Friday, April 16, 2010
Godard Marathon Day 15: Nouvelle Vague (1990)
Nouvelle Vague (1990); viewing: first
Godard's Nouvelle Vague is a wonderful film, a rich tapestry of music, image and language whose grace and invigorating sensual beauty are nearly unparalleled in the director's oeuvre. Once again, as is the case with most of these later Godard films I've watched, there is a narrative present in only the loosest sense of the word. This time it primarily involves two characters, a man and woman played by Alain Delon and Domiziana Giordano. The Giordano character knocks over Delon in the street with her car, takes him in, and the pair become lovers while staying at her beautiful summer estate. One day the two go out water skiing, the man falls in the water and she let's him drown. Some time passes, and Delon reappears (as either the dead man resurrected or the dead man's brother). The two jump right back into their romance, this time with Giordano taking a more passive role in the relationship and Delon a more dominant one. Once again they return to the lake, and it is now she who falls into the water. This time, however, there will be a different outcome.
Of course, following the "plot" is not critical to experiencing Nouvelle Vague. This is a film to be admired and felt on a sensual level, and it never let's you forget that as William Lubtchansky's elegant photography fills the frame with opulence and beauty at every turn. Much like Hail Mary and First Name: Carmen before it, Nouvelle Vague trains its eye towards nature in all its glory, incorporating many images of rippling waters, trees swaying in the wind, brooding overcast skies and so on. I think part of what made this movie so enjoyable for me was that I was able to let go of any expectations of following a coherent narrative fairly early into the viewing, and simply allowed myself to take in the majesty of the images and the rich textures and moods of Manfred Eicher's amazing music, whose incorporation marks somewhat of a return to classicism for Godard, who here opts for a sweeping, cinematic score instead of simply sampling classical and pop music for the soundtrack as he had done with his last handful of films.
The third important component in this film of course is the dialogue, which is entirely made up of literary quotations and texts from various works throughout the history of literature, including Hemingway, Shakespeare, Faulkner, Dante, Bataille, Schiller, Lacan and Chandler, amongst others. This of course recalls 1985's Detective, which likewise used literary quotations for a majority of its dialogue. In that film however, the dialogue, for me, seemed to work merely as a way of injecting novelty into a muddled and disjointed premise that never added up to a compelling whole. Whereas in Nouvelle Vague, it is a key component to what Godard seems to be going after, a literary function of his plan to - as Richard Brody writes in his book Everything Is Cinema - "reconceive the history of cinema, and his place in it, as a biblical allegory". Whether Brody's take on the film is accurate or not (I also like Jonathan Rosenbaum's piece which describes the film as "a meditation on the end of the world"), there is no denying that Nouvelle Vague is a late masterpiece from Godard, a carefully crafted work of art that filters and refines the beauty of the world through its abstract eye and provides a powerful cinematic experience of lucid, overwhelming splendor.