Thursday, August 23, 2007

Tout Va Bien

After an unprecedented, and still unparalleled, run with one critical hit after another in the whole decade of the sixties Godard abruptly said goodbye to mainstream filmmaking. Mainstream by his standards of course. For him the political films were not just those which had a political message or agenda but those which were made politically-- films which were made and distributed independent of commercial structures and obligations. Weekend was the last of Godard's sixties films to get a general release. Most of his subsequent work was in experimental video, often done in close collaboration with other directors.

Tout va Bien (Everything's All Right) belongs to the same period but is quite accessible. It starts off brilliantly with an offscreen conversation between two people about why one needs stars to get financing for a film. After we see Yves Montand and Jane Fonda, that is fulfilling the first criteria, the conversation goes on about why stars are not enough, we need a romantic story too. Then the absolutely hilarious homage to Godard's own Contempt (it was actually Jean-Pierre Gorin's script). Montand basically lists parts of her body that he loves, to which she asks "so you love me totally?" In turn she does to same to him too, "I love your forehead, I love your shoulders, I love your balls(!!)." To which he says "so you love me totally?" It was really very funny. The conversation doesn't end at this mutual declaration of "total" love. It's a movie after all, we need some drama too! So bingo! We get Jane Fonda screaming "fucking male chauvinist" and slamming the door in the face of Montand!

Now that all the standard movie things are over and done with, you know, beautiful people falling in love, having problems etc, we get to the actual subject of the film, which as an intertitle helpfully announces, "the state of the class struggle in France four years after May 68." The rest of the film is an agit-prop farce about a workers' strike in a sausage factory. Jane Fonda arrives there as an American radio journalist and Montand as a filmmaker. After that we just get a tableau of scenes staged on the Brechtian set. In between different characters make speeches to the camera. The factory owner, the official union leader, workers, everybody gets a chance to speak to the camera about their thoughts, theories and plans. We get lectures on alienation, exploitation, social change, monopolistic concentration of capital, organized labour, consumerism, role of intellectual in class struggle etc. Difficult to summarise here but suffice to say that textbook-ish they may be but the way Godard presents them keeps the whole thing always fresh and interesting.

The criterion DVD also contains a separate feature titled "Letter to Jane" in which we get an hour long lecture by Godard on the topic of a still photograph of Jane Fonda talking to ordinary Vienamese (featured above). Fonda is very good in the film too, Godard uses her self-conscious political image very well. And with her strange hairstyle which she brought over from the movie Klute (she is astonishing in that film by the way and I absolutely loved her in it) with hair falling over the face from all sides you can't but not look at her whenever she is on screen. And yes don't miss the scene where she holds a picture of an erect male organ to Yves Montand's face! Another appreciation of the political Jane Fonda by Jim Hoberman here.

Sometime back I read where someone was calling Godard's revolutionary romanticism "quaint" but as I was watching this film I couldn't help but keep wondering about how little things have changed and yet why we don't have anyone even remotely like him currently working in cinema. Ours is a world in which policy-makers and economists claim that one has to necessarily choose between working in a sweatshop and dying of starvation. There is no third way! And yet we don't have anything like Tout va Bien doing the same thing. There is no Godard!

1 comment:

KUBLA KHAN said...

Alok
you are right when you say that nothing seems to have changed, re the themes of this movie.
popular culture, and its guardian espouse values which reflect chauvinism, racism, discrimination and a mindset that hankers after sensationalism rather than frank objectivity. this is true of all cultures and discrimination etc are as rampant in Asia as in Europe.In Europe there is the semblance of movement but in other places, there is no change.
Godard's or similiar cinema is important, as you also note, in that it is a different voice( even though it is intellectual) or not populist.
things that have not changed will never change.