Sauve qui peut /la vie/ [1980)

12 seconds.  5 minutes.  2 fortnights.  a jiffy.

Really, I shouldn’t have to comment on the commodification of time.  Is that not the essence of capitalism?

Into your busy lives cram another blog post.  Another sloppy film review.  A film.

A more professional critic would start by alluding to the copious literature which points to this film as Godard’s return to form.

A strange phrase.  Which form?

Because really, for me, Godard begins here.  The known Godard is Parisian Godard…la nouvelle vague.

The unknown Godard is everything else.  As an American consumer it is rather inconvenient to obtain all but the classic films from our auteur.  After Week-end (1967), the DVDs become exponentially harder to come by.

But, as a rule, I digress.  Liberally.  Often.  Without fail.

This, then, would seem to be Godard emerging from the black forest of political filmmaking and ethical soul-searching to find the inklings of his mature style.

It is not an original thought.  The English-language biographies cover this thoroughly.  The device in question is (for lack of a more exact term) slow-motion.

It is the playful wonder of a man who still has the curiosity of a boy.

Technology changing.  New idiosyncrasies to each bit of gear on the market.

It is the same now.  Stash your camera on the top shelf and soon you will not know how to make films.

Your equipment will be obsolete and your knowledge outdated.

But that is all tertiary (tertiary?) in importance.

To our film.

We have characters; plot.  A walk in the wilderness and Godard (with the indispensable Anne-Marie Miéville) returned to a somewhat recognizable form.  As always, however, the form is highly subverted.  One might even say perverted in this particular instance.  It is a strange beauty.  Incomparable.  A triumph.  A mere glimpse of things to come.

Always playing on archetypes, Godard casts singer Jacques Dutronc as Paul Godard.  There can be little doubt that this character is meant to represent the filmmaker himself.  Every marker is there:  the ubiquitous cigar, the glasses, the mannerisms, the disheveled college professor sartorial ensembles…

The stunning Nathalie Baye plays Denise Rimbaud.  Here is where the ark types.  Arc-en-ciel.  A panorama of wispy clouds.  Yes, Arthur is never far…nor Baudelaire…nor Sartre and Duras.  And Marguerite?  Faust.  Your soul for a job.

Yes, prostitution returns.  The grand Godardian theme.  Isabelle Huppert plays the role of the sex worker Isabelle Rivière.

The setting?  Switzerland.  We see the signs at the station.  Nyon.  Not Lyon, Nyon.  It brings us back to that area we visited in Godard’s second film (though it was banned and thus delayed in release) Le Petit Soldat.

The famous scenes are of Baye on a bicycle–of Dutronc in a classroom before a chalkboard reading “Cain et Abel” and “Film et video.”

Yes, the sexual aspects of this film are heavy.  This perhaps proves that Godard’s return to mainstream filmmaking was not the end of his rebellious period.

Though there is a plot and there are discernible characters, it is not always clear what is going on.  What cannot be disputed is the sadness which Godard brings to light with yet another exposé of whoring.  Likewise, it might be gathered that the filmmaker is commenting on the perception of rural Switzerland as pristine and bucolic.  The perverse element of our film echoes previous erotic episodes of Pasolini and Buñuel.

Finally, one can’t help wondering whether the film in question had a formative effect on the Iranian director Kiarostami.  As in the later Taste of Cherry, Godard has one last trick up his sleeve to end out Sauve qui peut (la vie).

Indeed, Jean-Luc Godard was starting to find his magic touch again with this film…and its traces attested to a talent which was richer and better than ever before.

-PD

Week-end [1967)

You will not learn much on Wikipedia.  In this case.  It is a common problem.  The length of an entry indicates its importance to the English-speaking world.  You will not get a true sense of what this film is about.  To the English-speaking world, this film is apparently insignificant.

And so we turn to images.  Language has betrayed us.  Our mother tongue.

There we immediately find a better representation.  The Hermès handbag.

Yet still the film remains elusive.

Some might say barbaric.  Others, a film about nothing.

They are both right…and wrong.

It is Mozart who proves them wrong.  I will not give you a Köchel number.  We can’t be experts about everything.

This is not academic writing.  I take my leisure seriously.

Taken out of context, it is the rage of a spurned Hitchcock.

It is the red stub of Blandine Jeanson (c’est-à-dire Emily Brontë).

Perhaps it is the groovy sounds of Jean-Claude Vannier?

As Paul Gégauff plays (?), the man with the shovel shuffles away.  He is our stable element…briefly.

You see the trouble.

Is it barbarism to cradle the contrasting beauty?  Is it nothing to show that everything is something?

Not easy being cheesy…

This is why it is better not to attempt…to explain.

It has been done.  What’s the point?

Each tenured prophet will find his/her own signs.

The important thing is to give the immediate impression.  Do not go for a snack.  Attack the film, but not to analyze.  Attack your own feelings and emotions…and wrest them from oblivion to perhaps live a life of their own.  This is what we do.

From the first words, we cannot start like the rest.

The great folly would be to make Godard into God.  The greater folly to ignore the breathtaking precedence.

In art as war, pity the one to go first…running from the secure positions.

And so we embrace the greatest uncertainty.

The varieties of human experience people…have not visited my corner for census.

Nor Jean-Luc’s…here.  We can celebrate the hulking awkwardness of a master who is perfectly describing chaos.

It is not sloppy.  It is calculated.  But it is a non-terminating number.  An infinite precision.

Balance on one finger and eat banana cream pie.

Perfectly upside-down.

It is not clean and crisp.  Not easily digestible.

We look longingly for personality, but none is found…

And then a film like Week-end…all personality.  Character.  Eccentricity.  Color.  Vigor.

Buried in the footnotes of civilization is a question about civilization itself.

This.

It explains why we never succeeded in life.  Had we done so, it would have been a fluke.

We were not meant to succeed.  Search your heart and then regard the world…

There is an intrinsic disharmony.

Language is a popularity contest…gang-raped by technology.

Thus the survival of mankind depends on code:  poetry.

Poetry does not discard words.  Poetry constantly expands…like entropy.

No one predicted the end.  Google will fail.

When we stop mirroring our mirror.  It is too boring to relate.

Salvation is buried deep.  Takes some digging.

We have forgotten how to be properly disgusted.

-PD

Petunia [2012)

A lesser film critic would rip this movie to shreds.  You have to wait for it.  Poor Charlie Petunia…  It’s just like in life:  we choose to accept or reject someone’s mannerisms and way of speaking very early on into our first meeting with them.  In the cinema, sometimes it takes us a bit to adjust to a particular film’s tone.  We must adjust to the budget, the philosophical slant, etc….or we walk out.  If we are at home, we simply say, “You know what?  Fuck this.  I’m not watching this.”

To be brutally honest, the first 15 minutes of this flick don’t seem to bode well for what must follow, but what does follow is a pretty damn good film.  However, it is scary.

The End.

It’s like Week-end: one senses a double meaning in the final pronouncement.  End of Cinema.  Thus spake Godard.  His was a bold manifestation of ego (and a humble diagnosis of what was already known by the intelligentsia of France).

Why scary?  Because this is the last we have heard of the inimitable Thora Birch.  Her Wikipedia says she “is”…  Every time I click on Jean-Luc Godard’s Wikipedia page to find that he still “is”…my world is a better place.

Why review Petunia three years after its release?  To put it out in the cosmos…even if Miss Birch never reads this…to render the appreciation of which she is deserving.

Thora and her dad Jack are credited as producers.  I’m not going to rake muck and give you the Kenneth-Anger-Hollywood-Babylon version of a back story.  Suffice it to say that Thora’s parents are some interesting characters.  I know that her dad acted as her manager.  For how long, I’m not sure.  People can carp about Mr. Birch’s manner of going about things, but that really defeats the purpose here.  The focus should be on the artists and the work of art.  This film is a masterpiece against all odds.  Funny enough, the focus is not really on Thora that much (though she is in most of the film).  [I believe I spotted her brother Bolt in a scene as well.  He was quite good though he had only a few lines.  Wikipedia mentions a brother named Kian?]

And now there is a cat meowing outside my window.

That really sums up this film.  Once again, Thora’s recently starred in a film for which the director (Ash Christian) has a dead link on Wikipedia.  I say dead link, but I mean stub.  This is actually a step up from Winter of Frozen Dreams (for which the director had no hypertext love whatsoever).  For a moment I thought this might be a pseudonym for Birch herself, but I see that Mr. Christian (why couldn’t it be sister Christian???) is an actual director from Paris, TX.  Wow.  That’s rich.

Well, Mr. Christian has done a formidable job with this picture.

Let’s talk characters, shall we?

Tobias Segal.  His is a performance which grows from tentative beginnings to a quiet crescendo of understated brilliance.

Christine Lahti.  Pretty darn fabulous turn…especially at the botox (?) joint and the bong scene.  [Real…tomato ketchup, Eddie?]

Brittany Snow.  This actress really steals the show.  I was thoroughly impressed with how she turned a somewhat small part into an emotional punch in the gut.

Michael Urie.  His character grew on me, but this Yaley is pretty hard to like.

David Rasche.  Excellent performance.  Almost like an extension of Norman-at-the-bus-stop in Ghost World, it’s as much what he doesn’t say as what he says.

Eddie Kaye Thomas.  Some pretty dry acting on the front end is made up for by a nice sprint down the homestretch.

Jimmy Heck.  Meh.

But you know:  there’s a bit of “meh” in Thora’s performance too.  As if her heart wasn’t really in this one.  She still looks as beautiful as ever and her acting chops are all there.  God damn it!  Someone give her a great role already!!!

But you know what?  The main thing is that these people are creating.  They are putting it out there.  Thora, Jimmy Heck, all of them.  Even when Thora is less than inspired, she still puts to shame the work of most every thespian working.

-PD