Monday, July 27, 2009


Waiting for Godard

By Edward Copeland
Jean-Luc Godard and I always have had a prickly, imagined relationship. For every film such as Band of Outsiders or A Woman Is a Woman that I've enjoyed, there are films such as Breathless and Contempt that I found overrated or films such as Alphaville or Les carabiniers that I didn't even finish. Thankfully, Tout va Bien fell into the first camp for me, even seeming to be the first Godard effort to blend his interesting visuals and hard-to-describe stories with a clear set of ideas behind them.

Godard co-directed Tout va Bien with Jean-Pierre Gorin and stars Yves Montand and Jane Fonda, still bearing her Bree hairdo from Klute. The movie begins basically as a film-within-a-film as voiceovers question how to go about it. Don't they need funding? Stars? A love story?

The romance, as far as it goes, comes via Montand and Fonda's characters, a married couple named Jacques and Suzanne. Jacques is a filmmaker, who has turned to directing commercials, mainly because it is quicker, easier and more lucrative. Suzanne is an American reporter and the couple become unwitting hostages as Suzanne visits a factory for a story at the exact moment that the workers stage a strike, holding the building and its manager as a bargaining tool.

During this section of the film, Godard and Gorin set up one of those sequences that I'm always a sucker for, be it on stage or film: a multi-level view of a structure with multiple rooms. It can be in a so-so film such as The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou or the great Ray Davies number of "Quiet Life" in Julien Temple's underrated and nearly forgotten Absolute Beginners.

Once the factory sequence has concluded, Tout va Bien widens its scope as Jacques questions his own responsibilities to politics and his chosen ideology. He admits that he always voted communist, though never joined the party and then became disillusioned with the Soviet Union's actions. It raises for him a larger question: What is an intellectual's responsibility to a revolution?

A question much on his mind in the time period, which centers around the student cultural riots in France also depicted in Bernardo Bertolucci's The Dreamers. It's a question worth mulling today when would-be right-wing revolutionaries make it a point to reject intellectualism. The revolution that gave birth to the greatness of the United States sprang from intellectuals. Oh, how nitwits who believe in the Birthers conspiracy movement must hate the Founding Fathers. Damn them and their rational thought and their gall for using brains and intellect!

An interesting feature on the Criterion DVD that falls along these lines is a documentary that Gorin and Godard made further exploring this question called Letter to Jane and based entirely on the photo of Fonda visiting North Vietnam after she was finished making their film.

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The set on Tout va Bien was most likely inspired by Jerry Lewis's The Ladies Man.

Also, since you like Absolute Beginners, I hope you've seen Expresso Bongo, the visual inspiration for that film, even though Temple's film is based on the novel of the same name.

Letter to Jane brings up some interest points about how to "read" photographs. Even if one doesn't accept Godard and Gorin's thoughts, it's worth seeing for some of the general points of discussion.
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