(First Name: Carmen)
Godard’s version of the never-ending saga of femme-fatales and heists is decidedly the looniest film of the period. Godard is at the peak of self criticism in First Name: Carmen. Also serving as the comic relief in the film, we see him and many other artists who consider themselves revolutionaries admitted in an insane asylum. Godard however, is perfectly fine and may just be commenting on his emigration to Switzerland. He calls himself “sick and washed-up”. He refers to Van Gogh, who also became crazy and intolerable towards the end of his life, and may be he saw the self-portrait coming a decade later. He discusses how art is taken as a cover for crime and how Godard himself has become a catalyst for that. And the height of it all being that he uses an abacus for calculation, overtly classifying him as anachronistic, outdated and starry-eyed.
He intersperses the narrative with extended sequences of a band of violinists practicing Beethoven whose themes mirror those of the ongoing sequences of the other thread. He uses the sound in the film to guide the imagery in some stretches and in others, lets the images define the route for the sounds. It is at the end that the two threads meet and both the sound and the images take the lead. And using this tug-of-war between them, he knits his narrative that as usual deals with subjects seemingly out of scope – law and religion, male and female perspectives, treatment of working class and more.
There may not an intentional connection at all, but having known Godard a bit, I couldn’t help spotting a political subtext to the film. Godard may well have written Joseph and Carmen with an inclination to socialism and capitalism respectively. Carmen tells Joseph “If I love you, it is the end of you”. Joseph, though aware of the destructive nature of the relationship, is lured by the (capitalist) lust and agrees to take part in the crime. Godard feels that he has become an accelerator for this decadence. And the closing duel between the leads and its result may just be Godard’s glimmer of hope.