Tag Archives: Jean-Luc Godard

FOR EVER MOZART (1996)

DIRECTED BY:

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.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

 “…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)

130. WEEKEND (1967)

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“What a rotten film, all we meet are crazy people.”–Roland

DIRECTED BY:

FEATURING: Mireille Darc, Jean Yanne

PLOT: Corrine and Roland are a married couple who are cheating on each other and who hope to inherit money from Corrine’s dying father. They set off on a weekend trip to travel to the father’s deathbed, but find the French countryside is a giant traffic jam filled with burning wrecks. As they struggle to reach their destination they meet fictional and historical characters, magical beings, and feral hippie terrorists.

Still from Weekend (1967)

BACKGROUND:

  • According to writer/critic Gary Indiana, Godard based the structure of his story on Friedrich Engel’s “The Origins of Family, Private Property, and the State,” but reversed the historical progression so that the movie proceeds from civilization to savagery.
  • Mireille Darc, who had starred in the types of popular comedies and spy films Godard despised, petitioned the director for a part in one of his movies. He agreed to cast her in Weekend; when she asked him why, he answered, “because I don’t like you… and the character in my film must be unpleasant.”
  • The scene where Mireille Darc tells her lover about a threesome with another man is a parody of a similar scene from ‘s Persona (1966), and also a reference to George Bataille’s surrealist/erotic novella “The Story of the Eye.”
  • Godard often makes literary and historical references without announcing them. Some of the characters who appear in the film are Robespierre’s lieutenant Louise Antoine de Saint-Just, Tom Thumb, and Emily Brontë.
  • Weekend was condemned by the Catholic Legion of Decency.
  • When Weekend wrapped, Godard reportedly told his usual crew to look for work elsewhere, as he would be abandoning commercial film from that point forward. (This story is probably apocryphal, since Godard’s cinematographer Raoul Coutard didn’t remember such a formal announcement; nonetheless, Godard did cease making commercial movies after Weekend, and Coutard and the other regular crew members didn’t work with the director again for many years).

INDELIBLE IMAGE: The celebrated traffic jam, an eight-minute tracking shot scored to the sound of honking horns. The camera surveys a lineup of stalled vehicles, and our interest never flags as we pass people tossing balls from car to car or playing chess in the middle of the highway, autos upturned on the side of the road or smashed into trees, and trailers housing monkeys and llamas, until we reach the tragic source of the congestion. Roland and Corrine zoom past increasingly angry motorists in their convertible, sometimes racing ahead of the camera and sometimes falling behind it, and we slowly realize the strangest feature of the backup: there’s nothing blocking the opposite lane, and no reason the other drivers can’t simply zoom around the trouble.

WHAT MAKES IT WEIRD: Introduced as “a film adrift in the cosmos” and as “a film found in a scrap heap,” Weekend is, more than anything, a nasty and bitter assault on bourgeois French culture of 1967: a revolutionary rejection of consumerism, propriety, and even (or especially) of the need for plots that “make sense.” Today, Godard’s mix of Marxism, alienation, transgression, Surrealism and fourth-wall breaking seems “oh-so Sixties”; but the passionate hatred that fuels this ambitious attack on good taste and good sense endures, giving Weekend an anarchic vitality that survives its turbulent era.


Original French trailer for Weekend

COMMENTS: Weekend is both a satire and a wish-fulfillment fantasy. Certainly, Corrine and Roland, who care for nothing that can’t be bought (a Continue reading 130. WEEKEND (1967)

CAPSULE: CINEMA 16: EUROPEAN SHORT FILMS (EUROPEAN EDITION) (2007)

DIRECTED BY: Lukas Moodysson, Patrice Le Conte, , Virgil Widrich, , Peter Mullian, Nanni Moretti, Jan Kounen, Roy Andersson, Juan Solanas, Krzysztof Kieslowski, Jan Svankmajer, , Lars von Trier, Javier Fesser, Anders Thomas Jensen

FEATURING: , Sten Ljunggren, , Isis Krüger, Thomas Wolff

PLOT: Comedies, dramas and experimental films are collected together in this anthology of sixteen award winning short films made by Europeans.

Still from My Wrongs #8245-8249 & 117 ()

WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: Compilations themselves aren’t eligible, and although some of the shorts here are quite weird, none of them are powerful enough to displace a feature film from the List.

COMMENTS: Short films have almost no commercial prospects: filmmakers generally make them as calling cards, for festival competitions where artistry is more important than marketability, and as a way to fiddle around with the medium of film. Experiments, whether visual or narrative, that might grow wearisome at 90 minutes can be refreshing at under 15 minutes, and directors can indulge their outré aesthetic impulses without fear of alienating audiences and distributors. There are, therefore, a higher proportion of weird works in the world of the short film than are found in the feature film universe: here, nine out of the sixteen offerings—more than half of the total—make at least a nod towards the strange, surreal, or fantastical.

Although we will run down all the films on the set, our primary interest here is in “My Wrongs #8245-8249 & 117,” provocateur ‘ first self-contained short film after years of making blackly absurd, boundary-pushing sketches for British television. Our interest in “Wrongs” stems both from the fact it’s likely the weirdest offering, and because a reader suggested it to us for review. Before we get to the unique films in this collection, we need to explain a little about the “Cinema 16: European Short Films” sets. For reasons that are somewhat unclear, Cinema 16 released two different discs entitled “European Short Films,” one for the European market and one for the U.S. market.  The two editions share seven films in common. We reviewed the U.S. release previously, and mini reviews of the overlapping shorts will be found in that article. The seven repeats are:
Continue reading CAPSULE: CINEMA 16: EUROPEAN SHORT FILMS (EUROPEAN EDITION) (2007)

CAPSULE: FILM SOCIALISME (2010)

Beware

DIRECTED BY: Jean-Luc Godard

FEATURING: Marine Battaggia, Catherine Tanvier, Christian Sinniger, Gulliver Hecq, Eye Haidara, Élisabeth Vitali

PLOT: Snippets of scenes involving passengers on a cruise ship are followed by a long segment exploring a rural French family who run a gas station; it’s topped off with impressionistic travelogues to Egypt, Palestine, and other locales.

Still from Film Socialisme (2010)

WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST:  It’s weird—by way of being random and impenetrable—but it’s also boring.  Really boring.  Had Jean-Luc Godard’s name not been attached, this movie would remain happily unseen by all but a handful of unlucky film festival attendees.

COMMENTS: Jean-Luc Godard has been telling French magazines that “cinema is dead” (though he would say “le cinéma est mort” and translate it as “film    dead.”)  Film Socialisme is the work of an auteur who truly believes that sentiment: it’s a dispassionate, bloodless dissection of moving images.  It offers us actors but no characters, situations but no drama, incidents but no story, ideas but no argument, and challenges but no rewards.  Deliberately obtuse, Film Socialisme sets out to frustrate: the first thing English speakers will notice is that Godard chooses not to fully translate the French dialogue, opting instead to tell the story through what he calls “Navajo English.”  Large portions of the French dialogue are left untranslated, and when the viewer does see subtitles he reads only snatches like “watch    notell    time” and “itshim    wariswar.”  Sometimes the language will switch from French to English or German or Russian, sometimes in the middle of a conversation; one presumes that this provides brief  opportunities for Francophones to enjoy “Navajo French.”  Structurally, Film Socialisme is divided into three chapters.  The first, titled “Des choses comme ça,” takes place aboard a cruise liner and explores fragments of stories from various travelers that don’t appear to add up to anything: a woman is trying to learn to speak cat by watching kitties on her laptop, a couple have a conversation about the Allied landing in North Africa while ignoring an apparently drunk woman Continue reading CAPSULE: FILM SOCIALISME (2010)

AVANT OPERA ON FILM, PART 3

In 1987, producer Don Boyd brought his labor of love, Aria, to the screen.  The concept was to have ten directors, each with a distinguished style, visually interpret ten arias.  Jean-Luc Godard, Robert Altman, Nicolas Roeg and Ken Russell were among the directors.  Predictably, many less than erudite American critics put their working class hero noses to work, sniffed it out like the gold old boy guardians of true blue Americana, and immediately pounced on it, pretentiously charging high pretension as they are usually apt to do.  Whenever the subjects of opera or classical music are involved in film, rest assured American critics are going to become engaged in loudly espousing anti-pretension pretensions. Actually, Aria is a stylishly, irreverent and satirical, if uneven, treat.

ariaroddamFranc Roddam’s “Liebestod” from Wagner’s “Tristan und Isolde” is set in Las Vegas with Bridget Fonda and James Mathers excellently capturing the pathos of the doomed pair.

Ken Russell, an expert eccentric at this sort of thing, memorably tackles Puccini’s “Turandot” with hallucinatory model Linzi Drew, inlaid rubies and diamonds, and an operating table in a typically heady Russellesque mix of bizarre, mystical excess and eros.

Godard, tongue delightfully in cheek, sets Jean Baptiste Lully in a work-out gym as two women contend with narcissistic male body builders.

Charles Sturridge’s interpretation of Verdi’s “La Forza Del Destino” subtly grows brighter upon repeated viewings. Sturridge’s “Destino” aptly paints troubled youth on a joy ride through an apathetic adult world in a lament to the Virgin.

Bruce Beresford’s film of Korngold’s “Die Tote Stadt,” starring a young Elizabeth Hurley, captures the music’s superficial sheen.

Nicholas Roeg, Robert Altman, Derek Jarman, Julian Temple, and Bill Bryden interpret Verdi, Rameau, Charpentier, and Leoncavallo to lesser effect, but even the slight failures here are far preferable to the bulk of Hollywood drek.

Ken Russell has had an ongoing obsession with composers: Tchaikovsky in The Music Lovers, the justifiably infamous Lisztomania, and Elgar, but his most hallucinatory and, oddly enough, Continue reading AVANT OPERA ON FILM, PART 3