Monday, April 5, 2010
Godard Marathon Day 12: Passion (1982); First Name: Carmen (1983)
Passion (1982); viewing: first
My journey into the 80's films of Jean-Luc Godard started with 1982's Passion, a thoroughly bewildering yet richly emotive and beautiful film that to me felt as personal as anything I've seen from Godard yet. The movie tells, in its own elusive way, the story of a small group of characters in a little town in Switzerland, among them a Polish director (Jerzy Radziwilowicz), who is plodding through the laborious filming of a big-budget picture that is essentially made up of gorgeously composed tableaus of classic paintings and notable historical moments. The other important characters include Isabelle Hubert as a rebellious factory worker, her boss (Michel Piccoli), and his wife (Hanna Schygulla). The Hubert character begins an affair with Jerzy (the characters names in the film are actually that of the actors playing them, in an interesting meta-flourish), while the Schygulla character auditions for a role in the film and ends up in an affair with the director as well, while Michel Piccoli constantly lurks in the background as the menacing factory owner with an unnerving chronic cough.
Of course, Passion does not spell all of this out for the viewer, and I'm not even sure that I have the details above entirely accurate. It is a challenging and extremely elliptical work, and is not so much worried about narrative cohesion as it is moments of fleeting, evocative beauty and its themes of the intimate and inseparable connection between art, creation, love, and yes, passion. This is beautifully summed up in the film's most powerfully gorgeous scene, where Schygulla and Radziwilowicz sit in a room and watch the tape of her audition, and as Schygulla squirms uncomfortably with self-consciousness at viewing herself on the screen, Radziwilowicz's hand gently comes into the frame to caress and cradle her head with affection, which leads to a semi-recreation of the very audition scene they are viewing while lush operatic music plays over the background. It is a scene of almost overpowering emotion and tenderness, and it nearly took my breath away. What I experienced with Passion was a film of stunning sensual beauty about the fragility of the artistic process, but there is no doubt it's operating on many other levels I've not even tapped into yet, and it feels like a futile task for me to discuss it with much meaning after only one viewing, but it definitely left a pretty big impact on me, and is one I can't wait to revisit sometime in the near future.
First Name: Carmen (1983); viewing: second
First Name: Carmen was the first non-60's Godard film I originally saw awhile back, and to be perfectly honest, it didn't do a whole lot for me that first time. It is an adaptation of the Bizet opera Carmen (which I am completely unfamiliar with), and tells the story of Carmen (Maruschka Detmers), an attractive young terrorist who falls in love with a security guard named Joseph (Jacques Bonnaffe) during a botched bank robbery. The two share a brief and torrid love affair before Carmen tosses her lover aside as quickly as they got together, and tragedy ensues.
Despite that initial viewing underwhelming me, there were images from this film that I was unable to shake from my head, even months after viewing; the pair lying on the bank floor in a passionate embrace in the midst of smeared blood and a dormant rifle laying next to them; the Joseph character hugging a blue static screen tv in longing while a Tom Waits song plays over the soundtrack; the gorgeous shots of the beach that continuously pop in and out of the film, punctuating some of the more poetic moments. Godard himself even has some memorable moments in a delightful performance as Carmen's uncle, a "sick" filmmaker named Jean-Luc Godard dealing with cinematic exile and looking to make a comeback film. So I definitely knew something was there, and I was eager to give the film another shot with a completely different perspective, and wasn't shocked in the least to find that I enjoyed it much more this second time around. I suspect the problem for me that first time was that I quite simply wasn't patient with the film; its methodical pace and almost vignette structure lost me somewhere in the middle and I felt a strong disconnect with the characters for some reason, I just didn't care about them. This time, I was able to simply sit back and let the quiet beauty of the movie sweep me away. There is an intoxicating quality to First Name: Carmen, with its lush photography and orchestral score, and I think my patience with the movie this time allowed me to engage with the obsession of the Joseph character, to feel his pain, and thus to attach some very real emotional resonance to those striking images that made such an impression on me that first time around. The experience of watching First Name: Carmen again is precisely what I was hoping to get out of this marathon, and while I probably still like Passion a little more between the two, I certainly found it to be a deeply compelling and affecting work, and I'm pretty thrilled I was able to get this much out of it from only a second viewing. Needless to say, huge start to 80's Godard for me; these two films were really fantastic.