Dir/scr: Jean-Luc Godard. France 2004. 80mins
A characteristically encyclopaedic disquisition onwords, images and war, the latest essay-fiction from Jean-Luc Godard is notobviously as visually striking as its predecessor, Eloge De l'Amour, andis considerably more dense verbally. But this three-parter shows Godard to beas perplexing and provocative as ever.
Undoubtedly it will appeal most to hard-core devotees,although given the director's recent return to the limelight, there should beno shortage of interested distributors. It is certain to be debated furiouslyat festivals, and will find a modest but healthy ancillary life given thenumber of Godardians who will want to watch and annotate it over and over. Thefilm screened out of competition at Cannes.
Thefilm divides into three chapters, or 'kingdoms' - hell, purgatory and heaven.The first, 'hell', is an assemblage of images of war, including those fromVietnam, the Crimea, the Middle East and World War II. The simple message seemsto be that war is an inferno without end, and as such is unusually direct forGodard. Yet, given that the sequence is a seemingly indiscriminate mix ofdocumentary and fiction sources, with odd images such as penguins and baboonsthrown in, it seems that Godard is also asking us to question the way werepresent war, suppressing specific differences by reducing all conflict to areassuringly simple formula: "war is hell".
The'purgatory' section, which takes up most of the film, is a sort ofcinema-symposium, with Godard himself among assorted writers visiting Sarajevofor a literary conference. The director conducts a seminar on language andimage, illustrating his less than transparent argument with references toRacine, Howard Hawks and the vision of Bernadette. This section contains atimely gag: asked whether he thinks the digital camera can change cinema,Godard responds with a long silent scowl.
Purgatoryalso features writers discussing the contemporary condition of language in thecontext of both Bosnia and the Palestinian conflict. Juan Goytisolo declaims inunsubtitled Spanish in a ruined house, and Palestinian writer Mahmoud Darwish,in the film's most lucid and provocative section, gives an interview on thechallenge of writing from the victim's position rather than the victor's.
Othercharacters include an Israeli woman hoping to interview the French ambassadorin what will be (echoing a famous Godard formula) "not a just conversation,just a conversation"; and another who presents Godard with the film she has madein Sarajevo: its title is Notre Musique.
Thefinal, brief section, 'paradise', is witty and beautiful: heaven as a forestguarded by the US navy.
Thefilm is riddled, as usual, with literary quotations and allusions to film,paintings and history, and the film's textual content is dense even by Godardstandards. But the passage from hell to heaven, however ironic, suggests a kindof optimism, and at the very least, the film evinces a faith in the enduringstrength of words - language seeming to be the 'music' of the title. Difficultas it is, Our Music shows that Godard, in his sixth decade offilm-making, has lost none of his pugnacious invention nor his formidableintellectual curiosity.
Int'l sales: Wild Bunch
Fr dist: LesFilms du Losange
Prods: AlainSarde, Ruth Waldburger
Cine: JulienHirsch, Jean-Christophe Beauvallet
Art dir: Anne-MarieMieville
Main cast: SarahAdler, Nade Dieu, Rony Kramer, Georges Aguilar, Jean-Luc Godard, JuanGoytisolo, Mahmoud Darwish