Thursday, February 28, 2013

Nouvelle vague

1990, France/Switzerland, directed by Jean-Luc Godard

I'm not at all familiar with post-1970 Godard, but Nouvelle vague was featured on the first issue of Les Cahiers du cinéma I ever purchased, when I was sixteen, and the images from that issue have remained with me since -- I wouldn't quite say that I'd constructed my own mental version of the film, but I certainly formed a clear sense of what I thought it would be like, and it was nothing like this.

I'd forgotten almost completely how beautiful, even painterly, Godard's films can be -- images composed with exquisite care, but also finding much of their beauty in movement, such as in the wonderful shot, near the end, of a couple emerging from the woods and wandering across a lawn, the camera fluidly tracking their progress over fifteen or twenty seconds. In the opening segment, though, the soundscape is often even more striking, with clinking glasses, a car, or even a snippet of music often used to distinctly unsettling effect.

As expected, there's the usual abundance of references -- within cinema alone contributing everything from Pagnol to echoes of Alain Delon's own filmography (Plein soleil, most obviously, and perhaps Notre histoire among others), but also music and books, whether they appear within the shot or are quoted in voiceover. At one point, Delon -- who has perfected, over several decades, the trick of looking utterly exhausted -- fixes the camera and asks, in response to (yet) another apparent non sequitur, "What's he talking about?" It's hard not to assume that Godard is winking in our direction, aware of his own obtuse and pretentious reputation and able, just a little, to bring himself down to size.

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