Our first meeting with Godard took place in Rolle in May 2016.1 At that time, the idea for The Image Book had already taken shape: a four-part structure became six parts (the five "fingers" as a long introduction and the "hand" that includes them all), while the script contained many shots and texts that would be used in the film (some things would disappear, however, and other textual and visual quotes would be taken from the same sources). The editing had hardly begun. In Godard's small, smoky editing room, we nevertheless had the chance to watch the first eleven minutes of the film—everything that been done up until then.
During our second visit in March 2018, the film was almost finished. The room in which we talked (and where Zoé Bruneau watches a character from Fritz Lang's Metropolis in Goodbye to Language) has now been turned into a small screening room. This is where the first screenings of The Image Book take place, in conditions Godard judges to be the most appropriate. The room is designed in a particular manner: a big TV screen in the center, two big speakers set forward toward the viewers who sit against the opposite wall. These three elements structuring the space recall the ultimately abandoned idea of making a film-sculpture for three screens. But most important is to distance the sound from the image as Godard stresses during our short conversation with him and Fabrice Aragno just after the screening. Two days later, we returned to his place to talk about the film in detail.
DÉBORDEMENTS: We'd like to talk about your new film, starting with its title, The Image Book, because it is the first thing that is out of the ordinary. It's well known that your titles always come before the film...
JEAN-LUC GODARD: Yes, but here the title came afterwards. For a long time the real title, which is now a subtitle, was Image et parole (Image and Speech).
D: Yes, and before that there was also Tentative de bleu (Attempt at Blue),2 Le grand tableau (noir) (The Great Painting/[Black]board) and other versions. What was it then if it was not the title that provided the direction, or as you said, imposed an obligation?
J-L.G.: Here it was like every title: a summary. We're going to talk about this. And then, we write "image" singular. It wasn't a book with images, like we see so many of, like books about painters and paintings for example. It was the image. Ah yes, I wanted to ask you, I was having trouble remembering: in The Children Play Russian, there's a moment where it says the Russians have two words for image...
D.: Yes, "obraz" ("образ") and "izobrajenié" ("изображение").
J-L.G.: And I've forgotten the difference...
D.: "Obraz" is not only what one sees, it's vaster, rather metaphysical...
J-L.G.: Yes, and the other one? It's what Americans call "pictures"?
D.: Yes, that's it.
J-L.G.: Okay. But in French I think I said in the film that the image, "obraz," was...I showed an example of an icon. Today, this is an icon [he holds up the screen of his smartphone and laughs].
D.: Do you remember what your starting point was for this film?
J-L.G.: It really started when I thought of the five fingers. I said to myself: "We'll make a film where there are five fingers and then what the five fingers make together, the hand." And then that's when I thought of...maybe another part afterward. But this took time. The five fingers came quickly: the first finger is remakes, copies; the second finger is war, and then I found this old text in French, Soirées de Saint-Pétersbourg (Joseph de Maistre, 1821); and then the third was a verse by Rilke ("those flowers between the rails, in the confused wind of travels"); the fourth finger was—right, the fingers came almost at the same time—it was Montesquieu's book, The Spirit of the Laws (1748); and the fifth was La région centrale, which is by an American, Michael Snow,3 that I shortened: we don't see all of this anymore [He makes a gesture imitating a circular panoramic]. And then I had the idea that the central region was the love between a man and a woman, which is taken from Dovzhenko's Earth.
D.: What is the connection between this couple and Michael Snow's film?
J-L.G.: Well, the couple is the central region, which Michael Snow doesn't say, but never mind, he was just doing La région centrale.
D.: This couple is the real center of the film?
J-L.G.: That's up to the viewer to say. Or Bécassine. [He glances at a collage on the wall with an image containing an image from the French comic strip Bécassine—as seen in the film—and he laughs.]
D.: Or Fabrice Aragno, who, after re-watching the film with us two days ago, pointed out that this couple was at the heart of the film, that it is smack in the middle.
J-L.G.: Yes, perhaps. I didn't think of it. Everyone thinks about all of this as they wish. When I re-watch it and I think about it, I'm also thinking about other things and that's good. And then if I'm not mistaken, there's a shot where we see a grandmother and a granddaughter behind a truck that's going away. And "Earth" is written there.
D.: Yes, that's Barnet's Alyonka.
J-L.G.: It's Alyonka, yes. It isn't Dovzhenko, but "Earth" is written there.
D.: That comes from Histoire(s) du cinéma.
J-L.G.: Yes. I reused things from Histoire(s) du cinéma often, but often with different sounds.
D.: Is that a caption that appears in the film (pointing at a painted plate on the shelf)?
J-L.G.: "Speech and image"? Yes, I think it appears once. I don't remember.
D.: We really liked it in the film along with the one with the title; it's a great image, but it's also a metaphor: speech becoming an image.
J-L.G.: Yes and then the image becoming speech. That also comes from...I don't know if you know it, years ago Anne-Marie wrote a small book called Images en parole (Images into Speech) (but "image" in the plural and "speech" in the singular). I can give it to you. [He brings out the book whose title is drawn over with a black marker.] They're small stories that talk about some people who live here.And I wrote the preface.4 There's a shot of the book in the film.
D.: Was the Middle East already there at the very beginning of your project?
J-L.G.: I don't remember. No, I don’t think so, not at the very beginning, but rather quickly. It was Arabia and Arabie heureuese5 because I remembered a... At the end of the 19th century, "Arabie heureuese" was a term French writers used frequently, the Saint-Simonians and the like. And I remembered a book by an American, Frederic Prokosch, which was called in French Hasards de l’Arabie heureuse.6
D.: Which you quote in the film and which was supposed to be placed on the ground in the first room of your Collages de France project.7
J-L.G.: I don't remember. But you know better than me. [He laughs.]
D.: There is also the sequence in Histoire(s) du cinéma where you connect the childhood of cinema with the art of the Saint-Simonians, with a dream of the Orient...
J-L.G.: Yes, but that's because one of the leaders or a spokesperson of the Saint-Simonians was named Enfantin.8
D.: Yes, yes. And you talk about the railroad here as well.9
J-L.G.: But that comes from my maternal grandfather because he built the railroad in Turkish Smyrna in a small town that was called Cassaba. And Cassaba was the name of my first dog. My grandfather was very rich. He belonged to the...I still remember it became the Banque de Paris et des Pays-Bas, which is a very well-known bank today, but it used to be called the Ottoman Bank.10
D.:The Image Book slowly became an archeological enterprise as you say. You took this new direction in the company of Yervant Gianikian and Angela Ricci Lucchi, two Italian filmmakers whose presence in the film is quite significant. Their article Notre caméra analytique (Our Analytic Camera) begins with these words: "We travel while cataloguing, we catalogue while traveling." You quote at least three shots from their films including one of a train that enters a tunnel and one of a film roll unwinding...
J-L.G.: That's an American film, I think, or English... [He looks for the shot in a large notebook containing a kind of a script of the film with notes.] Here, it's called Reel-Unreel.
D.: Yes, but I'm talking about another shot. It's at the beginning of Remakes: a film that is being unwound.
J-L.G.: A film? That's unwinding? Yes, that's the film by the two Italians.
D.: And it looks a little like an unending road.
D.: You add sound from another film, a documentary about rock musicians whose name I've forgotten, mentioning Orpheus coming back from his long voyage. Since it is also an archival film, we might think it's a journey into the past...
J-L.G.: Oh, I don't think about any of that. There are several films that were given to me by two French people, one of whom is in the credits, whose name is Nicole Brenez, and the other one is named... Ha, as soon as I look for a word, it runs away like an ant. And then it suddenly comes back three months later. No, I forgot...Bernard Eisenschitz! Who is a specialist of Russian cinema and who gave me one or two Russian films.
D.: I thought it had to do with archeology because Gianikian and Ricci Lucchi do just that, they look for something in the past in order to illuminate the present.
D.: In your work it's a little bit of the same thing except that by following Benjamin's idea of constellations between the past and present, you directly introduce this present that needs to be illuminated: you show images of Islamic fighters in the first part, Remakes...
J-L.G.: Yes, but that only comes because a "remake" is a copy. In Rossellini's film we see people thrown into the sea and then afterward in the Islamist film we see them thrown into the sea again. Whereas Rossellini's film [Paisa] has just said "La guerra era finita." [He laughs.] And that's all. I don't see anything else.
D.: And yet, there are two shots of Islamic fighters in the first part: one is documentary while the other is taken from a...
J-L.G.: ...fiction film.
D.: Sissako's Timbuktu. Your archeological terrain includes the entire imaginary as well.
J-L.G.: Yes, yes, of course.
D.: So it is not the current situation in the Middle East that caused you to look at this region?
J-L.G.: No. It's that the Arab world, without knowing it well at all, has since my childhood always spoken to me a lot.
D.: But why make a film about Arabia today?
J-L.G.: Ah, well, we could say it works out well. It comes from me. From Arab women who I was in love with and then it didn't work out, things like that. But there was something I liked about the Arabs. And then, in my grandfather's era, with the dog Cassaba, my grandfather had a chauffeur and this chauffeur was Algerian. They were really rich bourgeois people and we ate off plates decorated with scenes of the conquest of Algeria. That must all play a role. And then since we talk about the Middle East today. There are a lot of things like that. I had an uncle who was a captain of I don't know what and who was part of the... In Syria before the war, when Syria was a French protectorate, while Iraq was an English protectorate. All of that.
D.: That comes more from within than from the news.
J-L.G.: Yes, but the news comes into it. It reminds me of this. I follow events a little in the newspaper. With Anne-Marie, the Swiss, we don't know, we're a bit French refugees. She came here because of her daughter, for school, etc. And in fact, if we watch TV, it's French TV and if we read the papers, they're French papers. We read three: Libération, Le Canard enchaîné and...
J-L.G.: And Charlie Hebdo.
D.: Are you not happy here?
J-L.G.: For the landscapes, yes, which are easier... And we didn't have... Anne-Marie is from Lausanne, I've always been between Paris and here, and the shore on the other side of Lake Geneva, the French coast. When we left Paris, we tried Grenoble, but that didn't work. So we didn't really have a place, while here there is still an old place. My father is a naturalized Swiss citizen, he came to settle here in a clinic next door and where I was also treated. We could have gone to France, but we didn't know where, there are a hundred thousand places. And here, we had one that was... Well, at a certain point we stayed. We don't like the Swiss a lot, aside from one or two nice people and the dogs above all.
D.: And Ramuz, I think.
J-L.G.: Ramuz is from childhood too. Because I remember books by Ramuz that we would read with my grandfather who was into literature. We'd read them aloud together.
D.: But you wouldn't like to go back to France?
J-L.G.: Ah, no way. But at times I say to myself that I'd like Rolle to be in France.
D.: We'd like to come back to Sissako, his film Timbuktu...
J-L.G.: Yes, it's a good film.
D.: It seems to fulfill a role as a witness that you find very important, if not essential, for cinema. But does it also fulfill the role of being cinema in the sense in which you distinguish between cinema and films?
J-L.G.: That comes from Cahiers du cinéma, from the New Wave where gradually in relationship to films as they were being made and even to cinema as it was being taught, we liked people like Epstein, for example, or Flaherty. Epstein also because he wrote a lot about cinema: L'Intelligence d'une machine and so forth, which I read sometimes. I don't know it very well. I know...a fragment, a sentence and that's it. I never read all of Dostoyevsky, for example, but I remember some things. I read Vasily Grossman seriously, I liked it a lot...11 Besides, he's not well known. Brodski isn't well known either. I remember a book by Brodski called Byzance, which is very beautiful. And the Russians have always... I'm still a bit for the Russians against everyone else. But that comes from, I don't know, novels, music...I don't know a lot about music or about painting...
D.: In Remakes, you connect images of war or peace treaties with images of couples. For example, Depardieu says to Laurence Masliah: "This is our first argument," then there are shots from Timbuktu and Les Carabiniers where a weapon comes between the man and the woman. This connection is also present in Goodbye to Language and The Three Disasters, I think.
J-L.G.: Yes. That may also come from me because I was married twice. It never worked and it was a lot better that way because... I was only interested outside. And then, I think the young women I liked were mainly interested because I was famous. So it would last a year and a half, two years, no more.
D.: Fabrice Aragno told us two or three years ago that one version of the title included the word "travels." At the time, you wanted to shoot part of the film in Saint Petersburg, and several shots were filmed in Tunisia. Did you plan other trips?
J-L.G.: No. I chose Tunisia because I knew, I remembered an actress... [Ghalia Lacroix, who plays the role of Djamilia in For Ever Mozart and who appears several times in The Image Book] Then I was told she'd left her husband who is a very well known director in France named Kechiche. At the time of For Ever Mozart she was already with Kechiche. At a certain point they said: she's gone to Tunisia. I found this out and so we had someone we knew there who gave us two or three addresses of where to shoot and so forth. That's how Tunisia was done. I'd rather have chosen Algeria, I have a kind of feeling for Algeria, as I explained. But it wouldn't have been possible. Algerians are too special... Tunisians are very kind, I don't know about Moroccans, but Algerians are... [He clenches his fist and makes a serious face.] They're different. Besides, the one you see in the film, who is the nephew of Sheik Ben Kadem,12 that's a photo take during the Algerian War of an Algerian fighter.
D.: So La Marsa is because of this woman?
J-L.G.: No, or a little bit, but not really. But we had someone who I'd known...how many years ago?... Twelve or fifteen years, in a film.
D.: There is also Salammbô.13
J-L.G.: There's Salammbô, yes. There is even Louis IX, Saint Louis, who died in Carthage.
D.: Ah yes. But you weren't planning to go to La Marsa yourself?
J-L.G.: I was, I went three times with Fabrice [Aragno] and Jean-Paul [Battaggia] to film things left and right. Without really knowing what would come out of it. Then it came little by little.
D.: Did you shoot some shots yourself?
J-L.G.: Very few. One or two, I think. No, it was Fabrice and Jean-Paul.
D.: And are these two or three shots in the film?
J-L.G.: Uh... [He thinks.] There is one. It was simply... Yes, it may be from... [He laughs.] The hotel was facing the beach and yes, there was a street. Maybe a shot like that, from the hotel room. And then the shot of the moving palm trees. That's another hotel. But that's it. [He laughs.]
D.: You didn't know in advance what needed to be filmed?
J-L.G.: No, not at all. What we film should be nourishing or not nourishing. It's more like painters when they take a walk and they make... I really like Delacroix's watercolors of landscapes and cities. He did a lot of them.
D.: In the script, there were a lot of shots filmed in Tunisia especially for the film. We might have imagined L'Arabie heureuese being primarily composed of them. In reality, there are not so many.
J-L.G.: Yes, there are fewer because there are mainly shots taken from Arab films, especially Tunisian films. Because there is a distributor not far from here in Fribourg, a bit further than Lausanne on the way to Bern, called Trigon, which specializes in films from Maghreb. And we asked if we could buy everything they had from Maghreb.
D.: And you watched all of them?
J-L.G.: Yes. That's what takes the most time, watching what we've filmed or what exists. [He laughs.] That takes a lot of time. And sometimes you take something and then two months later you find it isn't good, but you've put it in for the moment and you take something else. For example, the shot of the girl crying at one point in L'Arabie. I still have plenty of Tunisian and Algerian films that I haven't seen. If I had seen them, there may be something else there.
D.: I imagine there were also some very bad films.
J-L.G.: Oh yes, very bad, but that made no difference, I wasn't looking for good or bad films like in the past, but for something.
D.: In the third part devoted to travels, there is a poem by Baudelaire that you've already quoted several times and that's called Voyage, a very short excerpt where Baudelaire seems to be talking about cinema before cinema.
J-L.G.: Yes, yes, exactly.
D.: "Show us, as if stretched across canvas, your recollection in their horizons' frames."14
J-L.G.: In French, in the past, to say "we're going to the cinema this evening," we would say "we're buying ourselves a canvas."15 And then a canvas is also a painting. No, no, exactly. The entire late 19th century is the beginning of cinema before Lumière, strictly speaking. The technology came later. Here, now, it comes first, so things are a bit reversed.
D.: In your work there are often ideas and quotes that return, but sometimes you also say the same things with different quotes and vice versa.
J-L.G.: Yes, certainly.
D.: I see something like this in the Baudelaire sequence. A few lines later, Baudelaire says: "It's the bitter savant, who goes traveling! The world, monotonous and small, makes us see our image."16
J-L.G.: It's in Histoire(s) du cinéma.
D.: Yes, yes, but here, you kind of say the same thing without quoting Baudelaire. He talks about the monotonous world and you take an excerpt of a soundtrack from a film, I don't know which, where someone says that even among communists money counts the most.
J-L.G.: Yes. [He laughs.]
D.: I'd say it's more or less the same thing, this monotony of travel...
J-L.G.: Yes, certainly. I'd still really like to travel, but the technology would be needed to... We can move with what I am now calling language or with our heads, as we like, but if there were a rocket that could bring me somewhere right away, here, I do this... [He touches the screen of his smartphone.] If I put "Vladivostok" here and I press here, I stay here, I don't go to Vladivostok. That makes me sad. And then, at the same time, I know that once you're in Vladivostok, well, you press here again and then you put "Berlin"... Because every time I go on vacation with Anne-Marie—we don't go anymore, but...—after one day, the only thing we want is to leave again. In fact, it's the trip itself that's nice. In the past...in Russia, there must still be night trains. There aren't anymore here in Europe.
D.: Yes there are. In Italy.
J-L.G.: In Italy? I liked that. Because you go to the train station, you lie down in bed, and already in the morning you're somewhere. And then at night you get back into bed in the train and leave. That's what I call a nice trip.
D.: Perhaps it is this monotony of the world that allows you to talk about the Middle East of today by referring to European authors from the 18th and 19th centuries, like Joseph de Maistre for example and his concept of "divine war," which brings us back to what is happening in Syria or elsewhere....
J-L.G.: I wouldn't be able now to stay in the Middle East very long. But I went there at one point when we were making Ici et ailleurs. I went there four or five times. I knew people in Beyrouth and Jordan, fedayeens, including this poet who died but who we hear with his beautiful voice at one point. I don't know what he says, but...
D.: In the film?
J-L.G.: Yes, in the film, when we see the dead and we hear machine gun sounds and then he recites in Arabic, it's very beautiful.17 I like Arabic a lot. I don't speak it, but I find it to be much more musical than French or German or other languages.
D.: You asked us what [Vladimir] Vissotsky is talking about in the song you quote. It is called Wolf Hunt.18 It's in fact not very easy to translate Vissotsky because he uses language in quite a special manner, I'd say it's poetic, but it also resembles prison songs. I'll try anyway...
J-L.G.: No, no, not at all. I'm fine leaving it... I just should learn the language. If I don’t learn the language... I'm against subtitles, for example.
J-L.G.: Because you don't have time to look at the image if it is interesting. So, every film is subtitled because the images are not interesting. And a story has to be followed. It's always a story about a man who meets a lady and then there are problems, etc. So, then you need subtitles. And then, you read the text but if the text and the image are interesting at the same time, that's uninteresting. No, I've always been for a dubbed version, not with voice-over but dubbing, but done well. And that requires as much money as the original film. You have to find the voices and everything, so it's not done. It's done a bit in France for what they call blockbusters, big films, etc. So they make a dubbed version that's even less interesting than the original version.
D.: But what you do with the sound has to be heard, it's a little like music.
J-L.G.: Yes, it's like music. People aren't bothered not understanding at the opera. Generally at the opera, you don't understand what the singer is singing, but in cinema you have to understand. Well, understand a bit stupidly: that a gentleman meets a lady and what have you, and that's uninteresting.
D.: With regards to dubbing, I think it's almost impossible to do it well. Or you should do it yourself.
J-L.G.: Yes, but it's not interesting because if you dub, all of the sounds that come from different languages...19 It's as if you were dubbing a film where there was only music and then every time there's a piano, you'd dub it with a violin. [He laughs.]
D.: It's a dead-end then.
J-L.G.: Yes, but the only dead-end is to show... And if it makes people want to learn languages, that's very good.
D.: That's exactly our case.
J-L.G.: Translation is a little useful. All of the books I read... If I read Dostoyevsky's The Idiot, it's in French, but I know I'm losing a lot. But he has so much talent that in spite of the translation, you're captured, if you will.
D.: To come back to Vissotsky, how did you find this song?
J-L.G.: I heard it because I was a kind of —how do you say it in Russian?— a suitor of the actress Marina Vlady. And Vlady was Vissotsky's wife. So it reminded me... That's why I found a film with an image of Marina Vlady next to an old sheik. It's not very clear because I didn't want to do her wrong and so forth, but... I got in a lot of arguments with her because she only made bad films.
D.: Still, it's surprising that you didn't know what Vissotsky's song is about because it corresponds perfectly to the subject of the fourth part, L'Esprit des lois (The Spirit of the Laws), where it appears. It's about rules and breaking rules in order to survive.
J-L.G.: But I knew there were Russian protest poets and singers, Mayakovsky, Mandelstam, Yesenin, and others later who I don't know... And then all of the books from this time period and the writers who left Russia, etc. I became very interested in this, a little as though it were my family in a certain way. And so Vissotsky was a protest poet, a protest singer, so it didn't have anything to do with Marina Vlady. And I found that it corresponded very well to the somewhat mad peasant character in Earth. That's all.
D.: In the first version of the film we saw two years ago, the Wild Bunch logo was still there. It's gone now. Can you tell us the story of your separation?
J-L.G.: Yes, things were going well. And then at one point, six months ago or a little longer, they made a bunch of bad deals, they were often producing very bad films and they lost a lot of money. They didn't have anything left and they couldn't pay us what they owed. So we tried to leave them, we managed to, and then we started over from here. That's all. And then, they were not interested in the film at all. I let them be, it was agreed upon: you give me time, then you do what you want, I don't care. They saw the film when it wasn't finished and they realized that they didn't know what to do with it. All they could think about was how to release it in one or two cinemas or four cinemas... That's worthless. With this one, even if twenty people only see it once, I want for it really to be one time and for people to see it, that's all.
D.: Now that the film has been taken over by Fabrice Aragno's company's Casa Azul you can show it the way you want.
J-L.G.: Yes. We're not looking for money. We're looking around, we need a little money for ourselves, just like you and so on, but that's all.
D.: I think you've been looking for this kind of financial structure for a long time, a kind of self-production...
J-L.G.: No, that's come gradually. Because my first film, Breathless, well my first big film, it bothered me because I'd left my parents and then I found a producer who acted like my dad. I mean, let's say, I give you this and you do this. And so, gradually I learned to spend money, at least to have the right to spend money myself for the film without asking for more. And then after, to have... Rules were necessary, all that... So having a production company and then with the production company we discovered there are rules, the state, everything, and we didn't manage that either. [He laughs.]
D.: But now you're a bit freer to do as you wish.
J-L.G.: We're free to do or not to do anything. Or to be unable. And I'm also tired, I don't want to anymore or I don't know. Because if I won the lottery, I wouldn't make anymore films.
J-L.G.: Yes. Maybe a small film, something, but I don't know. No, still... There's a point when one must stop because afterwards it's...it's no longer the same thing.
D.: And yet, we really hope you continue. To come back to the distribution of The Image Book, you said you'd prefer to show it in small cinemas and rather in a theater than in a cinema.
J-L.G.: Small and theaters or cultural centers or circuses...
D.: Maybe in museums?
J-L.G.: Yes. There may be something at the Centre Pompidou again, but I don't know, it's still very...establishment.20 And it depends if we're given money or not.
D.: Do you want it to be shown on a big screen or a TV screen?
J-L.G.: No, no, it should rather be a TV screen, more or less big, and then in any case with two speakers a little bit away from the screen so that there isn't the temptation—which is very big—of believing that what you hear is what is happening. But when this happens on TV, it will be the sound of the TV for people, there's nothing we can do. That comes from a long time ago, from Lumière and so forth: we believed that what we were seeing was reality. And then this continues today. We try to change the image, to use 3D. I used 3D too at one point to... But with 3D in the last film, I tried to make a difference between speech and the image, not always to use the sound of the image, if you like. If a car goes by or an ambulance or something else, it's not worth it to use the sound. Another sound is needed.
D.: Do you no longer believe the idea that on a TV screen we never see films but only reproductions?
J-L.G.: No, I don't think like that anymore. What bothers me about the screen, whether it's a TV or a computer, is that the sound goes with the image and we believe what we are seeing. That's advertising. If we show you a Mercedes driving and the voice says: "Buy a Mercedes," no, that... It's gradually become like that. And for the moment, they can no longer escape, either like this or maybe in small theatrical performances or Vissotsky's songs. [He laughs.] Now, it's this way, on the Internet or elsewhere...or even at the hairdresser. You can't go the hairdresser and have your hair done the way you want. It's impossible.
D.: That's why you prefer theaters, to be able to do something different...
J-L.G.: Theater people are accustomed to finding a table if there isn't one; if there's not a projector, well, we'll set it up; if the speaker needs to be moved, we can do it. They're ready to do that. It's the essence of theater, if you will. Not big theaters, etc., but it's possible. So, places like that, but point by point: first a little in Switzerland and then maybe one or two times in France. But that's all, that's all. And then, in any case, the French producer kept the rights for almost every country in the world. So the film will be shown in any old way there. In a normal cinema they won't hear the sound like they do here. It's as though it were music, and then...instead of Beethoven's quartet, I don't know, either you hear the pans or something else. (He laughs.)
D.: Still, you've kept the rights for a few countries like Tunisia, Algeria, and Greece...
J-L.G.: Yes, but it won't work either... But I can give the rights to this old actress out of friendship, then tell her try to sell it, for you, it'll make you a little money, I'd be very happy. Then at certain times I'd say: "Invite people over and show them. Make them pay a dinar or two dinars..." Or a kopeck. Like I'm telling you for Saint Petersburg. We're going to show it in a small theater in Lausanne where there may just be this installation, even if it's too...just the screen and two speakers. It's a theater in Vidy that's very well known and that has three or four big rooms, but we'll show it in a very small room. It's moreover—maybe you remember—where I filmed the beginning of For Ever Mozart. There's another director now but who's agreed to do it.
D.: Are you no longer interested in making trailers?21
J-L.G.: No. The film is a trailer.
D.: And before it was more out of necessity or...
J-L.G.: Yeah, sure, but because I liked it, I liked being in that world, and then one wasn't so alone, if you'd like. Between the...what was called the young French cinema, which was the beginning of the grown up French cinema in relation to the older one and so forth. But there were Italians, there were Germans, Canadians, Brazilians; so you had a kind of...as they say, a brotherhood of good cinema. I didn't know the Russians very well, but in Two Times Fifty Years we talk about...what was the name of that woman...I forgot. No, no, the films at the time were quite bad. I don't really like Tarkovsky or...
D.: And you almost never quote him, except for The Sacrifice.
J-L.G.: Yes, one shot.
D.: Six months ago one of your films from the 1980s, The Rise and Fall of a Small Film Company, was released in cinemas for the first time. Alain Bergala describes it as a disaster movie dealing with an unresolvably fatal situation, but it was also already a resistance film. There's a scene towards the end where the extras are asked what is...
D.: Yes. And Léaud's character responds: "It is not our feelings or our lived experiences, but the silent tenacity we affront them with."
J-L.G.: I don't who that's from. It may be Faulkner. I don't remember half of the things. There are often lines like that...in lots of bad novels or things like that, I find a line that's not bad, that is very philosophical.
D.: And you also end The Image Book with a passage on the resistance. And hope.
J-L.G.: Yes, that's taken from Peter Weiss' book.
D.: "Even if nothing turned out how we'd hoped, it would not have changed what we'd hoped for."
J-L.G.: It's very optimistic and besides it's what I think.
D.: Although the film is generally rather... I don't know if one can say dark, but unlike Rise and Fall and most of your other films, there is almost no humor in it.
J-L.G.: Yes. No, the line, "Even among the communists, only money has value." I find that's... [He laughs.] That's from a bad American film from I forget who, etc.
D.: Also in the film is the line: "Believe me, one is never sad enough for the world to become better."
J-L.G.: Yes, that's—he's known, maybe you know of him—Elias Canetti.
D.: Yes, yes.
J-L.G.: And "earth" also, the line: "The earth asphyxiated by the letters of the alphabet..." and all that, that's also Elias Canetti.
D.: Dürer's Melencolia was in the script...
J-L.G.: Yes, that disappeared.
D.: We recently came upon two interpretations of that engraving. One is from Giorgio Agamben. He starts from Benjamin's famous interpretation of one of Paul Klee's angels as the angel of history22 in order in turn to consider Dürer's angel as the angel of art. The first is being pushed towards the future by the storm of progress, but is facing backwards so that he is eternally condemned to look at the past, which he sees as a pile of ruins; whereas the other is immobile, out of time, one might say, and surrounded by objects that are not in ruins but are nevertheless deprived of their functions. This is precisely how they become works of art. It reminds me of a line by Hollis Frampton that you quote in the film: "no activity can become an art until its proper epoch has ended."
D.: The other interpretation is Elie Faure's. He writes: "In the 'Melencolia,' which seems to summarize his whole work, one sees the genius of humanity borne down by lassitude, with all its conquests about it, because, despite its great wings, it has learned nothing of the essentials. Like Faust, Albrecht Dürer has ranged through all the worlds, in pursuit of the illusion which he has never been able to seize."23 That's quite a pessimistic evaluation. On the contrary, for you, this failure and impossibility often serve as a point of departure that paradoxically opens a path. As they say in Rise and Fall, if one is in an age where one cannot succeed, one can always try, make efforts.
J-L.G.: Yes, of course. Yes, but this image of Dürer's angel, the angel of Melencolia made me think... I was thinking of using it and then I noticed other things: if he was melancholic... In fact, he isn't really melancholic, because otherwise we do what Agamben or others do, even Elie Faure and so on or Freud: we try to interpret. And big books and small books are written, well, texts are written. Whereas for me, in fact, what makes the angel melancholic is what he's seeing. But that we don't see. And that's when I thought: he is seeing a couple. And that's when I thought of the couple in Earth who still stir up a little melancholy. And the text over it is a text taken from a book by Maurice Blanchot called Awaiting Oblivion. It's a text from it that... I had shot a sequence earlier in Sarajevo and it was too bad... We didn't use it, it was not good at all, it was too soon.24
This interview as conducted in Rolle on March 21, 2018 by Dmitry Golotyuk and Antonina Derzhitskaya. Thanks to Jean-Luc Godard, Fabrice Aragno and Julien d'Abrigeon. It originally appeared on the website Débordements. Translation by Ted Fendt. Thanks to Marie-Pierre Duhamel Muller for reviewing this translation
Images: Transparances (Yervant Gianikian and Angela Ricci Lucchi, 1998); The Image Book (Jean-Luc Godard, 2018) / The model for the room L'Arabie heureuese as seen in Godard and Anne-Marie Miéville's Reportage amateur (maquette expo) (2006); some of the images also appear in The Image Book (the shot of an Algerian family and two watercolors by August Macke painted in Tunisia in 1914); Souvenir d'utopie (Anne-Marie Miéville, 2006) / À peine j'ouvre les yeux (Leyla Bouzid, 2015); The Image Book / The couple from Dovzhenko's Earth in Histoire(s) du cinéma 1b.