All you need is the first word. The first sentence to get you going.
You can meditate. Think too hard.
And now that it’s started it is gloriously ruined. Like Kind of Blue.
Miles Davis would tell his players…one take.
Perhaps there were caveats. But Bill Evans was ready. Coltrane…
It is the same with “Sister Ray” by The Velvet Underground.
One take. Make it count.
Everything proceeds from the first word. But don’t take it too seriously.
It is like many other first words. “Once upon a time…”
From a mist rises Beethoven’s 9th Symphony. Bruckner would use the same device many times (no doubt in honor of Ludwig van).
Yes. We say Ludwig Van in honor of Mauricio Kagel. And the entire spirit of everything here might be compared to Joseph Beuys.
And just like that <bam> we go over-budget.
Jerzy Radziwilowicz plays the Jean-Luc Godard character here (with the wardrobe ostensibly taken right off the back of Jacques Dutronc). Thus Godard still creates a distance between his story and THE story. The whole bit about Poland is made to throw us off the scent (a bit like the glorious obfuscation of Joyce in Finnegans Wake).
We find Godard to be right. The available forms are too mundane. The audience stops thinking when they are comfortable. So we must disorient them a bit–prod like a brainiac Hitchcock.
You see, the most important thing is not who acted in this film. Rather, the crucial component is the juxtaposition which allows for revelation.
We see the most perfectly-placed tableaux of human paintings. Come to life. The proper term is tableau vivant. Maybe you see them at Christmas. Perhaps a manger and the Christian genesis.
Ah, but with Godard it is Delacroix and Rubens and Rembrandt etc. I assume Ingmar Bergman missed this Godard film because the former had already made up his mind regarding the latter. And thus the admiration flowed in one direction alone. We see the delicacy of Bergman–that technique of the long shot (temporally speaking). You can almost imagine Godard telling his cast of thousands in this mini-epic to have no expression at all.
There is a connection to Stravinsky. Neoclassicism, but really a radical belief in the purity of music. To paraphrase Igor, “Music doesn’t have meaning. A note is a note.” Perhaps I have done the great composer an injustice with my memory. Yet, a paraphrase is a paraphrase.
We humans are not computers. No matter how many books we have. No matter how steel-trap our memory. No matter how fast our Internet.
And thus, that which is juxtaposed against the meticulous composition of the tableaux vivants? Everyday life. Careless shots. The beauty of the sky. The natural sway of a handheld camera. The sun as it burns up the lens upon peeking through the bare trees. Hanna Schygulla running through the snow with a lavender umbrella.
Real life. Labor. A factory. And who is the real star? Isabelle Huppert. Her character in Sauve qui peut (la vie) was not a sympathetic one. Can we say? WE had no sympathy for her. Very little. Not none.
Yet here…she is the lamb of God (of which she speaks). Huppert is the labor element. Workers’ rights. It is intimated that her monotonous job has caused her to stutter. Why? Because it is not easy to talk about the factory.
And why, she asks, are people in films never shown working? It is not allowed. Filming in factories. Indeed, I believe there is a specifically French meaning here. [And Swiss, as the film is shot in Switzerland.] But the real shocker? Work and sex (“pornography”) are equally prohibited on the screen.
Only Godard would find this fascinating link. And that is why we love him.
But mostly it is another thing.
Life is so much richer in the films of Godard. Sure, there are some exceptions, but the exceptions themselves are merely the process being revealed. It is “the thinking life” to paraphrase Henry Miller.
Once you have been there, you don’t want to go back. Or you can’t go back. But we do go back. Thinking is hard work.
And as the world bemoans what havoc Europe has wrought, let it be noted…the Beethovens, Mozarts, Dvoraks…
This is the humanism which little by little comes to occupy the mature films of Jean-Luc Godard.
Most importantly, he never stopped being a critic.
And his film reviews? They are his films themselves.