Monday, April 19, 2010
Godard Marathon Day 16: Helas pour moi (1993); JLG/JLG - autoportrait de décembre (1995)
Helas pour moi (1993); viewing: first
Helas pour moi is a deeply mysterious and abstract retelling of the Greek myth of Alcmene, the mother of Heracles and wife of Amphitryon, who has a brief and unknowing affair with Zeus over the course of three nights after he disguises himself as her husband. Here, Alcmene is represented by Rachel Donnadieu (the radiant Laurence Masliah), and Amphitryon by her husband Simon Donnadieu (Gerard Depardieu). Zeus in this story is God, and is played as a small, shadowy and peripheral figure with a gurgling, guttural voice (reminiscent of the voice of Alpha 60, the computer system from Alphaville), and indeed late in the film he appears to inhabit the body of Depardieu's character and play out Godard's own version of the myth. Before you arrive at that, the film introduces you to a host of characters who ruminate and contemplate and journey in and out of the frame constantly, most importantly among them a publisher named Abraham Klimt (Bernard Verley), who is tracking down the Donnadieu's for the purpose of documenting their experiences (I think).
It's certainly one of the most challenging and elusive Godard films I've seen yet, and while I'm not going to pretend as though I came close to understanding everything that happened (as though that's possible with any of these later films), I will say that I was at least able to connect strongly with it on an emotional level. This is a movie rippling with anxiety of all sorts: the anxiety of isolation and romance ("I think a lover only wants to love, and not the other in front of him."), and when the Depardieu character reveals himself as God halfway through, the theme of reconciling one's love of God with romantic love recalls the existential anxiety that was experienced by the main character in 1985's Hail Mary . There is one quick scene in particular, involving Depardieu comparing falling asleep to jumping into an endless dark hole, that really spoke to me and felt like a microcosm of the dark, anxious undercurrents running through the movie. If the film's not somber enough for you by this point, just wait until Dylan Thomas's Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night is read multiple times over ominous imagery, and that should give you a sense of the darkness being dealt with here.
Of course it goes without saying that the film is wallowing in visual beauty, and Caroline Champetier's sumptuous photography is as ravishing as any I've seen in a Godard film yet. The interesting thing in Helas pour moi is that the turbid emotional climate of the film often times gives these gorgeous images an uncharacteristic sense of urgency, a feeling likely heightened by the palpable dread infused in the haunting performances of the leads. I also really loved a visual motif that runs through the film, where often a shot will begin out of focus and then be slowly brought into focus, an aesthetic that to me felt like memories slowly coming back into someone's head (or even being created), giving many of these moments a wonderfully ethereal edge. I will say that I got a bit frustrated at the film a handful of times, as aside from the general confusion and non-sequitors abound, Godard allows his characters dialogue to overlap one another frequently, and for this overlapping dialogue to overlap quick intertitles. During these scenes the subtitles would flash by so quickly trying to fit it all in that I would have to rewind over and over again just to catch everything. But all in all, Helas pour moi is one of Godard's darkest and most puzzling films, a stark meditation on life and love and myth, and despite its obscurity I still found it to be a rewarding and intriguing experience. And I really loved this quote by Jonathan Rosenbaum in his piece : "I’d much rather hear Godard talking to himself than Spielberg addressing half the planet."
JLG/JLG - autoportrait de décembre (1995); viewing: second
JLG/JLG - autoportrait de décembre is pretty much exactly as the title says: a cinematic self-portrait of the eccentric filmmaker. Taking place mostly in his Swiss home and areas surrounding, JLG/JLG documents, in the usual abstract and confounding ways, various aspects of Godard's personal and creative lives. On the personal front, we are given scenes showing Godard thoughtfully pacing through his apartment while ruminating, quoting literature, sketching, writing, and of course operating various screens and tinkering around with images. We even see him playing tennis, and his spry movements and energy here reminded me of the entertaining physical presence he showed in films such as Vladimir and Rosa and King Lear. On the creative side, we see late in the film (which clocks in well short of an hour) Godard in his editing suite, working with a blind assistant while he appears to be editing Helas pour moi. It's probably the most interesting sequence in the film, and seems to hold some deep insight into the methods that made up Godard's film making during this period. Taking place in December, the film, as expected, digresses numerous times into shots of nature; this time with chilly overcast skies and snowy landscapes creating the scene, and these shots are breathtaking as always and give the film a rich texture. There is something about the snow in this movie that makes it feel all the more personal.
This first time I saw JLG/JLG I liked it very much, responding to it mostly on an aesthetic level, but also being extremely interested in the subject of Godard himself, who was very much an enigmatic figure to me at the time. Of course, he is still largely mysterious to me even now, however being more familiar with his interests and style, and being keyed into some of the idiosyncrasies of his personality made the film all the more enjoyable for me this time. Despite its running time, it's a dense work, as dense as any of his post-60' s stuff, but it also plays as a tone poem to the methods of a man who's always worked outside of the box. I very much enjoyed watching JLG/JLG again, and can only imagine that this is one that I will grow even fonder of with future viewings.