Within and Without the Frame: Godard Forever Part Two in Six Images


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Within and Without the Frame: Godard Forever Part Two in Six Images

Critic Jason Anderson breaks down TIFF's Godard Forever Part Two film series through the lens of six images from the master filmmaker's later work.

Jarring, startling and brusque even when they are distinguished by a profound beauty, Jean-Luc Godard’s images possess a force that can seem decidedly unruly. Nor are they easily parsed. When frames are scrutinized in isolation from the other 23 that famously constitute a single second of reality – at least according to one of his most quoted maxims – they can seem as hermetic as anything else in his oeuvre. Even the text-based elements that crop up so often in his later films  like Adieu au langage, which begins its TIFF Bell Lightbox run on Nov. 14  should never be taken at face value. Instead, they contain multiple meanings, and multiple opportunities for misdirection.

Yet these images can also be gateways, leading viewers toward a greater understanding of fundamental themes and tendencies. Any such route can be useful when grappling with the enormous volume of work represented in Godard Forever: Part 2. With their similarly abrupt shifts in tone and tactic, reflections and refinements of past provocations, and many new ideas and innovations, the films are a further testament to their maker’s restless temperament. These six images – selected from films set to screen in the series  plot a variety of paths for viewers to follow through Godard’s career after the 1960s. As usual, the most intrepid travelers will accrue the greatest rewards.

From For Ever Mozart, 1997

 Screens Nov. 27, 6:30 p.m. 

Given that Godard could make a film as sumptuous and gorgeous as Le mépris (1963), the austerity and rigour of the Dziga Vertov period and other efforts in the 1970s may have caused some to wonder if he’d forever forsworn the pursuit of beauty for its own sake. Yet he would make many of his most visually ravishing features in the last three decades, with For Ever Mozart – best remembered for the sight of Bérangère Allaux on a desolate beach in that stunning red dress  and Nouvelle Vague (1990) as the most consistently arresting. The distorted digital images of Éloge de l’amour (2001) testify to his enduring eagerness to scuff up a masterwork as well.

 Screens Nov. 14, 6:30 p.m. 

History becomes a dominant preoccupation for Godard in his later years, and that includes his own history. Whereas the weight of the world and its vast catalogue of follies and tragedies can be felt in nearly moment of more philosophical works like 2x50 Years of French Cinema (1995) and The Origins of the 21st Century (2000) – as well as the magnum opus of Histoire(s) du Cinema (1988-1998) – he often displays a more playful aspect when he revisits tropes and characters of earlier films. Warmest of all might be his coda for Lemmy Caution, the hard-luck gumshoe who Eddie Constantine first played in Alphaville (1965) and reprises for one of Godard’s richest (and funniest) efforts of the ‘90s.

From Tout Va Bien, 1972

 Screens Nov. 9 at 3:45 p.m. 

The end of Godard’s relationship with his first and most iconic muse Anna Karina in 1967 is regarded as one of the key junctures in his career. Yet with Anne-Marie Miévelle now in the role of creative partner, Godard continued to centre his films on bold performances by women, with Jane Fonda’s turn as She in Tout Va Bien setting a formidable standard that is matched by Myriem Roussel in Hail Mary (1984), Maruschka Detmers in Prénom Carmen (1984) and Domiziana Giordano in Nouvelle Vague (1990). The strident young women who move through all three dimensions of Adieu au langage owe Karina a debt as well.

From Histoire(s) du Cinema, 1988-1998

Screens Nov. 22 at 4 p.m. 

 In 2010, the Dutch design group Atelier Carvalho Bernau celebrated Godard’s 80th birthday by releasing the Jean-Luc Typeface, a font derived from the title sequences of Made In USA and Two or Three Things I Know About Her. It’s a fitting piece of flattery, even if the man himself has largely preferred popular typefaces like Garamond and Helvetica to custom-made fonts as his films become ever more dominated by the onscreen use of text. Whether they form slogans, aphorisms, quotations or the fragmentary (and sometimes dubious) English subtitles of many recent films, words and letters are of paramount importance to a director who’s rarely been afraid to demonstrate the depth and breadth of his reading. If you need any further proof besides the poems and puns that fill so many frames of Histoire(s) du Cinema, just listen to the typewriter clatter that dominates the soundtrack of JLG/JLG (1994).

 Screens Oct. 28 at 8:45 p.m. 

Though Godard’s collaboration with D.A. Pennebaker and Richard Leacock would prove to be ill-fated, it comes to vivid life when Jefferson Airplane plays a guerrilla rooftop concert in midtown Manhattan. The sequence also highlights the largely underheralded role of music in his work both in the ‘60s and well into the present. Perhaps he hasn’t been so well-known with his scores because of their increasingly fragmentary and jarring manner, his later soundtracks being even brusquer than their visual accompaniments. Along with bursts of orchestral music by cherished composers (e.g., Bela Bartok, Bernard Hermann), the soundscapes would be dominated by music by artists associated with ECM. In fact, Manfred Eicher, the mastermind behind the enigmatic German label, has long been one of Godard’s key collaborators, having selected music for nearly every film since 1990. Alas, Grace Slick hasn’t been back, but we do get Patti Smith in Film Socialisme.

From King Lear, 1987

 Screens Oct. 28, 6:15 p.m. 

Never exactly camera shy himself, Godard inserted his presence directly into many early shorts and features by contributing narration and appearing in largely uncredited and eminently Hitchcockian cameos (he played the snitch in Breathless). But one of the other pleasures of Godard Forever: Part Two is the prominence of the director as a full-fledged performer, most notably as the grizzled imp known as “Professor Pluggy” in his non-adaptation of King Lear and as an inscrutably silent version of himself (not) answering a question in Notre Musique. Then, of course, there’s the voice and its signature notes of fatigue, skepticism and dry humour. It’s coarsened over time, such that his gravelly voice on the soundtracks of recent films is not so different from the gurgling rasp of the computer narrator of Alphaville. Or maybe it was him all along.

What's your favourite moment from Godard's post-1960s output? Is there an image you most associate with Godard's work from this time? Let us know in the comments below. 

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