarajevo to put on a play and a movie director trying to make a film called Fatal Bolero.

Still from For Ever Mozart (1996)

WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: It feels like assigned homework for Professor Godard’s graduate-level “Advanced Semiotics in Cinema” course.

COMMENTS: A woman, the granddaughter of Albert Camus, wants to stage a play in war-torn Sarajevo (for reasons that are never made completely clear). Her uncle (I believe) is casting a movie called The Fatal Bolero, and she convinces him to fund their expedition. They set off for Sarajevo (in Camus’ car), but the director ditches them along the way. The three actors are captured by soldiers, who plan to commit war atrocities on them while running around slapstick-style dodging shells lobbed from unknown destinations. We then return to France to follow the director, who is struggling to make his movie on a tight budget. The crew discovers two bodies in a burnt-out building—either sleeping derelicts, or corpses—and puts a red dress on the female, who later awakens and plays the lead role. The ending is a cute self-referential bit where audiences lined up to see Bolero ask if there will be nudity; when they’re told the answer is no, they threaten to leave to go see an American film, and the desperate producers spontaneously change the movie. It takes some work for the viewer to figure out those basic outlines. That plot, per se, is not of much concern to Godard; what he is interested in, as his directorial stand-in directly proclaims, is the “a saturation of glorious signs bathing in the light of absent explanation.” By design, the characters aren’t well-defined or established (it’s not even clear what their names are, and there are a lot of “who’s that guy again?” moments). There are gaps in the action, non-sequiturs, and scenes that begin suddenly without orienting the viewer. Everyone in the movie talks like an off-duty philosophy professor waxing poetic after two glasses of Cabernet Sauvignon. “There is no death. There’s only me, who is going to die,” muses a young actress while staring out of a train window. Later, sitting around a campfire, her sister responds, “the sensation I have of existence is not yet a ‘me.'” Godard glancingly addresses a multitude of issues, from the existential to the cinematic/theoretical, and sometimes his almost absentminded reflections are brilliant: his thesis that cinema has a greater mystery and dignity than literature because film incorporates actors and props that have a separate existence outside the imagination of the author, uttered by the movie’s director while the camera focuses on the face of an actress huddling against a cold beach wind, is fascinating to consider. But the absence of humanity exhibited by the nearly anonymous characters makes the movie too cold to be involving, and the lack of rigor in its intellectual musings means many of its tossed-off insights come off as hot air. It’s vintage late Godard: brainy, but boring, too thoughtful to be totally dismissed, but too flighty to be embraced.

Spoken phonetically, the title For Ever Mozart sounds like “faut rêver Mozart” (“dream, Mozart”) in French.

The previous New Yorker DVD of For Ever Mozart contained no extra features; the 2014 Cohen Media Group release includes a commentary by film critic James Quandt and an interview with Godard.


 “…full of deep musings, potent symbols and academic references from every corner of Western culture, but they’re thrown up on the screen in a manner that will confuse and infuriate anyone expecting a conventional narrative or readily identifiable characters. If what you’re expecting is an austere, lyrical essay that takes many tangents and requires serious deciphering, ‘For Ever Mozart’ is a film to be savored.”–Stephen Holden, The New York Times (contemporaneous)

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