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Jean-Luc Godard (Under Construction)

by Zachary Phillip Brailsford
The films of Godard I’ve seen. This list will continue to grow, and I will add descriptions of each film as time goes on. It will likely resemble my Jia Zhangke list. Charlotte et Son Jules – I saw this quite a while after I had been watching Godard films, putting it off for reasons unbeknownst to me, and to anyone else. I remember watching the first few seconds of it after finishing Breathless the first time, but never progressing any further. In any case, I put it on a few months ago to watch this little short about a guy who is still in love with the woman who left him for another man, and it was rather delightful. Sure, it seems as… Read more

The films of Godard I’ve seen.

This list will continue to grow, and I will add descriptions of each film as time goes on. It will likely resemble my Jia Zhangke list.

Charlotte et Son Jules – I saw this quite a while after I had been watching Godard films, putting it off for reasons unbeknownst to me, and to anyone else. I remember watching the first few seconds of it after finishing Breathless the first time, but never progressing any further. In any case, I put it on a few months ago to watch this little short about a guy who is still in love with the woman who left him for another man, and it was rather delightful. Sure, it seems as though there’s nothing to it, that it’s just a simple story of ended love which ends with a punchline that throws it directly into farce, and, even if that is the case, it’s still a fun few minutes of film, and it gives a kind of vibe for the first few films that Godard would make, stylistically (namely Breathless and Le Petit Soldat). Overall, it’s quite enjoyable.

Breathless – This was the first Godard film I ever saw. I received it for Christmas in 2007, and then, a few days later, I watched The 400 Blows for the first time, and this one directly after (or, at least, the first few minutes). To begin with, I was put off, probably because it was radically different from the elegant and beautiful classicism of the Truffaut picture – it was rough, with shots that seemed to come hastily and out of nowhere, and with editing that seemed triggered by nothing more than the strong urge to cut. Then, though, a little later, after I hadn’t been watching any movies, I started it over and got sucked in immediately. Everything I had seen as flaws then came to full view as a wondrous new way to view a movie, and it was just something that hit me like a ton of bricks. If ever there was a movie that drove me directly into the fifties, it was this one, with its fantastic score, its awesome style and crazy characterizations, and that kind of youth rebelliousness which would become big in the sixties. It is a great film, one that I could watch over and over.

Le Petit Soldat – I recently purchased a copy of Richard Brody’s book Everything is Cinema: The Working Life of Jean-Luc Godard. In it, there is a chapter on Le Petit Soldat, discussing the way in which the film was made, especially considering Anna Karina’s scenes and the specialized use of non-synch sound. In my mind, a view of the film came into focus. All I could think was, “If the way I’m picturing the film from Brody’s words is true, this will be my favorite Godard film.” It turns out, I didn’t picture almost anything correctly (I had later Godard on the brain), but it was still an incredible film to watch. Godard’s film about the French dealing with the Algerian war is something a little unlike I’ve seen before. His use of sound is like that of Fritz Lang’s in M, only utilizing what would be heard and focused on by the characters. The way the film plays with the expectations of the audience (especially in one remarkable scene as the hero attempts to shoot another man in a car parallel to him) is fantastic. And the scene in which Anna Karina is photographed has to be one of the absolute highlights from any Godard film to date. In it, Godard the man is captured perfectly. It is perhaps a slightly difficult film to sit through (the middle section seems to drag a bit, in my opinion), but it is well worth the time to view it.

A Woman is a Woman – I like A Woman is a Woman. There, I said it. This third feature by Godard is quite an interesting one. It is by no means Godard’s best film (far from it, in fact), and yet there are still incredible flourishes in it that make it one hell of a film to absorb. It was Godard’s first color film, and his first widescreen film, as well. In it, he details the (incredibly unrealistic) life of a stripper who wants to have a baby by her boyfriend, who is unwilling to oblige her until they are married. Compared to the style and tone of his first two features, this one is radically different, almost at once calling forth things that he would be more apt to do further into the sixties than here, although it is by no means as radical as he would get. There are, yes, things about it that irk me, and quite a lot – for instance, any time the camera is addressed directly by the characters, for some reason, I am always put off. This is not always the case with films, nor with any other Godard movie I know of, but in this one it was too self-conscious, and it almost played with the audience too much. In the end, the film is almost a fascinating mistake. It plays more like a Truffaut film from the Antoine Doinel cycle than a Godard film, although infused with such extremes as to make it less-than fully enthralling. I do like this film, although it does not stand amongst Godard best works.

Vivre sa Vie – This was, I think, the fourth Godard film I saw, and it, at the time I saw it, felt much more like what Godard would end up doing a little later in his career, specifically in comparison to Masculin Feminin. The rigid structure stood out immediately, with the often very static shots from behind, with no handheld camera in sight, like there had been with Breathless. It was quite a different film, one focused solely on Anna Karina, and one that hit me pretty hard. Already knowing how the film was going to end didn’t make the punch any less hard to the gut. Essentially, the film is about Nana, a woman who dumps her husband, Paul, and decides to become a prostitute. Each segment of the film feels alive with freshness, even as the camera itself remains stationary in its full-frame, black and white glory. To be completely honest, I wasn’t entirely sure how to respond to the film as a whole. I knew that what I had seen was something else, and something great at that, most likely, but it was not like really any other film in terms of the way that it played out that I had ever seen. It is definitely one to watch, and it is one that I cannot wait to see again. Also, the scene in the pool hall, in which the camera watches as a carefree Nana dances around the room for a guy is simply great cinema.

Contempt -

To be continued…

Savvy

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