Ça va. From the year I was born.
If you search Google for “comment ca va godard,” you might get 83,000 results in 0.42 seconds. Google tacks on the time to remind us of its power.
Well, I must admit I was a bit powerless in slogging through this film. Keep in mind, the first time I saw Pierrot le fou I thought it was overrated. Also keep in mind, by that point Godard was already my favorite director (by a long shot).
I came to regard Pierrot le fou as one of Godard’s best films, but it had to grow on me.
Perhaps Comment ça va will also grow on me.
What must be remembered is that Godard loves games. For me, the end of this film is easily the most brilliant part.
Godard (or his collaborator Anne-Marie Miéville) plays with the editing program like it is Pac-Man. There is something very ATARI about the whole affair–that green console font and the playful symbolism of a wandering cursor.
But admissions on my part should be more specific here: I was really tired.
So perhaps I did not give this film a fair shake.
It should be no surprise to viewers of Godard’s mid-seventies oeuvre that this film makes little to no effort to entertain. It is, as are many of his films of this era, an investigation. In this case, the investigation is filmmaking itself. It is, in that sense, a bit like his earlier masterpiece Le Gai savoir. The role of Anne-Marie Miéville should not be underestimated here. It is as if Godard and Miéville were recalibrating their artistic sensitivities with this film. While many (most?) filmmakers would leave such a “product” on the shelf and chalk it up to practice or research, Godard had been in the habit of releasing these “attempts at film” for some time. As I have mentioned in previous articles, there is a particular connection between the French word essai (a test, an attempt) and the English usage of essay (particularly, for our purposes, the genre known as film essay).
And so this is very much a film essay which we are dealing with. As such, I feel like a teacher compelled to “grade” said essay. This is the traditional job of critics: to assess value. It is, perhaps, a far more subjective form of the S & P, Moody’s, Fitch gambit.
So yes, I dozed off briefly at a few points. I feel bad about this. One school of thought says that it was Godard’s job to entertain me, but I do not entirely subscribe to that way of thinking.
But let us consult Italian Wikipedia (the English site is slacking) to jog our memory…
It does indeed feel to be shot in Grenoble (certainly not Paris)… I could verify this, but I am very lazy on such points.
The contributors to Italian Wikipedia make a very good point in comparing the film under consideration to Godard’s earlier Letter to Jane. Indeed, the director once again fixates on a particular photo and what it means. We, as the audience, spend a great deal of time staring along with the creators at a picture from a protest in Portugal. 1976.
What is new here is that Godard employs his editing equipment in a novel way. A photo from a French protest three years previous (1973) is superimposed upon the Portuguese picture. It is a similar methodology as found in Letter to Jane when Jane Fonda’s facial expression was compared to other Hollywood actors (including her father Henry).
The story (if it can be called that) involves esoteric distinctions between “the left” and communism. Exactly.
What is not at all clear is that Odette (played by the very, very beautiful Anne-Marie Miéville) is the lady helping with the editing of a film. We see Odette’s face in her interaction with her young worker boyfriend, but we only see her hands (unless I dozed off one too many times) on the typewriter in her directorial capacity. What is significant is that her collaborator is her boyfriend’s father. We see his face. Boy do we see it. Over and over and over again. It should be noted that the typewriter is a motif in Godard’s work stretching all the way back to the machine-gun edit in Vivre sa vie and culminating is Godard’s magnum opus Histoire(s) du cinema.
In our film, the typewriter and the eyes of the dictator (as in dictation…taking dictation) frame a philosophical investigation of language. We might call it “lost in transmission.”
What is at stake are the alienated products of journalists. The father (head of a newspaper) deprives his staff of true journalistic activity when they become merely glorified secretaries. There is no time to think. Deadlines deadlines. And, as such, dead text. An anonymous caption for a photo (no byline) is the sole work of the editor. A journalist merely types. No time for discussion.
And thus the extension: why should a picture need a caption at all? Shouldn’t a picture tell a story and thereby eliminate the need for text? Is a complex picture which requires explanation inferior? And why not let the picture speak for itself in such a case? Why always explain what the reader is to feel???
A dictatorship falls. Strikes ensue. We hear a radio tell us Franco is dead. A subtle touch. From Portugal to Spain.
Carnation Revolution. Yes, I thought of Angola, but not Mozambique. And it makes sense. Mozambique. The only Marxist Western (as in horses and cowboys)…Vent d’est (1969).
Saint-Brieuc. It was a factory strike in ’72. We are one year off. 1975. Deadline deadline. Go to press.
Now television has completely won. Your show. Shows. On demand. One senses that the battle of art films vs. mass communication was [for Godard] not about format (film vs. video), but rather a question of diffusion and delivery.
The speed of news. The news cycle. “Information cascade” and Operation Mockingbird.