Nouvelle Vague
(New Wave)

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.


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)

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)

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 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”.

Sauve Qui Peut (La Vie)
(Every Man For Himself)

Godard’s second commercial success comes 25 years after the triumph of Breathless. Every Man for himself is considered the starting film of the next phase in Godard’s prolific career and the distinct detour in style is apparent. With all the qualities of a classic French film intact – marital trouble, empty lives, slow pace and streets of Paris – Godard’s sober venture is a ready hit among the critics.

Every Man For Himself (1980)

Every Man For Himself (1980)

Exactly as the title suggests, the film follows three individuals who try to redeem their empty lives through their own methods. One takes up prostitution, the other tries to make good films and the third attempts to go to the countryside on her bike. Godard’s preoccupation with prostitution continues as he reflects on prostitution of society, art and oneself. This yearning to break back into the youth may be one of Godard’s own wishes as the film’s composition is enough to raise debates about Godard’s maturity and senescence. The texture of the film reminds us of Godard’s own A Married Woman (1964) and the only fancy Godard style remains the ultra slow motion that pops up fro time to time as if observing truth with religious keenness (Godard uses it in a rather lovable form in his interview with Woody Allen).

The stark contrast with his Dziga Vertov years shows as the organic nature of the film suggests Godard’s serious reconsideration of his objectives. At one point, Paul, clearly the Godard figure in the film, tells us his reason for making films. “’I make films to keep myself busy. If I had the strength, I’d do nothing. It’s because I can’t bear doing nothing that I make films” – evidently a statement from a man who has had a serious setback in his ideological stand. He doesn’t also criticizes himself as he happily reminds us of the infamous Bergman quote about him. He even takes a jab at Truffaut, perhaps as a ramification of their overt friction, and is disgusted at someone making a film out of a David Goodis Novel. And coming to think of it, it is this same man that had paid an hommage to Truffaut’s Shoot the Piano Player in A Woman is a Woman (1961)!

Lettre À Jane
(Letter To Jane: An Investigation About A Still)

Letter to Jane may be seen as a companion piece to the intriguing Tout Va Bien (1972), for the idea of the film sprouted during the making of Tout Va Bien. Godard and fellow Dziga Vertov Group filmmaker Gorin share the sound-space as they step out of the cinematic medium and go on to discuss the role of filmmakers in political activism. Through pictures of Vietnam war, they talk about the importance of questions and questions of importance. They urge the audience to take a journey rather than watch the film and hence decide the role of filmmakers as a whole. Through one particular picture, that of Jane Fonda “empathizing” with the guerrillas, Godard  brings forth issues of media initiated lionization, attitude of the west towards the Vietnam crisis and the Kuleshov effect on photos from the war.

Letter To Jane (1972)

Letter To Jane (1972)

Letter to Jane is the most and perhaps the only disappointing Godard film I’ve seen. Disappointing because Godard not only explores the role of intellectuals in revolution and politics but also tries desperately to classify himself as one. Disappointing because what he did absolutely effortlessly in his early films, he tries to do it as a requirement. Godard dismissed his early films as being bourgeoisie, but even Letter to Jane seems like a discourse for high-brow cocktail sipping crowd, contradicting Godard’s Dziga Vertov principles. Is it only me who feels that Godard is playing God and trying hard to over-analyze what may be a genuine gesture for concern or am I succumbing to the Kuleshov effect too? May be not. Godard himself seems to have become disillusioned after the film, once again, and reworked his strategies and policies.

Having said that, Letter to Jane is one of the most engaging Godard films of this period. With a single gesture from a photograph, Godard extracts so much meaning out of Fonda’s glance (the comparison spectrum runs from Descartes to Welles) that any actor watching the film will feel a shiver running down the spine. They’ll know they are being watched and they’ll know acting isn’t a walk in the park. And true to the film’s claims, it does not give us answers and neither does it tell what the questions are. What is sure is that it asks the audience to extract the questions themselves, for right answers follow only right questions.

British Sounds
(See You At Mao)

Though Godard has made longer and more significant films in the same period, I chose British Sounds because it is here that we see Godard’s masterful use of dynamics and stillness of images that stands quite in contrast to the verbose nature of the previous film. In British Sounds, Godard goes out and out political without any compromise, sugar-coating or skeletal narratives that support his views. What remains intact is Godard’s instinct to experiment and shock, his urge to make his audience think and his sensitivity as a filmmaker towards the events around him. As a result, (not only this film but all his films of the period) what we get isn’t a film with a message, but a message in the form of cinema.

British Sounds (1970)

British Sounds (1970)

It is refreshing to see Godard’s experimentation employed in this transformed style of working that is based on his strong ideologies. He still sticks to the Brechtian theory as he continuously reminds us that this isn’t a propaganda film from the 20s’ USSR, but his own revolutionary filmmaking that is as rooted in cinema as it is in politics. This occurs in the form of verbal mistakes in the narration, complete mismatch of sound and image each of which has multiple instances carrying forward a different thread and the occasional dormancy of camera movement while capturing images dispassionately.

But I will remember the film for just two things. The first is the extended tracking shot of the conveyor in an automobile factory where the workers are seen assembling cars at a rapid pace. Running to almost the same length and as irritatingly noisy, the shot reminds us instantly of the traffic jam scene from Weekend, in a sense providing stark contrast between the bourgeoisie and the working class situations using similar imagery. The second would be the final few images of a fist tearing through the flag of Britain, occurring multiple times. They look as if Godard is asserting “Behold, the Revolution!

Le Vent D’est
(Wind From The East)

Wind from the East is arguably the most difficult-to-watch Godard film ever. About 5 times talkier than the average 90 minute movie, Godard fills the runtime with syllables, syllables and more syllables. Perhaps he was making it clear once and for all that his films are not for passive enjoyment. And boy, does he make himself clear! A thorough test of endurance, even for Godard fans, as he continues to put forth his political theories and experiments with the relation between sound and images. Godard also examines the role of a filmmaker in revolution using revolutionary ways of filmmaking.

Wind From The East (1970)

Wind From The East (1970)

I feel that Godard, being an uncompromising filmmaker, does not want the audience to compromise either. He does not want them to have mixed feelings about the film but rather to share a love-hate relationship with it. He wants us to either chuck the film and move away from the screen or to rethink, reform and develop our political ideologies. In essence, he offers a discussion, an essay – in the form of a film – one which people should get involved in only willingly. It isn’t just the patience of the audience that is taken to the extremes, but almost everything that Godard stood for in this period. He goes totally out against the Hollywood’s way of life and the “filtered” cinema it makes. He condemns the star system and the bourgeoisie nature of blockbusters, by directly having subplots of filmmaking within the film. He takes up the issue of intra-party betrayal and clashes as he did in La Chinoise (1967) and condemns the revisionist nature of so-called communists outright.

In some ways, Wind from the East is the counterpart of Godard’s 2 or 3 Things I Know About Her of the period. He wraps it up with enviably small budget and makes it as visually appealing as his other films. It is essentially this typically Godardian imagery that keeps one sitting through the film and the very Godardian nature of narrative that distances us and makes us think. One particular sequence, where we are shown the method to make explosives is particularly interesting for its ingredients – all branded capitalistic FMCG – the ultimate statement on self-destruction of the west as Godard hints at destroying entities using the entities themselves.

Sympathy For The Devil
(One Plus One)

Godard’s most effective meditation of role of the artist in political and social reformation comes in the form of Sympathy for the Devil. Godard was utterly dissatisfied with Sympathy for the Devil because the producer had included the completed song at the end credits which is exactly opposite to Godard’s purpose. Godard shows the gradual path to revolution and intentionally leaves out the orgasmic moment, precisely like in the erotic stories that visit the narration now and then, urging people to get to it by themselves. And naturally, his director’s cut, One Plus One, will have a better edited version of the film.

Sympathy For The Devil (1968)

Sympathy For The Devil (1968)

Once again, Godard utilizes multiple sound and image threads to weave together a mysterious fabric of ideologies. The prominent thread shows The Rolling Stones creating one of their songs from the scratch in a mundane fashion, so typical of Godard. These images are interleaved with verbose sequences taht are overtly revolutionary in character. Using these scenes Godard targets a range of things that include the fascist, racist and misogynistic nature of occidental art, improper methods of activism and dissemination of revolutionary spirit and political power for the black (boy, would he have loved if Obama had been elected then!). He uses his characteristic word games to the full extent devising words like Cinemarxism and Sovietcong.

And the using the Rolling Stones part of the film, Godard quietly raises issues about artist and the society and the futility of language. He contrasts the talky campaign of the extremists with the subtle yet effective nature of artists but never answers if their paths should cross or if artists should indulge themselves at all. Also intriguing is the film’s cinematography as it snakes along the cramped recording room with protracted pan shots. And the final image, a possible homage to Pudovkin’s arresting film Mat (1924), is vintage Godard as he signs off with his distinctive chromatic shifts.