Thursday, 21 April 2011


* * * * * *

1967 - France (Anouchka, Argos, Carrose, Parc)

DIRECTOR: Jean-Luc Godard
SCRIPT: Jean-Luc Godard, Catherine Vimenet
PHOTOGRAPHY: Raoul Coutard

   It is quite funny, how deciding on watching the films from 1001 MOVIES... in alphabetical order rather than chronological, accidentally put together two films that suddenly created some sort of a context for each other. In the red corner, an Italian Marxist Bertolucci with his 1900 and in the... other red corner a French Marxist, Godard with TWO OR THREE THINGS... You think a draw? Of course not, that would be far too easy and too little fun as well. Only because they both hark back to the same ideology, doesn't mean there are any similarities. Which is just as good because there are none. And actually, I tell you what, forget Bertolucci. Godard deserves some punches without anyone else's help.

I must admit though, it is a very interesting film. And also one that shows why Godard is considered to be such a big daddy when it comes to both the French New Wave and an avant-garde cinema in general. But let's not forget that the word 'interesting' is very often used to politely disguise much stronger and not always positive opinions. And therefore I am very careful when saying 'interesting' in this context. As it happens most of the time this film is a mixed bag and the trouble is that I'm still not quite sure which way the balance is being tipped. And the main problem is, that it's aged. And believe me, Sean Connery it ain't. More like poor old Marlon, to be honest. There's very little doubt that when it came to exploring the limits to which the cinematic formulae would stretch, Godard must have been in a class of his own. TWO OR THREE THINGS... in its form is as experimental as it gets although without pushing it beyond limits, like the surrealists would do. Which is both refreshing and quite annoying at the same time. Godard's fascination with Bertolt Brecht and his idea of Verfremdungseffekt results in a (intentionally) very choppy viewing experience to say the least. The main problem is that there is nothing to hold onto. There's no plot to speak of, no story, no flow. There is a whispering narrator (Godard himself) but soon enough we realize that his task is not to provide us with any useful commentary to the film but deliver a pseudo-philosophical drivel that Godard is inflicting upon us directly, without much relation to what's going on on the screen. And what a load of bollocks that is as well... There were in history and still are today filmmakers capable of asking much more substantial and meaningful existential questions without a single word, than Godard manages through his inspired (as if by intoxication) and infantile revelations. Second, as I've already mentioned, the story as such is non-existent. What we're left with instead, is a collection of scenes, often completely random (can anyone explain to me a naked Serbian girl in the bath???) that vaguely, when put together, outline a day from Marina Vlady character's life. But those which could be used to construct a sort of a plot still would not add up to even a half of the time this film lasts. Everything above that is nothing more than a director's 'techniques' used to achieve certain artistic and socio-political 'effect'. Which is where it hurts.

As it might slowly becoming apparent, I do have a problem with art in the service of ideology. For once, because having a good understanding (and a living practice) of the workings of totalitarian political systems and regimes I simply don't see any difference between a conformist artist licking the politburo's ass or a one that genuinely sings his earnest praise to, be it comrades, or whoever else. Whether you take money for it or you do it because you like it, it's all the same to the mob. Godard might be one of those weird people who did actually fall in love with the alluring world of the Inner Party but it doesn't make him less guilty in my eyes. I am also not very fond of art that puts itself into Judge Dredd's heavy boots (police, judge and executioner of social and/or political issues in one). You see, what really puts me off here is that both over-ideologising and engaging in world or local problems of a particular era (which is the case with TWO OR THREE THINGS...) make art lose what (in my very humble and ignorant opinion) constitutes the real art - universality and timelessness. The Western Marxism of the sixties was neither and so is Godard's spat with Le Corbusier and how his ideas affected the modern (then) suburbs of Paris. His vivisection of the flawed transition from the traditional ways of life to the organised structures of tower blocks and modern urbanised areas is still valuable as a close-on-documentary but in the long run, do we really care? Well, of course we don't because Godard explicitly doesn't want us to, but by doing so he is also hacking at the branch on which he made his characters sit. What follows is that the director deploys techniques to detach viewer from the in-film reality and characters, the viewer does detach him/herself, the viewer cannot connect emotionally with anything or anyone he/she sees on the screen, the viewer doesn't give a heap of guano. And then we have all that direct preaching and didactics to top it up. The war in Vietnam is mentioned just about in every third sentence, the lecture on communist paradise is particularly random and wonky, and all that is delivered by characters talking into space, as if answering questions (that they've learnt by heart without understanding them) asked during an interview. It's artistic, granted, but pointless. Completely and utterly pointless.

But there must be some justification for those three stars though, and that, for me, is the form. Even though to some extent it needs to be analysed in the context of the time the film was made, I still find it its main (if not only) strength. There are some nice touches there. The opening sequences of building sites illustrated by a city noise straight away made me think that the film's aesthetics will be dehumanised and unemotional, which turned out to be true. The film is also full of colour and in that very purely aesthetic, sixties-like way with saturated areas of red, blue or yellow. In one scene Vlady's Juliette is lying on her bed and her blue top, white sheet and red blanket are organised in the French flag, which is also a recurring element of the visuals. Is it meaningful? For Godard probably was, but it is also a little bit of fun to try and find those colour arrangements. There is also much more subtlety in the visual approach than in the script which is very refreshing in comparison. For example, every time we see any bits of greenery like grass, trees, anything natural, there is always a little piece of a advertising banner or a brand name hiding in the corner. A tasteful, little element to show how the consumerism, but also a city structure is tainting the nature. Some of the suburban panoramic shots, even though Godart quite clearly hates those areas, otherwise he would have never created this film, could easily be printed out as original sixties' postcards. There's also a nice (even if a little bit too direct) scene in which, after another lengthy passage about the Vietnam, a puff of cigarette smoke is accompanied by the sound of exploding bombs. I also quite liked the scene in which Juliette's son is reading his homework on friendship and at the same time waving around a plastic machine gun and 'shooting' at his parents. Completely ruined and over-done though, by little prat aiming in the end directly at the camera (an us, in front of the screen). Even more ham-fisted is the final scene in which Godard is trying to stir our conscious against consumerism in which a selection of colourful household products are exposed on the lawn while Godard as the narrator whispers to us about Hiroshima, Auschwitz, Budapest and yet again, Vietnam. Oh for goodness' sake! Where is French finesse when we need it? So, even though the experimental form speaks for itself much better than the experimental substance, even here monsieur directeur can't stop himself from, well, fucking it up. And to wrap it round, one more thing. All the analysis on the film I've found stress that its main issue is a problem of suburban wifes becoming prostitutes so they can make the ends meet. That TWO OR THREE THINGS... was like an alarm bell to warn about the demoralization brought upon tower blocks communities by the social experiment around Paris. Well, I'm sorry but when we see young (and far too beautiful to represent a 'typical' housewife) girls fornicating so casually that even clothes shopping causes them more of an emotional stir, when before and after sex all they discuss is existentialism and war in Vietnam, then I say Godard made a right pig's ear of trying to show a deep social problem. That's how over-styling, over-experimenting and over-indulging in the method completely killed and eradicated any message that potentially could have been contained in this picture.

And so, overall, I have faced another disappointment. Yet again, it is a film that is very clearly a critic's choice where by 'critic' I mean a person who believes that being a critic is all about pretending to understand films that the regular plebs have no idea about and would be far too simple to appreciate anyway. In other words, a snob. I, on the other hand, do not think that the film is only good when not-enjoyable and therefore I'm sending Godard's TWO OR THREE THINGS I KNOW ABOUT HER into a humbug basket. Still, looking forward to watching ALPHAVILLE though, but that just simply because of my love for anything even remotely verging on Sci-Fi. With a bit of luck, I should get there before the end of this year...

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Previously on 1001 FILMS TO SEE AND NOT DIE: 1900
Next on the list (YUUUPPPIIIII!!!): 2001: A Space Odyssey - Stanley Kubrick, 1968
and after: The 39 Steps - Alfred Hitchcock, 1935


  1. It is a disappointment, I agree. But I like a few things in this film. First of all it's a bit Bunuelesque style - I don't know if Godard was inspired by Bunuel, but "2 or 3..." reminds me of "The Discret Charm of Bourgeoisie". You know, it's totally surrealistic sometimes. Think of a scene with American looking for the prositutes and ordering Marina Vlady to put the bag on her head. Or the conversetion between the young lady and the man in the cafe. Or Vlady's husband listening to the radio in the very beginning. I think now this film is a lot funnier than it used to be. Also because we know that Godard's political thinking was, er, just stupid.
    And there's a second reason I like this film - women. Almost all of them are (or, to be precise, were at the time) beautiful :)

  2. I totally agree. The girls in this film are simply sublime, which, as I've mentioned, makes them completely unbelievable as typical housewives. There's nothing wrong with equally young beautiful women living in the tower blocks of suburbs of Paris, but come on, not every single one of them!

    That aside, I guess I'm just an unforgiving nasty piece of work. The film is funny, but unintentionally, which in my book falls under ridiculous. The surrealism? Maybe, but that just makes it even more chaotic, while such a charismatic director should definitely be far more in control of his work. And then it all becomes just too much and as I said, the message gets completely lost in the form. For me it's one or the other and there's simply not enough of that absurd, surrealistic madness for me to sit back and enjoy it without analyzing too much. Rejs it ain't, although I must admit, there's a lot of stuff in this film that reminds me of the general feel of the Polish cinema from the sixties and early seventies.

    And as you say, there are enjoyable elements in this film, hence the three star rating from me, even if you enjoyed different bits than I did :)

  3. A teraz po polsku, bo nie dotyczy filmu. Ale se przeczytałem, co napisałem wcześniej, i myślę, że następnym razem muszę się mniej spieszyć, bo zrobiłem strasznie dużo literówek :)

  4. No akurat, jakby to miało jakiekolwiek znaczenie...