Monday, April 24, 2006

In Praise of Godard

Godard's In Praise of Love left me with a raging headache, when I finished watching it last evening and still I didn't understand what the film was exactly all about. I was reading some of the reviews and was surprised at the vehemence of the tone in some of them. The New York Times called it "a lavish expression of artistic impotence, a great filmmaker's elegy for his own lost relevance" and that was one of the charitable ones. The main grouse of most of them was what they perceived as film's anti-americanism, which I think is a misreading.

What Godard is railing against is the rampant commercialism of modern world, in which value of everything is reduced to its exchange value in the market. Even the personal memories of people are up for sale for the highest bidder, to be made into a lavish spectacle meant for mass consumption and profit. It is from this context that he makes fun of Hollywood and Spielberg (of Schindler's List) because they are the most potent symbols of this culture. Actually, in the film some people from the firm "Spielberg and Associates" visit an elderly couple who fought with the French resistance to make a film about them.

Also some people unnecessarily took umbrage at Godard's claiming that America has no past, that's why they want to appropriate stories from other culture (for example Holocaust). I don't think Godard was making this point. In the first part of the film one of the character says something about people perferring lavish images on screen to lived experiences. He also says something about introspection, personal history and memory. Then one of the characters reads a line from a book by Robert Bresson which says, "Let feelings bring about events, not the contrary." I think this is a very profound statement about the art of cinema and it is from this perspective that he is criticising Hollywood which shuns personal introspection and profundity and instead focusses on shallow and artificial spectacle.

I can't recommend the film to everyone but if interested it would help if you do your homework before watching it. The film drops names and references like anything. For example it would help if you know something about Simone Weil, no just having heard her name is not enough!

Some links...

Chicago Tribune, Chicago Reader and Village Voice laud the film while NYT , New Yorker , Salon and Roger Ebert trash it. Here is an interview/profile of Godard in context of this film. There are many more articles and reviews on the net.


anurag said...

Let feelings bring about events, not the contrary.

Bresson is god !

Alok said...

yes, that is a very profound comment!