Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Godard Marathon Day 7: Anticipation (1967); La Chinoise (1967)

Day 7 saw the late addition of a lesser known short from this period, as well as an unexpectedly entertaining foray into the political youth.

Anticipation (1967); viewing: first

Anticipation was Godard's contribution to the 1967 Joseph Bercholz production The World's Oldest Profession, a compilation film dealing with the subject of prostitution through different periods in history. Bercholz tapped six French directors to each come up with a segment, and Godard concocted this extremely odd yet thoroughly interesting futuristic tale of John Demetrios (Jacques Charrier), a traveler from another planet visiting Earth who, immediately after he lands, decides to grab a prostitute and have some fun. However, his prostitute doesn't speak, a fact which bothers him a great deal, so he trades her out for one who can stimulate him on a verbal level. Thus arrives the replacement, Eleonore Romeovitch (Anna Karina, in her last appearance for Godard), and everything seems to be in order, but alas, when John asks her to take her clothes off, she replies that she can't; that's not what she's meant to do. She's a prostitute of "sentimental love" rather than a prostitute of "physical love". In other words, a prostitute who loves in language. On this version of Earth, true love, a reconciliation of the two types, is deemed illogical and outlawed. You just simply can't have both. Or can you?

Obviously Godard was a clear choice to participate in this anthology; prostitution may very well be the most consistent thematic thread running through all of his 60's work. Anticipation, with a running time of twenty minutes, is clearly meant to be somewhat of a companion piece to Alphaville. Both films are futuristic, sci-fi stories shot in black and white, dealing with outsiders and their relationship with a prostitute, and with true love prevailing in each to crash the computerized fascist regime around them. Interestingly enough, I got a mild Lynchian-vibe from many of the touches in Anticipation; the eerie, almost industrial score pervading in the background; the odd, deliberately clipped mannerisms with which John speaks; and most notably one absolutely bizarre sequence where John and Eleonore, as maybe a type of foreplay (?), engage in an utterly strange activity that involves spraying each other in the face with a water bottle as they eagerly lap up the liquid with their tongue; certainly a suggestive and, quite frankly, disturbing few shots. Overall I found Anticipation to be extremely interesting, both aesthetically and conceptually, filled with striking imagery and compelling ideas, and with not a moment of its twenty minutes wasted it manages to accomplish more in that brief time than the majority of features produced in Hollywood today. It's a highly interesting footnote to the body of work Godard produced in the 60's, and one well worth seeking out for fans of the director.

La Chinoise (1967); viewing: first

Godard's 1967 loose adaptation of Dostoyevsky's The Possessed was the surprisingly entertaining La Chinoise. I say surprisingly because coming into this film, I was well aware that it was the most overtly political film Godard had made yet at the time, and seeing as how Godard's politics is one of the least interesting aspects of his films to me, I almost approached the film with the mindset of expecting to be a tad put off and uninterested. The result ended up being far from that. Set almost entirely in the apartment of its five main characters, all young French students and fervent Maoists, La Chinoise uses parody and humor to chart the course of this group through its initial plans in setting off a revolution to its eventual dissolution.

The group is centered on a couple, Guillaume (Jean-Pierre Leaud) and Veroniqe (Anna Wiazamsky), and also includes Henri, Kirilov, and Yvonne (the sublime Juliet Berto). Guillaume and Veronique slowly push harder and harder for a terrorist style attack to trigger off a revolution, and Kirilov and Yvonne seem to be content going along with this, but Henri vocally disagrees with this course of action, and the key moment in the film comes when he separates from the group after a vote leaves him in the lurch. Veronique, in particular, seems to be thoroughly blinded by her ideals, and the greatest sequence in the film comes when she and a former professor of hers sit on a train together and have a lengthy discussion on the practicalities of triggering a revolution using violence, and how in what ways Veronique's situation differs from past instances of successful revolution. In short, the professor is trying to give her a reality check, so disillusioned is Veronique. The two are positioned in front of a window which blurs the environment outside as the train hurtles on and they engage in this discussion, giving one the sensation of the world literally passing them by as they are stuck in the muck of these issues. I'm not sure if that's what Godard intended, but it's what struck me and I thought it was an amazingly poetic touch.

Eventually an assassination is planned of the Soviet Minister of Culture, though the film makes it clear from early on that this group is improbable to accomplish anything at all, and watching the assassination get completely bungled up is equally frustrating and amusing. The film is also ripe with Brechtian technique, giving us many shots of the slate in front of the camera, and even one of Coutard himself filming the action. Though La Chinoise is indeed firmly entrenched in the politics of its time, it still retains enough bite, playful humor and brilliant Godardian touches to make it an enormously interesting and entertaining affair, even for those, like myself, who lack knowledge of the myriad politics discussed in the film and the various references and gestures made towards them. It is a hopeful sign that the impending political films from Godard won't be entirely inaccessible for me, and will indeed retain his signature wit and impressive visual originality.


Ed Howard said...

I'm glad you got to see Anticipation, which I like a lot and which is sadly overlooked by almost everyone. It doesn't seem to be around anywhere in it's reportedly definitive version, however, with colored filters blurring and abstracting much of the imagery. I'd love to see that version some day. As is, though, it's an interesting examination of the nature of love and the ways in which society dulls the power of love by separating out physical sexuality from the more emotional and intellectual components of human interaction. It is, as you say, a companion piece to Alphaville, and also to Godard's other sci-fi short from the 60s, The New World.

La Chinoise of course continues to delight and surprise those who think it's going to be a dull political tract, when obviously it's anything but. It's in fact pretty critical of its revolutionary students, and rather than preach a single idea, Godard sets up dialectics and oppositions and allows them to argue against one another. The scene you pinpoint, with Veronique and the professor debating the effectiveness and value of violence, is my favorite as well, a truly wonderful sequence that addresses these issues head on.

Drew said...

Thanks Ed, I had no idea of the existence of Anticipation until reading about it just the other night, but am really glad I sought it out. Agreed about the version with the color tinting, that would be really interesting to get to see some day. The New World has somehow eluded me? But I'll certainly look into it now.

La Chinoise was exactly as you've stated, a delight and surprise. In fact one of the more pleasant surprises I've had during the marathon so far. Along with Pierrot le fou, this is the only other film so far that I've been replaying moments from in my head constantly even a day after watching it. It will probably be the first one I revisit when all is said and done here. A real treat.

Jake said...

Count me among those absolutely delighted by La Chinoise. I found it surprisingly funny and also very well-balanced. It's not often that a committed ideologue is willing to examine the weaknesses in his favored philosophy. I'd put it in my top 5 of his remarkable '60s features.