Monument and memory: Jean-Luc Godard

The recent proliferation of social, personal and reflexive documentaries that has seen a range of experimental approaches towards found footage editing, has increased the frequency of essay films leading towards the innovation of a new factual form of filmmaking.

Georgia Korossi

Historians don’t search, they find.
To shield all these images from language
means to actually make use of them
because they are in the desert
and that’s where one has to look for them.

-Film socialisme

Hélas pour moi (1993)
Hélas pour moi (1993)

A screening of Harun Farocki’s Arbeiter Verlassen die Fabrik (Workers Leaving The Factory, 1995) followed by Dziga Vertov Group’s British Sounds (1969) at Goldsmiths by the Research Group in Continental Philosophy (INC), highlighted the question of topological desire flagrantly enjoying a visual rhythm between real and fake images.

Whereas Farocki’s sarcastic editorial ability questions the reality of the Lumiere Brothers’ factory, Jean-Luc Godard and Jean-Pierre Gorin’s (Dziga Vertov Group) single pan shot of workers assembling the car in Ford Degenham’s plant echoes a company-employee fixation. Both Arbeiter Verlassen die Fabrik and British Sounds focus on the energy of social space and 20th century architecture, for the factory is its landmark building alongside the fountains and streets of Paris celebrated in Eloge de l’amour (2001).

British Sounds (1969)
British Sounds (1969)

The voice-over narration in British Sounds is a compilation of excerpts from Richard Nixon, Georges Pompidou and The Communist Manifesto that encourages feedback from the spectator who desires to learn. Half way in, the image of female body is stranded in the desert of the domestic. Later on, its frontal close-up has no clear intentions as to how we can respond to its isolation. The male voice starts and the child’s voice repeats: “In 1911 Liverpool Town Hall is stormed by strikers and their wives”. Strangely the child’s voice prompts the historical reference and its revolutionary instance. In a similar act of an adult’s phrase repeated by a child, Depardieu’s elusive quest of his two beings (god-like and man) in Helas pour moi (1993) seals the conversation with publisher Abraham Klimt’s (Bernard Verley) remark: “The truth comes from the mouths of babes”.

The female body in Helas pour moi is however exploited in the dark while the voice over reads Jean Ortt’s 1932 study on the calculation of the galaxy mass and the force of gravity. One may straggle from one image to another in Godard’s work, though the common presence of the revolutionary silence of lovers and ideology suggests that Simone de Beauvoir and contemporary feminism hold a key place in the director’s take.

Notre musique (2004)
Notre musique (2004)

The second chapter with the name “kingdom” (Purgatory) in Godard’s Notre musique (2004) tells the story of two young women visiting a European arts conference in Sarajevo: Tel Aviv journalist Judith Lerner (Sarah Adler) and French speaking Jew of Russian descent Olga Brodsky (Nade Dieu). Olga (also the name of one of de Beauvoir’s students in Rouen, whose complex relationship with her sister Wanda made the fictional character in the metaphysical novel She Came to Stay, de Beauvoir’s chronicle of Sartre’s sexual relationship with her students) experiences a duality of truth in history, film and perhaps ethics reflecting on her own origin and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

The emphasis on gender is climaxed during her attendance to Godard’s lecture on film (Godard plays himself), where she hears about a director’s incapability of seeing the difference between man and woman via the reverse shots of Cary Grant and Rosalind Russell in Howard Hawks’ 1940 movie His Girl Friday. On another note of feminist existentialism and moral revolution, during her conversation with her uncle Ramos Garcia (Rony Kramer), Olga tells him that suicide is the only truly serious philosophical problem with one minor and one major concern: pain and the next world.

Notre musique (2004)
Notre musique (2004)

The chapter on Purgatory ends with Ramos’ telephone conversation with Godard. He announces him the news headlines “Hostages where taken in Jerusalem” revealing Olga’s will to blow herself up in a cinema after telling the audience, if there was one Israeli who’d die with her for peace, not for war she’d be happy. Everyone left the cinema and the marksmen killed her. But the bag she was holding had only books.

The palpable element of female power in Godard’s film grammar is a synthesis of reason (Helas pour moi), force (Notre musique), monument (British Sounds) and influence (Film socialisme). Amid simultaneous moments in history, philosophical thoughts, black screens and chilling harmonies in his post 1968 works, Godard has conducted a symphony of images and sounds that sways appropriation in the vague zone of politics.

Film socialisme (2010)
Film socialisme (2010)

Odessa. “The ‘stairs’ in Russian is female” tells the guide her group of generous looking teenagers towards the end of Film socialisme: an intelligent account of thought, material world and popular culture. Godard’s latest feature film follows the multilayered emphasis on collective voices announced on the common note of text, a piano piece or the sound of machine tools in the factory, like in Notre musique, Eloge de l’amour and British Sounds. The indispensable connection between sound and image is the monumental concept in Godard’s work, where at times the voice-over is in French, when simultaneously another speaks in English and the phone is ringing. Or a close-up of a deserted piano is accompanied by the melody of piano music (Eloge de l’amour). In Film socialisme Godard is perhaps clarifying this concept quoting Roman Jakobson’s theory of the impossibility to separate sound from meaning and that this theory can be understood only with the method of the phoneme (phone ringing, pure wind sounds, laughter).

Film socialisme (2010)
Film socialisme (2010)

In his For Ever Godard (London: Black Dog Publishing, 2007) Jacques Rancière notes: “Connecting one shot to another, a shot to a phrase, fresco, song, political speech, newsreel image or advertisement, etc., still means both staging a clash and framing a continuum. The time-space of the clash and the time-space of the continuum have, in fact, the same name: history. Disconnecting images from stories, Godard assumes, is connecting them so as to make History”. Nevertheless, Film socialisme, like Notre musique and British Sounds, is seen through the ear, through listening to it. The series of mobile-phone videos from the cruise ship and its discotheque is the representation of current history adapted with the effective dimension of smart media in popular culture.

Notre musique (2004)
Notre musique (2004)

Seven-years of age Lucien’s (Quentin Grosset) performance conducting Beethoven’s music, at the garage of the Martin family, once again clarifies the tactile position of child-minded occupation towards the development of Godard’s analytical thought. This is further achieved with Lucien’s point on children’s electoral participation in place of their parents, since they are part of the people and paid 30% of France’s debt (exactly the sum of profit, which insurance companies make of the debt) because adults have grown old.

As a modus operandi for prevalent observation on Godard’s films, the historical significance and Film socialisme’s connection to the power of media, TV channel FR 3 Regio’s opening sequence is followed with the text: “after the annulation of the first election, now the children are waiting for the decision of the State Council and this time, they got 93% of the votes […] so they are going to win […] Not far from Toulouse there was a small group part of the ‘Combat’ movement, ‘the Martin family’ who had as their motto, liberate and federate our humanities (Nos Humanités)”.

Film socialisme (2010)
Film socialisme (2010)

Film socialisme is the utopia of past wins in Godard’s popular culture context, an operation achieved through a cruise travelogue: Egypt, Palestine, Odessa, Hellas, Naples and Barcelona. It is the image, in Western ethics, of tourism but it is overlapped with an otherwise violent, turbulent history. Featuring archive footage of the Greek Civil War and extracts from L’espoir, Adieu Bonaparte, Alexander the Great and Roman Karmen’s films, the cinematic medium takes on the glory of the monument like the arcades of Paris in Eloge de l’amour. Yet it is not just a pure evidence of international tourism because at the same time contemporary feminism, children’s rights and history take on offensive capacity and threaten for resistance. But there can be no resistance without memory, the complex process of no obligations. Memory-image is a perception process that becomes complete as it is interpreted (Eloge de l’amour).

Film socialisme (2010)
Film socialisme (2010)

Godard has built an image-sound pattern in his more recent cinematic works echoing the nascent perception of the Spanish Civil War in Bataille’s Blue of Noon, a novel driven by madness and corruption. His films propose a point of representation that later fails inside its thought and transgressive capacity to provoke (close-up of the nude female body in British Sounds). Film socialisme is nothing but a pure thought, the core characteristic of the essay film that shows and adapts a principal representation. It is a postcard sent from the cruise ship with the thought that it may never reach the receiver.

This article was originally written in 2010 but it was never published before.

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