Cinema of Switzerland


Nouvelle Vague
(New Wave)
1990

Watching New Wave, it felt like a Tarkovsky film, especially Nostalghia (1983) at many places – may be because of the organic pace and camera work of the film, may be because of the very presence of Domiziana Giordano (and the horses!) or may be the hypnotizing locales of Italy, I don’t know. But the film surely echoes some of the elements of the Tarkovsky classic for Nouvelle Vague is essentially a yearning for the past and nostalgia of la dolce vita of yesteryear.

New Wave (1990)

New Wave (1990)

The basic premise of the film follows a rich couple Richard and Elena, visibly dissatisfied with their lives, attempting to search for that elusive object called happiness and hence trying to discover their place on earth. They assume roles of the dominating and the dominated in turns Yet again, Godard crafts a film that works on so many levels that it becomes intensely personal in more than one way. Richard and Elena may be representing the French New Wave and traditional cinema respectively as they try to find their own place and struggle to accept their mutual existence. So the film on one level becomes a superficial study of how the New Wave affected established cinema and vice-versa. With characters named de Sica, Mankiewicz and Aldrich, this argument seems plausible, but one shouldn’t restrict the film to a mere interpretational exercise, again a Tarkovskian trait of the film.

The regular intertitles read “Things, not words” and this is exactly what the film seems to be following. Godard bids adieu to his immensely talkative pair of periods, for the events around the world have made words completely futile. He places the images in the driver’s seat such that the basic feel of the film prompts one to classify it as elegiac. Coming soon after the twin collapse of East Germany and the USSR, Nouvelle Vague will be remembered as a befitting farewell to the most revolutionary ideology in the annals of mankind and the most subversive period of filmmaking in cinema history.

Détective
(Detective)
1985

Godard continues to play with the genre after a long time and this time it is the detective/thriller/crime genre. Loaded with quintessential elements like the omnipotent mafia head, the leaf of the tree who tries to make it big, a washed up pugilist, the disguises, the 666/999 room number gag and much more, Detective is a scribble-pad for Godard who floods it with a deluge of in-jokes, Shakespearean references and crossover lines. And as with all Godard films that have traces of a story line, it is the very narrative that makes one struggle to either cruise over the fragmented crust of the film or to penetrate into what is both demanding and enlightening.

Detective (1985)

Detective (1985)

Many feel that Detective is one of the weakest links in Godard’s filmography, but I found the film to be the most iconoclastic film by Godard since Breathless (1959). Till Detective, Godard had been objecting the conventions used for representation in the medium and attempted to concoct a genuinely independent form of expression and interaction whereas here, he objects the nature of the medium itself. He did meditate about the idea that the camera is a tool that always captures the past in his earlier films but in Detective, he breaks even that intuitive notion and “records the future”. The detectives are investigating a supposedly unsolved murder but the very murder happens as they are digging. What’s more baffling is that the audience is placed in the shoes of the detectives, they are made to see all that they see and hence are made to witness future – all this in the typically self-reflexive Godardian way.

And the effect isn’t just a perplexing one. Completely different from the Brechtian estrangement theory but achieving the same result true only to the seventh art, Godard appeals for a genuine detachment from the medium and a complete abandonment of belief on cinema and its images that we’ve grown to accept as truth (Le Petit Soldat?). At the end of the film one feels both dissatisfied for wasting such a great murder plot and disillusioned after having his/her perceptions shattered. And obviously, Godard’s intention is the latter.

‘Je Vous Salue, Marie’
(Hail Mary)
1985

Godard’s most controversial film to date, Hail Mary, takes him to areas he has never tread before. He covers a wide range of interconnected topics that include the questions of chance versus calculation in human evolution, man’s civilization and the subsequent invention of art and science, his understanding of nature and his lost love for fellow beings. Godard elevates the audience to the status of God as we alone watch Mary’s most private moments as the camera looks down upon her.

Hail Mary (1985)

Hail Mary (1985)

Though loaded with lots of Christian symbols and allegories (the virgin birth, the forbidden apple et al), Godard doesn’t restrict the film to a mere reworking of the religious text. He goes beyond the ideas of individualism and class struggles and ponders over the very existence of mankind, the preternatural and the relationship (or the absence of it) between them. In one of the early sequences in the film, we see a woman named Eve blindfolding a person named Pascal as the latter tries to solve the Rubik’s cube. Is Godard saying that there is surely a force beyond the reaches of science that stands silently behind man, who is blinded by the restrictions of reasoning, aiding him as he tries to rationalize the mysteries presented by the natural and the supernatural? May be. We see Joseph, always spotted with dark, blind man’s glasses, trying to decode the enigma of the virgin birth and even trying to confirm the presence or absence of God as he tells Mary “At least say you don’t love me. I can’t stand this silence.

A recurrent question in the film asks if the soul is trapped in the body or is it the other way round. Is Mary carrying the divine child or is it the very presence of the child that shuns her from the quotidian joy of femininity? Is Jesus’ suffering for the people more vital than Mary’s sacrifice to complete the prophecy? What is the cost of divinity? Does Mary become a woman because of the birth or only after it? Is the final image of Mary using a lipstick a sign of freedom and return to mortality? I can only speculate.

Prénom Carmen
(First Name: Carmen)
1983

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.

Carmen (1983)

First Name: Carmen (1983)

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.

Passion
1982

Passion marks the beginning of Godard’s most respected period, for those who were patient enough to dig deep. After years of self-glorification and reckless insubordination Godard seems to have shifted to this transitory period of intense self-criticism and awareness as he lays himself open, film by film, and at the same time commenting on how the industry itself is ruthless towards both minority experimentalists and the mass work-force in the form of extras, never once making the films unGodardian or compromising.

Passion (1982)

Passion (1982)

Passion follows three “individuals” – Jerzy, a workaholic film director without any real human attachment, most definitely representing Godard, Isabelle, a naïve worker at a factory and Hanna, a rich lady who, like Isabelle, is interested in Jerzy. Jerzy’s film in the movie consists of a series of Paradjanov-ish tableaus assembled with punctilious detail but apparently sans a structure and esoteric, like Passion itself. Hence, Passion becomes a self-indulgent movie about self-indulgence. These motionless images are interspersed with intriguing stretches of movement and restlessness.  And over all this mystery, Godard continues to weave his philosophy on film grammar (At an interesting point in the film, Jerzy asks his film’s cinematographer, Raoul Coutard, also the cinematographer of Passion and off-screen both ways, if there are any rules in cinema upon which he gets a “No”), individualism and society, passion versus boredom, art against practicality and even the Polish revolution.

Godard compares art with love and the passion for art and labour with love-making. The effective character arc that Jerzy and Isabelle undergo isn’t one of redemption but of hopelessness. Jerzy seems to have abandoned his passion for art in exchange for commerce, Isabelle seems to have shed her genuine interest for work and both of them seem to have lost the genuine love that bound them. They assume fake passions and seem to have the notions of physical love and true love mixed up. Indeed, Isabelle’s final line reads “I don’t like cars” even when she continues working in Peugeot much like Jerzy who leaves for Hollywood deserting his “love”.

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