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The Reality of a Reflection: An Exploration of Jean-Luc Godard's Filmography

The films of Jean-Luc Godard strive to reflect on the constantly evolving cinema culture that surrounds them.
MUBI's retrospective For Ever Godard is showing from November 12, 2017 - January 16, 2018 in the United States.
Jean-Luc Godard is a difficult filmmaker to pin down because while his thematic concerns as an artist have remained more or less consistent over the last seven decades, his form is ever-shifting. His filmography is impossible to view in a vacuum, as his work strives to reflect on the constantly evolving cinema culture that surrounds it: Godard always works with the newest filmmaking technologies available, and his films have become increasingly abstracted and opaque as the wider culture of moving images has become increasingly fragmented. Rather than working to maintain an illusion of diegetic truth, Godard’s work as always foreground its status as a manufactured product—of technology, of an industry, of on-set conditions and of an individual’s imagination. MUBI’S Godard retrospective exemplifies the depth and range of Godard’s career as its progressed from the early 60s to the 2000s.  
A Woman Is a Woman (1961)
A Woman Is a Woman was the first Godard film released after the surprise breakthrough of Breathless—though production wrapped on Le petit soldat earlier, its release was suppressed by the French government due to its heavy criticism of the nation’s involvement in the Algerian War. A Woman Is a Woman was funded by the newly formed Rome-Paris Films, and as a result Godard found himself working with a budget of approximately 2,177,000 francs (roughly quadruple the price it cost to fund his debut). He was now able to work in Technicolour and cinemascope, as well as expand his shooting schedule and crew size significantly. At the time, Godard referred to the feature as his “first real film.” The script (based on a short story written by Godard himself and published in an issue of Cahiers du cinéma) has the simplicity of a Chaplin short: the young stripper Angela (Anna Karina) is desperate to conceive a child, but her boyfriend Émile (Jean-Claude Brialy) refuses her incessant requests. She instead turns to his reluctant best friend Alfred (Jean-Paul Belmondo), with whom she’d shared a minor flirtation in the past, who agrees to fill in.
Godard referred to the project as a “neo-realist musical” which, he acknowledged, was “an absolute contradiction.” This friction forms the primary substance of A Woman Is a Woman The film was shot largely on-the-fly, with Godard writing the dialogue each morning to be shot later in the day throughout the 5-week shooting period and filmed entirely on location, on the back alleys of Stasbourg Saint-Denis, often without shooting permits. The audio was recorded through direct sound, with no effort made to conceal jarring street noise and the ambient sounds of the crew at work. Much of the film is devoted to detailing the intricacies of mundane daily actions in minute detail. Yet any sense of straightforward naturalism is complicated by the outlandish, mugging performances by the principal cast and Michel Legrand’s grandiose score, which overwhelms the soundtrack at intermittent points in jarring snatches. This overt sense of theatricality is reminiscent the style of the music hall; the opening credits go as far as to include the sound of an orchestra conductor telling his men to “time to tune up,”, accompanied by sounds of an audience noisily making their way to their seats.
Nevertheless, Angela views her life through the prism of popular culture, declaring at a key moment that she would “like to be in a musical,” lamenting the gulf between her drab surroundings and the glory of Technicolor spectacle and describing her desire to mould herself in the image of “Gene Kelly and Cyd Charisse.” Godard’s camera alternatingly indulges her naïve fantasies and mocks them, framing most of the actions in roomy wide shots that foreground the downtrodden economic conditions of the trio’s environment that the characters would themselves rather ignore; domestic issues blend into the political and vice-versa. According to Godard, his intentions in crafting the film was not to produce a musical, but “a film on the nostalgia for the musical comedy […] It’s a regret that life is not lived in music.” Indeed, A Woman Is a Woman only features one fully fledged musical number, delivered by Angela a cappella in the club. Instead, everyday rituals such as buying coffee, preparing for bed and inspecting a newsstand are blocked and scored as though they were lavish dance sequences. More so than in Breathless, Godard’s editing here aggressively works against the conventions of continuity editing, incorporating flubbed lines, accidental glances at the camera and warm-ups. When artificial lights are used, they are usually garish and call attention to themselves, such as in the aforementioned musical number, which sees Angela, in close-up lit by a rotating series of Eastmancolor primaries.
The Godardian notion of the body as a sellable commodity within a post-Fordist landscape, which will take on a greater precedence in the director’s later work throughout this period, is established here in a rough form. As a stripper, Angela uses her body to accumulate an excess of wealth that is then exchanged for consumer items; her co-worker Suzanne describes having turned to stripping after being fired from the Simca factory; Angela’s neighbor runs a prostitution business from her apartment. Ironically, what should be the most intimate location—Angela and Émile’s bedroom—was the only set artificially constructed during production, a homogenized chamber of high-end consumerist items, an acknowledgement of the blurred lines that separate the public from the private and the performative aspect of male-female relationships. Godard even goes as far as to have Angela introduce an argument by saying “before acting out our little farce, we bow to the audience,” before the two turn to the camera and bow.
Despite being largely regarded as minor Godard, A Woman Is a Woman is not only one of Jean-Luc Godard’s most purely exuberant films but one which prefigures many of the aesthetic and thematic concerns that the filmmaker would revisit and refine in later works. Perhaps the most notable of these is the bold, comic book-style color palette and flat, planimetric framings, which Godard would push further towards abstraction in Pierrot fe fou and Two Or Three Things I Know About Her. It’s also easy to see the influence of Godard’s film on later works that similarly sought to combine tropes of the Hollywood musical with minimalistic experimental cinema prefigures films such as Chantal Akerman’s Golden Eighties (1986) and Jacques Rivette’s Up, Down, Fragile (1995). 
One of Godard’s most iconic and influential features, Contempt focuses on disillusioned screenwriter Paul (Michel Piccoli), who is assigned at the last minute to rework an adaptation of The Odyssey by meddling American producer Jeremy Prokosch (Jack Palance), against the wishes of director Fritz Lang, playing himself.  The narrative is split between the production of Lang’s film, the dissolution of Paul’s marriage to a young actress, Camille (Brigitte Bardot), and the protracted conflicts between Paul and Prokosch.
Conceptually, the film functions as a complex metatextual palimpsest, with Alberto Moravia’s source novel, Lang’s film-within-the-film, Homer’s ur-text and Godard’s Contempt itself all blurring into one another. Like Contempt, Lang’s film shoot is an international co-production, with each major character speaking a different language: German, English French or Italian. The only multilingual figure in the film is Prokosch’s secretary Francesca (Giorgia Moll), who was saved from a concentration camp by the producer at the end of the war and has now been put in the thankless position of catering to his every whim. The involvement of Bardot enabled him to source his largest budget yet by far, estimated at $1million, largely provided by the Hollywood producer Joseph E. Levine. Richard Brody perceptively points out that Contempt makes steps to conflate “the ruins of two classical eras, the age of Homer and the age of Hollywood.” The ancient Greek ruins that dominated Godard’s compositions are analogous to the demise of Hollywood studios, Paul nostalgically pines for the system of big-budget moviemaking that birthed the likes of Chaplin and Griffith, and Prokosch’s old studio is being demolished to make way for a luxury department store. As in T.S. Eliot, the modern is filtered through the lens of the classical.
The opening shot of the film is a master showing a camera as it carries out a lengthy tracking shot of Francesca, the camera growing larger and more central to the screen as the shot wears on, culminating in the lens turning directly to the audience as a narrator paraphrases a piece by Bazin: “The cinema substitutes for our gaze a world more in harmony with our desires.” Godard isn’t content merely to illustrate this idea formally but proceeds to interrogate it. The next sequence sees Camile’s naked body, lying on a bed, with the eroticized camera taking on Paul’s gaze. Although at first this sequence may seem like a straightforward condemnation of the male gaze as embodied by the strategies of mainstream cinema, but this is complicated as Camille’s voice-over names various parts of her body and asks Paul if he likes them. The apparent object turns out to be the subject, manipulating the gaze to suit her own ends and acknowledging a complicity that Camille shares with the camera.
Paul, however, is unable to recognize Camille’s subjectivity. Prokosch pressures Paul to craft a more psychologically lucid version of The Odyssey to the one imagined by Lang; one in which it is revealed that Ulysses takes so long to return home following the Trojan war because of his marital issues with Penelope. Paul is artistically opposed to the notion of simplifying the text into a formulaic love story to reach a mass audience, but is tempted by the promise of a large paycheck, which he believes will help him repair the issues he’s experiencing with the restless Camille. In this sense, Paul clearly functions as a stand-in for Godard himself, who perceived of this turn to a more classical form of filmmaking as a form of selling out. Godard, reflecting on the film not long after its release, admitted that “it has a ‘cheap novel’ side.”
Ironically, Paul’s move towards artistic compromise only pushes Camille further away from him, as the integrity that sustains her attraction to him dissipates and is replaced by resignation. Paul is all heady intellectual reasoning, while Camille is all base instinct—she cannot translate her feelings into words. This leads Paul to become suspicious of her, the quickly doubting her fidelity when he sees the ways in which she is able to use her beauty to manipulate the men around her. Paul, for his part is too narcissistic to decipher the true reasoning for Camille’s fatigue. A direct contrast to Angela, she feels a fundamental sense of alienation imposed upon her by her modernist surroundings, rather than delighting in them, and if Angela is used as a way to explore the pleasures offered by big-budget moviemaking, Camille is a causality of the same system. She is routinely placed in a position of powerlessness; when Prokosch invites her to spend time at his villa, she is explicitly framed as an object of exchange. As in Une femmeest une femme, ‘scope frames again stuff the screen with an elaborate mise en scène of consumer goods, but here the environment registers as oppressive. The emotional gulf between Paul and Camille is primarily expressed spatially, most famously in a series of wide tracking shots that follow the couple as they argue while traversing their huge apartment. Large geometric objects placed in the foreground further work to obscure the characters and position them as victims of an oppressive social system: the intersecting structures of the film industry and late-period consumerism.
Part sci-fi, part noir, part architectural study of the changing of Paris architecture at the tail end of the decade, Alphaville was Godard’s attempt to reflect on the futurism running rampart in the city. In lieu of creating artificial sets, Godard crafted a futuristic dystopia through careful location scouting and the modification of existing analog technologies. The film was shot in the research complex of Bull as well as in the office complex of Gamma 60. Alpha 60, the supercomputer controlling Alphaville, was simply a Philips fan lit from below, with a voice provided by a man speaking from the diaphragm with no vocal chords after an accident. Godard further lent these inhuman landscapes an expressionistic otherworldly aura by shooting largely at night using only available light, with an extremely highly photosensitive camera developed by Ilford. Cinematographer Raoul Coutard was forbidden from using non-diegetic light sources aside from the odd incandescent lamp for severely under-exposed shots. In doing so, Godard was able to construct a hellish vision of the future that was primarily a reflection on the alienating hyper-modernity of the present.
Eddie Constantine had been eager to work with Godard, who, in turn, became attracted to the idea of casting the character of Lemmie Caution, for whom Constantine was well known, in a setting totally alien. Godard initially conceived of the project as an adaptation of I Am Legend, which was rejected by his production company. He then sought to adapt Brian Aldiss’ novel Non-Stop, detailing an elaborate futuristic city built on a giant spaceship, but Godard quickly realized he wouldn’t be able to secure the funding necessary to take on a project of that scale. In response, Godard penned Alphaville, an original narrative that combined substantial plot elements from both texts. A deliberately jarring genre hybrid, Alphaville sees Caution travel into the corporatized dystopia Alphaville, dominated by the super-intelligent computer system Alpha 60, to locate the lost agent Henri Dickson and the scientist Leonardo Von Braun. Caution here embodies perhaps Godard’s most clear-cut moral hero, a “romantic individualist” who encapsulates everything messy, human and illogical that gets shunted aside by the forces of late consumerism.
Von Braun’s daughter, Natasha (Anna Karina), was born in the outer zones, but was taken to Alphaville at such a young age that she can no longer recall life outside of the city, in which outward displays of emotion are repressed under threat of execution and certain words are out of use. Art and culture have evaporated, all that matters is capital and technological advance. The dystopia of Alphaville is a centralized version of France, in which all specific cultures have melded together in a neutral mass, a bureaucratic technocracy, a tyrannical run by the state. She has been raised to be steeped in the laws and culture of Alphaville. The people who populate Alphaville are known as Illiterates. Caution begins to fall in love with Natasha, but she cannot reciprocate because she has never been introduced to the emotion of love and the words which signify it. Caution’s feelings towards Natasha are so strong that he feels compelled to teach her how to forge these connections. The dictionary is the bible of Alphaville, and everything is subservient to logic. Caution accomplishes this by introducing her to poetry—words given artistic value and not just one-to-one practical functions. This is how she achieves emotionality. Natasha’s breakthrough comes when she asks “Love. What is it?”
Pierrot le fou
This rough, deliberately scattershot patchwork of ideas is arguably Godard’s only out-and-out comedy other than Keep Your Right Up. Comparable in terms of tone and structure to the late works of Jerry Lewis, Godard’s madcap farce—a radical re-imagining of Lionel White’s straightforward crime novel Obsession—explores the conflicts that ensue when a Bonnie and Clyde-style couple flee civilization and embark on a life on the road. This loose plot, however, is mostly a thin through-line around which Godard constructs a string of meditations, in-jokes, references and goofy sketches: a parodic re-enactment of America’s involvement in the Vietnam war; a low-key musical number in a forest; a cameo from comedian Raymond Devos delivering a monologue about his many romantic rejections; multiple comic book inserts. Godard once referred to Pierrot le fou as his second “first film,” and its liberated tone, coupled with the rapidity at which it flits from idea to idea, certainly marks a turning point in the filmmaker’s body of work.
Yet the doomed romantic pairing at the film’s center provides a solid emotional anchor for the freewheeling mania. Ferdinand (Jean-Paul Belmondo) sees Marina (Anna Karina) as an out from his suffocating bourgeois life—and the confining structures of society in general—while she sees him as little more than a diversion. Ferdinand’s existential boredom reaches its peak at an exceedingly dull cocktail party, framed by Godard as a spatially abstracted extended sequence of flat, planimetric images, people separated by large empty plain walls and advertisements and illuminated by garish one-tone front-lit lighting patterns. Ferdinand drifts through restlessly—his movement the only element of motion in each image—as the partygoers he encounters express themselves through advertising slogans and communicate with one another based solely on their choice of consumer products. The only one who holds Ferdinand’s attention is Samuel Fuller, then a refugee from a failing Hollywood studio system who sort refuge in Paris who perceived him as a true artist rather than a B-movie shlock peddler. Fuller plays himself and improvised his dialogue, most memorably the answer to the question what is cinema: “Film is like a battleground – there’s love, hate, action, violence death – in one word, emotions.” While Fuller evades the shackles of bourgeois routine through filmmaking, Ferdinand and Marina self-fashion themselves into characters from a pulp fiction novel, self-consciously living out a classic lovers-on-the-run scenario.
Discovering that they are being trailed by Marina’s ex-boyfriend, Joel, who longs for her and has strong connections with the mafia, Ferdinand burns their getaway car, in the process accidentally destroying the suitcase full of money they were meant to live off – Marianne is distraught while Ferdinand is indifferent. Instead, they retreat to a seaside resort on the South of France, where Ferdinand retreats into his art and longs to create “a new form of literature, not to describe the lives of people, but just life, life by itself; what is between people, space, sound colors,, while the neglected Marina feels stifled living in Ferdinand’s shadow, and desires to return to a life of excitement. If Ferdinand longs for the romantic ideal of seclusion, the materialistic Marina is excited only by the prospect of crime, not its destination, longing to live out for “a police novel with cars, revolvers, nightclubs.” Ferdinand is a clear Godard self-insert, and his most parodic self-reflection since King Lear. He’s equal parts overreaching idealist (In an early scene, Pierrot sits in a bath, reading a passage by Élie Faure to his daughter: “Velazquez, after age fifty, no longer painted a definite thing. He drifted around objects by means of air and twilight, he captured in the shadows and the transparent backgrounds the colored palpitations that he made the invisible centre of his silent symphony”; his connection with Rimbaund’s theory that love “must be reinvented” parallels Godard’s desire to reinvent the cinema), selfish lover and self-destructive buffoon. In this self-created garden of Eden, Ferdinand is too concerned with his own insecurities to fully notice Marina’s growing frustration with her position as his muse, expected to emotionally support him while he remains closed off and solipsistic. Godard even provided the handwriting for the notebook Ferdinand compulsively scribbles in.
Even if this gender dynamic, informed by Godard’s recent divorce from Karina, whiffs of essentialism, his rendering of Ferdinand is anything but self-aggrandizing. Pierrot is far removed from traditional ideas of heroism: when he is taken hostage by two mob henchmen who demand he give them information of Marina’s whereabouts, he immediately folds under threat of torture, even though this may mean putting her in grave danger. Even his final demise is treated as farce. After painting his fame in blue and writing in his journal the words art and death. He climbs to the top of a mountain, clumsily ties a bundle of dynamite sticks to his head and prepares to say his final words, but he forgets what he wanted to say and instead says “after all, I’m an idiot.” Shortly after lighting the fuse, however, he regrets the decision and desperately stumbles around on the floor, attempting to stamp out the fire. His death is framed in extreme long shot, the explosion a small element in the frame off-balancing the otherwise graceful landscape composition.
First Name: Carmen
Inspired in equal measure by Georges Bizet’s opera and Otto Preminger’s contemporary-set reimagining Carmen Jones (1954), First Name: Carmen cross-cuts between four strands that play out simultaneously: A post-Maoist terrorist cell run by Carmen X (the newcomer Maruschka Detmers, a last minute replacement after Isabelle Adjani left the set after extended creative clashes with Godard) plot to rob a bank to fund a movie; Carmen’s uncle, a burnt out filmmaker played by Godard himself, who amuses himself during his creative drought by role-playing as a patient in a mental ward; a string quartet rehearses Beethoven; and the waves lap gently on the Normandy cost. In the process of the robbery, a young security guard, Joseph (Jacques Bonnaffé), falls hopelessly in love with Carmen, and, following her, he neglects to turn her into the authorities in favor of running away with her and helping her criminal cell plot to steal a large sum of money from a rich industrialist. Godard opted not to use any of the score from the original opera but instead to score the feature with Beethoven’s Quartets, arranged in order of composition, beginning with the Ninth and ending with the Sixteenth. The music was performed live by the Prat Quartet, recorded by Godard and interspersed throughout the film, with the music paralleling the action and vice versa.
First Name: Carmen was Godard’s first take on the lovers-on-the-run genre since Pierrot le fou, though here the genders are pointedly reversed, with Carmen being the more active hero and Joseph her secondary supporter. Compared to the puckish irreverence of the earlier film, First Name: Carmen is dominated by a tone of downbeat melancholy. The poppy color pallet and wide framings of Pierrot have given way to compact, shallow-focus images, with power relations expressed alongside planes of depth. Godard himself worked as sole cinematographer, with Raoul Coutard working as a lighting consultant, and shot the project on a cheap Aato camera using only natural light. Joseph’s all-consuming, self-destruction obsession with the uncaring Carmen is painted as being wholly pathetic, without the slapstick comedy that cushioned the motional blow in the earlier film—First Name Carmen was, in this writer’s eyes, Godard’s most emotionally impactful feature until he made In Praise of Love. Godard credits the line “If I love you, that’s the end of you” from Preminger’s Carmen Jones as the inspiration for the narrative, and its influence can be seen on the one-sided nature of the relationship, with Joseph wholly giving himself over to the opportunistic Carmen, who at first manipulates his vulnerability for material gain, then for purely sadistic ends.
First Name: Carmen exemplifies the sustained air of melancholy and disillusionment that takes precedence in Godard’s 80s work. The young idealists that occupied Godard’s early work now being replaced with a generation who have already been hardened by financial pressures. No longer radicals, the youths are only preoccupied with furthering their own careers and investigating how to work within this capitalist system rather than against it. For the first time, the act of creation is portrayed as being reliant on material circumstances that are unlikely to come together; corporate demands clashing with idealism and artistic aspirations, the process of filmmaking so costly it demands drastic actions be taken to fuel the financing Seen through this lens, the film’s closing title card “In Memoriam: Small Movies” reads less as a punchline and more as a genuine eulogy and Godard’s presence as a disillusioned recluse disinterestedly watching over the new generation of artists.  
Shot one: a grainy, high-angle wide shot looking down at the entrance to an arcade, the frame bordered by marble pillars. The area is busy, with pedestrians crossing back and forth along the bottom part of the frame. In the left corner, a couple are locked in a fixed embrace. It’s unclear which portion of the image we’re supposed to be focusing on, and whether any significant story information is being relayed to the viewer. The image freezes, and we hear a man talking about a young woman in the centre of the image. He rewinds the footage slightly, and then replays the last few seconds in slow-motion, revealing that she is pacing back and forth a little in front of the building. The man narrates, pinning a motive on her: she’s hesitating whether or not to enter. Shot two: the source of the first shot is revealed, a small surveillance camera placed on the hotel balcony. A woman’s legs are visible in the frame, looking down at the site directly, and offers a countering view: “It looks more like she’s afraid.” The third shot finally provides a clear view of the situation: three characters are holed up in a hotel room, watching on a video feed footage from a video camera set up on the terrace outside. Uncle William Prospero (Laurent Terzieff), the detective at the hotel were the film is set, the Hotel Concorde-St-Lazare. However, he lost his job when he was unable to find the assassin who killed “the Prince in the same room where the surveillance stake-out takes place. His nephew is Isidore (Jean-Pierre Leaud), who is an expert at analysing images. Prospero has holed himself up in the room, obsessively trying to find the true identity of the prince’s murderer. The woman is Arielle (Aurelle Doazan), Isidore’s fiancé, who works with the pair in the hopes that the shared pursuit will rejuvenate their disintegrating relationship.
In contrast to Godard’s other 80s work, Détective is surprisingly grounded in traditional notions of characterization and linear storytelling, yet the solution to the mystery the film sets up at the outset is secondary to the allegory for fiction filmmaking Godard creates. Prospero’s investigation primarily involves the obsessive recording and interpretation of images, constructing meaning by juxtaposing different elements of each tape and focusing on certain facets of each video while ignoring others. In other words, he acts like an editor, attempting to take an amass of visual information and refine it in retrospect to produce a clear, unified narrative (I wouldn’t be surprised if the film was an influence of Abel Ferrara’s New Rose Hotel). The central theme of Détective is the integration of digital images into the fabric of everyday life. Real-life actions are constantly being captured by surveillance cameras without their subject’s knowledge to be re-watched and picked apart in retrospect. TV screens are a major part of the mise en scène, throwing imagery into the background of compositions. , creating the sense of video technologies as a medium that connects us to a rich cinematic heritage while simultaneously devaluing the image.
In Praise of Love
Godard’s first film of the new millennium explicitly positions itself as existing at a transitional stage in the medium of cinema. The first half is set in Paris, filmed on black-and-white 16mm film stock, and composed almost entirely as a series of static wide shots; as such, it reflects not only as the origins of film as an art form but also Godard’s beginnings as a director. The second takes place on the shores of Normandy, rendered alien by the use of low-res handheld digital cameras. The oversaturated colours turn the beachside landscape into an abstracted wash of acidic reds and searing oranges. Most of the footage was shot single-handedly by Godard himself or his second cameraman Christopher Pollock, whom Godard instructed to shoot the location “like a Japanese tourist.” An assistant on set, described Godard’s approach as approximating “an amateur personal archive, a family archive, like images that Berthe herself would have made or could have made.” Working against standard cinematic shorthand, Godard frames the black-and-white section of the narrative as the present day and the colour half as an extended flashback. Godard instead uses these forms for emotional purposes, conjuring a sense of a present that is overshadowed by longing for things past, and a past that seems more emotionally immediate for the film’s protagonist than the immediate moment.
And memory—personal, cultural, political—is the central subject of the feature. Edgar (Bruno Putzulu), still consumed with recollections of a romantic affair he embarked upon two years earlier, is seeking to produce an art piece exploring the theme of love, which will involve three couples (young, adult, and old) experiencing four stages of love (which he describes as: “the encounter,” “physical passion”, “separation” and “reunion”). Although Edgar is filled with ideas, he struggles to find the means to express them. He struggles to decide on which form the project will take, a novel, film, play or painting; when considering each, he is deterred by the particular limitations of each medium. Furthermore, he struggles to find an actress to play his lead character, Eglantine. Much of the first section concerns Edgar’s interviews with prospective candidates, which were, in fact, conducted spontaneously by Godard, with Putzulu’s voice being dubbed in later. The project is being bankrolled by Rosenthal, an elderly arts dealer who grew close to Edgar’s grandfather during their time spent together in a concentration camp. Rosenthal is himself consumed by the past—he tries fruitlessly to track down a set of family portraits stolen by German occupiers during the war and remains obsessed with the memory of Edgar’s deceased mother, with whom he became infatuated during his youth. In the tales of both men, we see self-perpetuating cycles of memory feeding into art and vice versa. The present moment immediately slips into history, and it is dominated by history.
Two years earlier, we see that Edgar is working a musical piece about Simone Weil, part of which involves heavy research on the role of Catholics in the Resistance. He is accompanied by filmmaker Jean-Henri Roger (former member of the Dziga Vertoz group) to an interview with historian Jean Lacouture in a seaside hotel. The owners of the establishment are Jean and Madame Bayard, former resisters who are selling the movie rights of their life story to a Hollywood production company owned by Steven Spielberg to save their business from financial ruin. The pair meet with a group of producers and state politicians, who explain their intentions to transform their history into a crowd-pleasing narrative of romance and heroism. Their granddaughter Berthe (Cecile Camp), who shares Edgar’s temperament and his idealism, laments their decision and rues that the U.S. acquire the rights to the histories of others in absence of their own rich history, and that the homogenized culture of Hollywood storytelling simplifies narratives into clichés and formulas. Godard views these historical atrocities through the lens of the present day, and his young protagonists themselves experience stories of the Holocaust second-hand, either through stories told through others, cultural artifacts or popular art. The film concerns itself with the manner in which historical images become commodified and circulated for mass consumption. The variety of image-making techniques used by Godard reflects on the shift in cinema from an ontologically direct, material based medium to an abstracted one of zeroes and ones, a medium in which images can circle around in the ether of cyberspace endlessly, and how living in an image-saturated society alters our relationship to the collective past.

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