Thursday, October 13, 2011

No Fourth Wall

Film: 2 ou 3 Choses que je Sais D’elle (Two or Three Things I Know About Her)
Format: DVDs from Rockford Public Library on kick-ass portable DVD player.

I think I’m starting to finally get a hold on Jean-Luc Godard. Two years ago, I’d heard of Godard but had never seen one of his films. Now, I’ve seen a good half dozen, and I feel like each one I see gives me a little more insight into what Godard was doing with his films. I haven’t liked them all by a long shot, but I think I respect the vision and the determination to do something really different with film. 2 ou 3 Choses que je Sais D’elle (Two or Three Things I Know About Her) is one of the strangest Godard films I’ve seen (and that’s saying something), and quite surprisingly one of my favorites.

This film comes right in the heart of an incredible spate of productivity in Godard’s filmmaking. In the late 1960s, it seems like Godard was putting out 2-4 films every year. 2 ou 3 Choses que je Sais D’elle is the culmination of earlier experiments in his work. There are a lot of similarities here to films like Masculin-Feminin in the large titles that pop up at times, albeit here without the jarring soundtrack.

Like many of his films, Godard spends this one playing with the idea of film and filmmaking. Here, this comes in the form of essentially destroying the fourth wall. Frequently, characters in the film speak directly into the camera, saying pieces of apparent nonsense that have little or no relevance to anything on the screen. He prepares us for this in the opening few minutes by describing his main actress, Marina Vlady, and then reciting almost the exact same description of her character in the film, Juliette Jeanson.

The plot turns on an idea we’ve seen her before. In fact, this is the third time in the last year or so that I’ve seen this identical basic storyline. Juliette and her husband live in a modest apartment, but can’t quite afford .the payments on it. So she turns to prostitution as a way to make ends meet and allow them to stay in their ultra-modern but essentially cramped and pedestrian apartment. It’s got a lot in common in that respect with Jeanne Dielmann and the housewife-turned-prostitute idea with Belle de Jour. But for a variety of reasons, I like this one a lot better.

It would be wrong to suggest that this film isn’t very strange in a lot of ways. It feels less like there is a narrative here and more like there is simply a series of events that happen in front of us. We watch Juliette go through her day, dropping off the kids at a day care for hookers, fending off the man who wants to act as her pimp, and servicing clients before returning home to her husband and children. Anything to make ends meet, evidently.

That, though, is exactly the thrust of Godard’s film. This film is intensely anti-American and anti-consumer. Juliette does what she does not because the family needs the money to survive per se, but because they need to money to live the lifestyle they wish to emulate. For them to live in the style to which they have become accustomed, the additional income is necessary.

And that’s really the interesting thing about the film. Godard appears to be making a statement about the nature of the consumer model we’ve had for so long. We mortgage our future for a little ease or the joy of a couple of moments of perceived freedom, but what is actually happening is that we experience less and less true freedom. In many senses, Juliette is selling herself for a promised dream of a modern world and a better life, and she’s actually getting almost nothing in return, are at least nothing that means anything.

Godard’s voiceover narration is extremely strange. He whispers everything, almost as if he is afraid of being overheard. Again, this is oddly compelling in its own way. Godard has discovered a secret, and is sharing it with us, letting us in on what he has to say—about consumerism, Vietnam, the hollowness of the American cultural export, and more.

Do I know what it all means? Probably not. But this film does make me feel like I’m starting to get a handle on what Godard was trying to do not just with this film, but with film, which makes me feel like this whole crazy journey has some sort of point after all. I found this one fascinating. I’m not sure if that has resulted in my getting a better handle on Godard, or if my better understanding of his work causes me to like this film. Regardless, that’s the case here. This is an interesting watch, and its surface shallowness and aimlessness masks a surprising depth.

Why to watch 2 ou 3 Choses que je Sais D’elle: For a story you can see coming, it’s still pretty engaging.
Why not to watch: Disjointed, non-existent narrative.

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