Wednesday, April 4, 2007

Dead Objects Live On

Two or Three Things I Know About Her / 2 ou 3 choses que je sais d'elle
(Jean-Luc Godard, France, 1966, 35mm, 90 mins.)

Juliette Janson: housewife, zombie, robot, prostitute

Living people are often dead already.
-- Narrator


By my count, I've seen 11 Godard films. I'm counting the monumental Histoire(s) du cinéma (1988-1998) series as one, just as I'm counting the short Letter to Jane: An Investigation About a Still (1972) as another (it's an extra on the Tout va bien DVD). I suppose that's a lot, although I've yet to see Les Carabiniers, Alphaville, Pierrot le fou, La Chinoise, Sympathy for the Devil, and Le Petit soldat. That's a lot, too, but once I've seen those six, I may call it a day as far as JLG is concerned.

Between 1960 and 1967, the director was on a roll. My favorites from this period include À bout de souffle (Breathless), Bande à part (Band of Outsiders), and Le Mépris (Contempt). Of course, they're important, influential pictures, but they're also terribly enjoyable -- despite the fact that all three end tragically. After that, his work becomes increasingly sour and schematic. The last film I caught was 2001's Éloge de l'amour (In Praise of Love), which has some lovely DV images, but turned me off the man for good. I found the shots at America, in general, and Steven Spielberg, in particular, mean-spirited. And it felt more like jealousy than genuine criticism.

Godard can be fun! (1964's Band of Outsiders)
This long-winded prelude is to say that I didn't much care for Two or Three Things I Know About Her, one of his most celebrated works. Maybe my expectations were too high. As J. Hoberman (The Village Voice) opines, it's "one of the top ten films of the 20th century." Now that I've read a bit about the movie, I appreciate it more, but I also think it marks the point at which the rot starts to set in. I'm not arguing that Godard didn't make any significant films afterwards, but his anti-American, anti-consumerist message starts to drown out character, story, and sense of fun.
Not only did I find my mind wandering during Two or Three Things, which isn't that long, but I felt like I was being hectored. Interestingly, Godard's voice of God narration is whispered rather than spoken. For some reason, I found that even
more irritating. It's as if he were personally criticizing my vile materialistic ways.
Godard may not have felt the same about his intended audience, but he does feel that way about Juliette Janson (Marina Vlady, one of his least expressive leading ladies), who spends the entire time shopping, hanging out in coffee shops, and turning tricks. (The title refers as much to Paris as to automatons like Juliette.) Her husband appears to make a decent living, but she's just gotta have all those cute designer dresses. Other attractive young women pop up throughout to testify about the glories of consumer goods. All are dressed in the latest 1960s styles.
As Michael Guillén (The Evening Class) notes, "I found the film's maverick sensibility quaint, if that's a word that can be used with regard to Godard's iconoclastic adventures. Quaint and oddly nostalgic; dated enough to make it palatable but not so much so that I lost complete interest." Similarly, I didn't enjoy the film as essay, but I did appreciate it as a time capsule of a particular time, place, and mindset.
I don't doubt that many of those who hold Two or Three Things in high esteem enjoy it as much as they appreciate it, but for me any enjoyment was surface. I like the way the film looks, and the famous close-ups, like "the world in a coffee cup" sequence, are just as cool as I expected. (The widescreen images are credited to Godard regular Raoul Coutard.) And yes, I did find it amusing that Juliette's day care doubles as a brothel -- Godard's sense of fun hadn't completely abandoned him.
Peter Bradshaw (The Guardian) also feels that the "movie shows the great man apparently on the point of becoming unmoored from his early transparent approach to narrative and character, and drifting off downstream into the thickets of impenetrability and theoretical complexity." Phillip French adds that "the picture is alternately naive and sophisticated, silly and profound, and Godard's commentary:is an anti-American, anti-Gaullist and anti-capitalist diatribe." God, I love the British.
I've been making an effort to see all the major movies, so Two or Three Things counts as one down, hundreds to go. Once I've seen it again -- assuming I can muster the enthusiasm -- I'll probably appreciate it more. Maybe I'll even enjoy it. I just don't think watching films should feel like work. And after being hectored for 90 minutes about being a brain-dead consumer, it just made me want to go shopping.
Pax Americana: jumbo-sized brainwashing.
-- Narrator
Two or Three Things I Know about Her, in a new 35mm CinemaScope print, plays the Northwest Film Forum through April 5th at 7 and 9pm. The NWFF is located at 1515 12th Ave. For more information, please click here. You can also call 206-329-2629 for general info and 206-267-5380 for show times.

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