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.

Week End

Aah… Week End. A film that would have made John Waters proud. It wasn’t until this film that I got a firm hold on the roller coaster that was Godard. Fully bloomed, Godard plays with the medium like a potter does with his sand – only more carefully careless. Self-proclaimed end to Godard’s most celebrated period is fittingly over-the-top, with the evidently characteristic Godardian magic oozing out of each second of runtime. Closer to conventional narrative than La Chinoise (1967) but overtly more political than his Anna Karina period, Godard leaves no stones unturned to lay open himself and chart out what was to become his mainstay.

Week End (1967)

Week End (1967)

The film follows the road trip of a French couple immediately following a notoriously extended narration of an erotic tale. They come across everything but the kitchen sink (or may be that too…) on their way as Godard employs the unsuspecting leads to paint the screen with his bubbling political ideologies and cultural stand. With intriguingly long tracking shots (including the instant classic traffic jam where Godard pulls off an unimaginable 10 minute odyssey that is as dynamic as it is static) Godard distorts space and time and disorients the viewer from “expecting” anything. So all the viewer can do is to live the moment and reflect on what’s happening on screen. Hmmm… the Brechtian influence has most definitely paid off this time Monsieur Godard.

Progressively mad, Week End ironically takes civilization backwards to the point where we meet cannibalistic guerillas waging war with catapults and stealing picnic baskets (Yes, they are smarter than the average guerilla!). Intense meditation on African colonialism and featherweight moments of self- glorification (to the point of calling himself The Saviour) intersperse to form an oddly entrancing landscape that has to be seen to be believed. An addictive masterwork or decidedly camp, depending on how much you appreciate Godard’s style.

La Chinoise
(The “Chinese,” Or: Something Like The Chinese)

In La Chinoise, Godard explores the issue of intra-party ideological difference as he tries to contrast what Marxism and Maoism stand for. He criticizes, though not hard-hittingly, the revisionist policies of the present-day socialists and questions if they are true to communist principles at all. But the larger discussion in the film remains about the involvement of the student community in revolution – an issue he grazed in Masculine-Feminine (1966) employing the same Jean-Pierre Léaud. Through this issue and use of a classroom-like atmosphere for almost the whole film, Godard calls for sensible political education and calculated extremism – both of which the protagonists of the film fail at.

The Chinese (1967)

The Chinese (1967)

Godard’s use of the red, blue and white colours reaches remarkable heights as he employs them to convey multiple layers of meanings. On a basic level, Godard uses them to portray love, hate and apathy respectively and Contempt (1963) and A Woman is a Woman (1961) remain prime examples of that.  Additionally, he uses them to represent communist, neutral and capitalist principles in this trilogy. He also alludes to the presence of these colours on the French flag, as if suggesting that France herself is being torn apart by these opposing ideologies. Godard turns down the notion of the Left and the Right in Made in U.S.A. (1966) and interestingly, red and blue respectively occupy the right and the left side of the French flag! And in La Chinoise, he does all this so effortlessly.

Godard continues to ruthlessly breach the fourth wall and even refers to Brecht and other influences during the course of the film. In some ways, La Chinoise looks like Godard’s first politically revolutionary film. 2 or 3 things I Know About Her looked like a yearning for change whereas La Chinoise seeks to do the change. Because of this significantly didactic nature of the film, many may decide to put an end to their journey of discovering Godard. But it is indeed after this film that Godard’s films become both politically and cinematically revolutionary.

2 Ou 3 Choses Que Je Sais D’elle
(Two or Three Things I Know About Her

What Bitter Tears of Petra Von Kant (1972) is to Fassbinder, 2 or 3 Things I Know About Her is to Godard – minimal, meticulously controlled, thematically central and hard to watch. Harder than that is to follow everything that Godard throws at us, especially when he does it in his characteristically indulgent way. He proves, as he does regularly, that the language of cinema is left largely unexplored and it is, or rather can be made free of the subjectivity and pseudo-objectivity that plagues the oral languages and limits the world one gets and gives access to.

Two or Three Things I Know About Her  (1967)

Two or Three Things I Know About Her (1967)

Another multi-layered approach by Godard compares the central character with the actress who plays her and the city of Paris herself.  It looks as if Godard is bemoaning the changes that are taking place in the society as it assumes a monstrous attitude through incessant consumption and the rat race it nurtures. Scenes of massive reconstruction that dominate the big picture are interspersed with the quotidian struggles that delineate the microcosm as the protagonist takes up casual prostitution to supplement the meager income of the household. Again Godard hints at the prostitution of the city’s ideologies with effective use of red and blue colours, as with the other films of the trilogy.

If I have to sum up the film in a single word it would definitely be “uncompromising” and so will be the word that I would use to describe Godard himself. Till 2 Or Three Things… Godard used a simple story line as a platform on which he would knit his ideas. But here, he sheds even that simple requirement and goes beyond his working limits, which is phenomenally radical by itself. Because of this, the audience is completely left helpless as the characters directly address them and force them to think. This way, Godard stretches the Brechtian theory and makes it the prime mover for the film instead of using it as a tool like he did so far. This is implied in the very title of the film as Godard warns us of the fragmented nature of the film and prepares us to fill in the rest by ourselves.

Made In U.S.A.

Agreed that Tarantino loved Band of Outsiders (1964) and named his production company after the film, but it is in Made in U.S.A. that one can see the most evident inspiration for my favorite Tarantino, Kill Bill Vol.1 (2003). The bride is Paula incarnate and her “roaring rampage of revenge” isn’t much different from Paula’s own quest for vengeance. Tarantino’s unrestricted use of cartoons, music, black comedy, gore, melodrama and action may be a extrapolation of what Godard called “a mix of blood and Disney” in Made in U.S.A.. And come on, the censoring of The Bride’s name is a direct inspiration from the running gag in Made in U.S.A. where Godard censors Richard’s second name with all kinds of sounds possible.  In retrospect, it looks like Karina herself would have made a great Beatrix Kiddo (oh, sorry I forgot the “beep”!)

Made In U.S.A. (1966)

Made In U.S.A. (1966)

Godard’s political inclinations become much clearer as he overtly talks about the so-called Left and the Right. He calls for a drastic change in outlook towards these ideologies and urges that the “Left” is not a minority and hence such a classification remains invalid. Godard, as ever, uses every square inch of the screen effectively and conveys all he wants using even the objects that one might notice only on keen scrutiny. Remaining true to the title and intention, Godard uses generous amounts of gore and violence. No wonder Tarantino spotted a perfect adaptation.

This is Anna Karina’s only political film with Godard and he treats her with no more attention than any of his other actors (At least, that’s what it looked like to me!). But that doesn’t mean Godard’s chucked his style. The tributes continue and this time it is the American pulp genre and film-noir. You have characters named David Goodis, Richard Widmark, Donald Siegel, Richard Nixon and what not. And so do the lengthy indulgent monologues including one where Godard argues about the futility of sentences in comparison to words. Haha, what else did you expect from a man who single-handedly tried to change the way a film was constructed from the basic tenets of filmmaking?