Redoubtable [2017)

Formidable.

Inspiring fear and respect.

Impressive.

Intense.

Capable.

That Swiss-Maoist asshole is my hero.

In many ways.

But which Godard?

If I were to say “late Godard” (and that would be my natural, truthful answer), Monsieur Godard would likely point out the merits of his early films…just to annoy me.

If I spoke lovingly of Vivre sa vie, he would probably proclaim that it is shit.

Jean-Luc Godard is a very complex individual.

And I can wholeheartedly identify with that.

A walking civil war.

This film never makes reference to Cahiers du cinéma.  

It doesn’t need to.

This film covers a period of time which Wikipedia classifies as Godard’s “revolutionary period”.

When did Godard stop writing for Cahiers?

He never stopped being a critic.

We know that.

And I see his point.

This is shit.

Because we want to invent new forms.

Breathless was like his “I Wanna Hold Your Hand”.

Or his Bolero.

He couldn’t escape it.

Couldn’t lose it.

Must be nice.

But maybe not.

“Play the hits!”

Did politics ruin Jean-Luc Godard?

Sure.

But it was necessary.

It was his process of growing up.

His process of attaining wisdom.

Trial and error.

Formative years.

But not the last word.

I don’t agree with Godard’s politics.

Perhaps at some point in my youth I did.

But not very much.

Because I never really understood them.

I dabbled.

But I too am a revolutionary.

In these days.

After the 2020 election.

You may call me a reactionary.

I don’t care what you call me.

I think George Washington is cool.

I think the United States of America is worth saving.

And the American Revolution has recommenced.

Same goals as the founders had.

Love it or leave it.

Godard did not show up in 2010 to receive his honorary Academy Award.

Good for him.

Fuck Hollywood!

Give me the old stuff.

Hitchcock.

Howard Hawks.

Not this new crap.

Tripe.

Perhaps you see where me and Godard overlap?

Too rashes like a Venn diagram…with a particularly-irritated common ground.

The skin is red and peeling.

Weeping.

Scratching.

Itching.

I scratch my arms.

I’m running out of real estate on my body for these nicotine patches.

Yes.

You thought it was something more interesting?

More taboo?

No.

Where does the former President of Peru come in?

Pedro Pablo Kuczynski.

Godard’s first cousin.

I too had cousins.

Who are as far off as Peru.

But always close in my heart.

Kuczynski is 82.

Godard will be 90 in one week.

I will be 44 when the Electoral College meets.

Anna Karina died on my birthday last year.

She was 79.

But this film doesn’t deal with the wonderful Ms. Karina.

No, this film deals with another stunning beauty:  Anne Wiazemsky.

Wiazemsky died three years ago.

The same year Redoubtable came out.

In the English-speaking world, we know it (ironically) as Godard Mon Amour.

Sounds more sophisticated to have the subtitled film with a more commercial FRENCH product label.

Redoubtable is too vague.

Godard Mon Amour sells itself.

[that’s what the advertising guys must have said]

Godard and Wiazemsky were married for 12 years.

Godard and Karina married for a mere 4.

I’ve never read Mauriac.

I have nothing against Catholics.

I adore Olivier Messiaen’s music.

So it bears mentioning that one of the smartest, most unique artists in the history of the world was a French Catholic [Messiaen].

Which is to say, believing in God does not make you boring.

I believe in God.

The same God.

The Christian God.

God who gave us Jesus.

God who gave us synesthesia.

Combat didn’t like La Chinoise.

De Gaulle withdrew from NATO.

Will Trump win?

De Gaulle supported sovereignty.

The European Union is the antithesis of what de Gaulle wanted.

De Gaulle criticized America’s war in Vietnam.

But that wasn’t enough for revolutionaries like Godard.

Too lukewarm.

De Gaulle wanted Québec to be free from Canada.

If you’ve ever been to Québec, you might see why.

It is unlike the rest of Canada.

Except for New Brunswick and Nova Scotia.

But not really.

Île de Chêne?

1755-1764.

Conservatism.

De Gaulle.

Biography.

Mauriac.

Wiazemsky.

Mauriac’s granddaughter.

Starring in a Maoist film directed by Jean-Luc Godard.

La Chinoise.

And then they married.

Godard was correct.

Au Hasard Balthazar is the antithesis of the Central Intelligence Agency.

But Godard never said that.

I did.

So Anne Wiazemsky wrote a book called Un An Après which was published in 2015.

She died two years later.

The same year her book was adapted for film as Redoubtable.

She died of breast cancer.

Less than a month after Redoubtable was released in France.

This film proves that Michel Hazanavicius is a very talented filmmaker.

It proves that he knows his Godard.

But it is flawed.

Aren’t all masterpieces?

Maybe not.

Is Redoubtable a masterpiece?

In some ways, yes.

In some ways, no.

It is probably most similar to Sacha Gervasi’s Hitchcock.

Both of them are films of “exorbitant privilege”.

Which is to say, a little out of touch with their subject matter.

Was Pablo Picasso ever called an asshole?

Not if we take Jonathan Richman at his word.

Art contains deeper layers of meaning.

Usually.

Unless you’re Warhol.

In which case, the meaning MAY be found closer to the surface.

Stravinsky liked this too.

Music has no meaning.

It is just tones.

Timbres.

Rhythms.

Harmonies.

Little dots on a page.

So we are told.

By Igor.

Jean-Luc Godard and Igor Stravinsky both embraced MANY different approaches to their craft over their long careers.

Because they loved their crafts.

They were addicted.

It was a compulsion.

And, for Godard, it remains so.

Godard married the girl who rejected Robert Bresson.

Do not underestimate the thrill of this.

The thrill of it all.

Bresson was a genius too.

But she was only 18 when Bresson made his advances.

Girls want to live.

Bresson was 65.

Bold.

Numbers can lie.

Godard and Wiazemsky were only together as man and wife for three years.

Though they were married for 12.

Three years was enough, apparently.

The divorce appears to have been more a formality.

Anna.

Anne.

Anne-Marie.

I spoke to Anne-Marie on the phone once.

In exceedingly-broken French.

She was saintly in her patience.

All I wished to convey, as I called Rolle (Switzerland) on my flip phone, was that Godard was my intellectual hero.  [it is true]  And that his LATE films mattered.  That they mattered THE MOST.  That he had created beauty.  That he had plumbed the depths.  I owed it to my master to deliver this message before I (or he) died (God forbid).

I was compelled.

Jean-Luc Godard is my favorite creator this side of heaven.

Even though I don’t agree with his politics.

Bob Dylan is neck-and-neck for this honor.

Dylan is, no doubt, my favorite musician to have ever lived.

Neck-and-neck with Roland Kirk (perhaps).

My favorite jazz artist.

My favorite instrumentalist.

It is never noted that Wiazemsky was in Les Gauloises bleues.

And Godard could be an asshole.

So can I.

So can Trump.

Trump is my ideological hero.

My political hero.

I DO agree with his political philosophy.

Wholeheartedly.

And yet, my favorite film director (auteur) remains Godard.

No one is even neck-and-neck with JLG for me.

Brakhage is a distant second.

Welles is formidable.

But they do not hit the mark like Jean-Luc.

Il seme dell’uomo.

Nothing suggestive there.

Global plague.

Marco Ferreri.

Marco Margine?

Shot-reverse shot.

And then I gave Jacques Demy’s grandson piano lessons.

Or Agnès Varda’s grandson.

Same difference.

More like organ lessons.

Booker T.

You should use Belmondo again.

Funny films.

We see Coutard’s hair early.

Politics entered soon.

Le Petit soldat.

Shadow war.

The perfection of Vivre sa vie.

The jaunty, carefree, playful anarchy of Breathless.

And a sadness tied to beauty.

Politics again with Les Carabiniers.

An attempt at commercialism with Contempt.

Equivalent to Nirvana’s In Utero album.

Big-budget negation.

Nihilism.

A thorough disdain for the Hollywood system.

And the “tradition of quality” in France.

But something deeper…and more bitter.

Bande à part more like Breathless.

A little like Vivre sa vie.

Dancing.

Pinball.

Billiards.

Cafe culture.

Down and out in Paris.

Life at the margin of society.

YOUTH!

Hazanavicius first really gets going with Une Femme mariée.

Stacy Martin in the nude.

Stunning.

Cinematography.

Grabbing the bedsheets.

Clutch.

Brace brace brace.

The resemblance to Charlotte Gainsbourg is striking.

A little Alphaville.

Someone who nibbles Godard’s neck.

The Samuel Fuller scene from Pierrot le fou turned into a fistfight.

Politics.

Don’t insult me!

A bit of Macha Méril in the hair.

And a bit more of Chantal Goya.

Getting shouted down by a situationist during the May ’68 occupation of the Sorbonne.  Lumped in with Coca-Cola.

Things go dark with insults.

Swiss-Maoist jerk.

On the blink.

“Ruby’s Arms”.

It hurts.

Made in U.S.A.

Two or Three Things I Know About Her.

Urbanism.

“You ruined my shot!”

Ciné-tracts.

Eating Chinese food.

A rather unfortunate outburst directed at a war hero.

And his wife.

These are the things we do.

When we’re young.

And stupid.

And fiery.

What is striking is the humor in Redoubtable.

The broken eyeglasses.

The slipping shoes.

And their replacement.

I must give credit to Louis Garrel.

He really does convey the mania and eccentricity of Godard.

While Stacy Martin is very good here, it is a shame that Hazanavicius chose to lovingly evoke every detail of Godard’s life…except Wiazemsky’s red hair.

 

-PD

طعم گيلاس‎‎ [1997)

[TASTE OF CHERRY (1997)]

Don’t kill yourself, my friend.

I try to preserve the original language.

From France to Romania and now Iran.

It says Taste of Cherry.  And it is a film beyond perfection.  Directed by Abbas Kiarostami.

[if you are on a laptop or desktop it may appear to have no title…not very Farsi-friendly this WordPress]

Long ago I saw this quiet juggernaut.

If you’ve never seen an art film, you’ll know the genre when you see it.

Perhaps this was my first.

At an Alamo Drafthouse in Austin, Texas.

How did I end up there?

More importantly, how did I end up here?

This (the latter) seems to be the vexing question which actor Homayoun Ershadi is asking himself while embodying the suicidal character Mr. Badii.

Never have I seen an actor say so much with such economy of means.

Driving around.  Driving around.

We are suffocated by the expressionless Mr. Badii.

It reaches a head (of sorts) in the quarry.  He’s had enough.

Our protagonist cannot even secure the most essential human contact.  He cannot find even a marginal friend.

We do not know his story.  It would be impossible for anyone to have complete empathy.

He is right.  Your pain is yours alone.

But maybe a miracle is waiting…

Enter Abdolrahman Bagheri.

I have never felt such emotion in a film.

It is real.  As Mr. Bagheri (his name in the film and real life) recounts his own suicide attempt we are brought into a rarefied talent for dialogue which I have only seen in Louis-Ferdinand Céline’s novel Voyage au bout de la nuit.  Hope in the midst of nihilism.  The deepest, darkest desperation pierced by humor…or humanity.

It places Kiarostami (at least in this film) as a forerunner of the Romanian New Wave.  The trappings are similar.

We see the most depressing back alleys of urban sprawl.  Gravel paths not yet claimed entirely from the grasp of the earth.

Earth.

This film is all about earth.  Dirt.  The dust of impressionism.  Concrete.

Rocks being broken up.

A man (Mr. Badii) whose only longing is, seemingly, to be dead.

Earthmovers, earthmovers everywhere…and not a load to spare.

I have never seen a film like this.

Yes, it fits into the art film genre, and yet…it forges ahead…a new path…take the fork to the right, please.

This film is a testament of hope for the Afghan people.

A testament of hope for the Kurds.

A testament of hope for the Azeris.

And, most of all, this eternal masterpiece is a testament to the genius of Iran.

May the future be as beautiful as the colors of the setting sun.

Even if that sun must piece the sadness of cranes and smog in Tehran.

I will look for the sun if you will…my dear friends.

-PD

Cine-tracts [1968)

A beginning, middle, and end.  Not necessarily in that order.

I skipped ahead because I forgot about the Internet.

I disappeared.

And now to write on the sad, hopeful history of change.

To write about the slums of Paris.  There will be slums.

I am not making much sense unless you have read me before.

I can assure you that it is not a put-on.

No, I cannot string together two sentences.

Does that make me stupid?

Of course not.

It’s negotiable.  Relative.  Subjective [ahh…].

This, then, is a film review.  All articles on this site take advantage of this form in one way or another.

Adherence is a matter of self-calibration.

I have found the form for me.  Which is to say, it depends on the film.

And so what is Cine-tracts?

Try the purge function.  Check the deletion log.

Not a very straightforward answer.

Well, these were some short, silent films made by various directors in response to the events of May 1968 in Paris.

The reason I didn’t review this “film” earlier is that I forgot to check the ether for free content.

It’s a bit dodgy.  You never quite know what you’re getting.

On any account, I found about 75 minutes of these cine-tracts and watched the whole, soundless lot.

Jean-Luc Godard’s touch was apparent.  Whether or not Jean-Pierre Gorin was involved at this early stage, I am too lazy to check.  Chris Marker is said to have participated.  That certainly seems plausible given that the mode of creation involves still photos rather than moving pictures.

Ah, but the pictures do move.  Or rather, the camera’s motion creates an illusion that the still pictures are moving.  Indeed, their relationship to the camera is changing.  Distance.  Perspective.  Renaissance.  Light.  Shadow.

These cine-tracts play like what they likely were:  short, encouraging films for the students and workers who were rebelling against the times.

There are some ingenious directorial devices here and there, but generally the message (both literal and symbolic) takes precedence over imagination and invention.  To be sure, the filmmakers involved were politically engaged and apparently zealous in their dedication.

And so now it is hard to recall that Spring of ’68.  I was not there.  I have tried to put myself there.  Because many important currents converge in Paris 1968.

Is it inappropriate to called Cine-tracts a Godard film?  Perhaps.  But the opposite end of the spectrum would deprive us of this diary-like glimpse into the auteur’s mind.  You want to understand Adieu au langage?  Start here.  Or continue here.  Even end here.

There is no shame in being poor.  Scarcity has made it difficult.  A small concern.  Not definitively growing.

The key to understanding Cine-tracts is to be found in everyday life.  Poor, sad routine.  Run-down dross of capitalism.  The ass of capitalism looks strikingly like the ass of communism.

Donkey.  Camel.  BMW.

Yes, the world markets are sensitive to bullshit.  And each magnified ramification comes home to the poor Joe.  Average Joe.  And Jane.

Joe and John Doe and Jane Smith can’t seem to escape the high school algebra problem in which they are frozen like insects.

Joe Schmoe.  A very prestigious family.

And therein lies the problem.  A bunch of nobodies.  All they can offer is a peach.  Or a glass of water.  Or a near-worthless coin.

There’s no movement to join.  Will you start a movement?  In real politics (not the pap which passes for such in the houses of congresses) the only victory is death.  Man does not want to hear an uncomfortable message.  Your type has already, long ago, been profiled.  You don’t fit in this world.  There is no future for you.  As even Orwell seemed to intimate in 1984, a Winston Smith who lives must compromise.

And so what happened to Godard?  What happened to the fire of May 1968–that zeal which seemed inextinguishable?  What happened to the hippies?  What happened to the revolutionary socialists of the ’60s?  Did they merely switch drugs?

To conflate the participants of May 1968 in Paris with American hippies is problematic.  Are there similarities and commonalities?  Sure!  But the cultural backgrounds of the two groups were quite different.  This difference persists.  France and the U.S.A. are further than opposite sides of a common coin.

From the standpoint of language, I am probably more qualified to comment on American hippies (though I am much too young to have first-hand knowledge).  A gross simplification would seem to indicate that the idealism of the American counter-culture gave way to a nihilism (and finally to assimilation and general diametric abandonment of youthful principles).

But history is always open.  That spark…that archetype of socialism…that magical motif can be applied to any political movement…in that history may be all but written, yet it is never more than a pathetic extension of the actuarial tables.  The only insurance of life is to live while alive.

-PD

Champagne [1928)

Music changes everything.  How do we start?  Mahler.  I doubted myself.  Barber.  But I was right.  It is that one dissonance which should have convinced me.  The notes rubbing against one another.

And then I slipped.  Like Betty Balfour.  Dvorak?  Berlioz?  No, it’s Sibelius.

A music scholar doesn’t need Shazam.  But I’m a shabby music scholar.  Rags to rags.

Betty Balfour gets to mingle with the ragpickers for awhile, but for her it is riches to riches.

This is a silent film.  Which is to say, it is not silent.

That is the history of cinema.  A misconception.

And music changes everything.  If it’s Giorgio Moroder providing the soundtrack for Fritz Lang…that makes a big difference.

I really lost my way at some point.  I thought I was hearing Mozart…

We thought he wrote a requiem for his pet starling.  Perhaps not.

Yes, at some point we became very lost.  Flying over the Atlantic.  Like the Mary Celeste.  Bermuda Triangle.

It wasn’t the Flying Dutchman.  I think we would have recognized Don Giovanni.  Maybe not.

Betty doesn’t know when to stop.  Lots of seasickness in these early Hitchcock films.

There’s no missing Bolero.  Ravel’s worst piece.  Worlds ahead of most music ever written.

But nothing beats the Piano Concerto in G.

When Betty is weightless…remembering the good times…champagne.  And now she is merely a wage slave.  Trading places.

No talking.  Some intertitles.  And prominently (most prominently) that music!  A choice…by someone.  It makes a difference.

Put a murder to the tendresse of Beethoven.  A birth to Schoenberg.

The orchestra makes a difference.  That flat, unwieldy oboe line…

Yes, I know it’s polytonal, but the intonation is rubbish.  Like the Salvation Army rendition of “Abide with Me” at the beginning of Fist of Fury.  Makes Monk and Coltrane sound absolutely polished.

No, I can’t stand it.  Gordon Harker is great…just as he was in The Farmer’s Wife.  Without italics that sounds positively lascivious.  Thank god for capitalization.

Did Hitchcock predict the stock market crash of ’29?  A case could be made.  Yet here it is charade.

Betty falls prey to Bresson’s predecessor…pickpocket filmed from the waist down.  Rage Over a Lost Penny.  Op. 129.  I’m just venting.

Gordon Harker parenting.  Like Gregg Popovich.  Pride in the name of love.

Nothing’s going very well for Betty.  Taken literally, this is a nihilist coup.  But just ask Bert Williams:  nothing don’t put food on the table.  Nobody.

More like “nothing to see here”…  Hitchcock would lament to Truffaut.  Nevertheless, the particular transfer I have (and the Romantic soundtrack) made this an interesting journey.  Most of all we learn that the auteur theorists were right:  geniuses never make bad films.

-PD

Le Petit soldat [1963)

“La photographie, c’est la vérité, et le cinéma, c’est vingt-quatre fois la vérité par seconde.”  It is one of the most famous quotes in the history of cinema and likewise among the most often quoted in relation to Godard, yet it is a line in a film…this film…and it is delivered by the character Bruno Forestier (Michel Subor).  And so, there is some distance from the auteur…perhaps very little , but yet it exists.  This is just one of the odd disconnects about this brilliant film.

The synopsis on Wikipedia presents another right off the bat.  Bruno is a deserter from the French military, yet he is working for French intelligence in Geneva.  On the surface this seems irreconcilable, yet a bit of thought opens up several possibilities.  First, the “French intelligence” under consideration might be an organization not wholly sanctioned by the French government.  We hear of these dark organizations often.  Rogue branches.  Rogue networks.  Informal connections.  Perhaps even an entire parallel government (or, at the very least, intelligence apparatus).  Second, we must take the film’s context to ascertain the indisputable fact that Bruno Forestier isn’t entirely a free agent.  In other words, his record is being used against him to greater or lesser extent to blackmail him into performing dirty deeds (assassinations) for this intel branch (asset by coercion).  Again, this certainly isn’t without precedent in real world situations.

But perhaps the greatest dissonance, though nuanced, is presented in something Jean-Luc Godard himself wrote in 1960.  As this film was banned in France for three years, this written explanation would predate the film’s release by the same number of years.  It can be found in the Simon and Schuster Modern Film Scripts version of the action (1967, English translation by Nicholas Garnham).  In this short piece, Godard explains his take on the film.  The focus is on realism.  Cinematographer Raoul Coutard, who had been a war photographer in Indochina, was integral in conveying Godard’s vision by way of a handheld camera (as opposed to the large Mitchell camera which he used on his next film Une Femme est une femme).  The auteur likewise makes reference to “whip-pans, over- and under-exposed shots, one or two blurred ones,” etc. in dissecting his own mise-en-scène.  The beginning of this introduction apparently comes from issue no.109 of Cahiers du cinema.  More importantly, what follows in this introduction delineates his focus on stubborn freedom.  It is in this concept which Godard manages to declare that Le Petit soldat “is not politically orientated in a particular direction.”

This was not something I had previously noted in prior viewings, but I can see how Godard might claim such.  Indeed, Bruno Forestier is a very conflicted character.  In some ways he is the noble version of Michel Poiccard from Breathless.  Both have a strange, tenuous grasp on ethics.  Nihilism abounds in both, yet Forestier’s brand almost comes off as a noir Buddhism.  It is little wonder that Godard would later dedicate one of Histoire(s) du cinema‘s chapters to Clint Eastwood.

Bruno Forestier is far from perfect, but in that condition he is still charming and likable…even heroic to a certain extent.  There is no doubt that Rossellini’s Roma città aperta loomed large as an influence for the torture sequences of our film.  It might even be said that this Godard film is more poignant now (with respect to torture) than it has ever been.  Bruno is subjected to a method not unlike waterboarding.

But there are other pithy quotes such as, “…killing a man from a distance, I think it’s dishonest.”  This almost begs to be compared to the drone strikes which have become sadly ubiquitous in our upside-down world.

Yet, amidst all of this painful reality, Godard manages to outdo himself in artistic name-dropping.  Paul Klee is referenced multiple times (Swiss artist, movie set in Geneva).  We sympathize with Bruno Forestier partly because he is artistic (a photographer).  “And Veronica, are her eyes Velasquez grey or Renoir grey?”  So muses Bruno about Veronica Dreyer (Anna Karina).  This was, in fact, her first film for Godard.  Dreyer is no doubt an homage to Carl Theodor Dreyer (Danish actress, Danish legend/director).  The artistic references are almost comical at times…such as when Jean Cocteau’s novel Thomas l’imposteur is improbably brought into play.

One final thought.  Maurice Le Roux’s music plays a vital role in setting this film apart from anything Godard had done in his first four films.  The dense, clustered piano textures play like Henry Cowell improvising on Brahms. After the tides of Manaunaun, that Irish god of motion, wash Veronica’s fate ashore Lake Geneva, we get the biggest shock of all: Bruno behaving like Meursault from L’Étranger.  The final disconnect comes from recalling that Bruno told Veronica he detests Camus.

-PD