DENNIS SCHWARTZ 
IS THERE ANY GOOD 
IN SAYING 
EVERYTHING ABOUT A MOVIE?

 
IN PRAISE OF LOVE (ELOGE de L'AMOUR) (director/writer: Jean-Luc Godard; cinematographers: Julien Hirsch/Christophe Pollock; editor: Raphaëlle Urtin; cast: Bruno Putzulu (Edgar), Cecile Camp (Elle), Jean Davy (Grandfather), Francoise Verny (Grandmother), Philippe Loyrette (Servant), Jeremy Lippman (Perceval, Audrey Klebaner (Eglantine), Remo Forlani (Mayor Forlani), Claude Baigneres (Mr. Rosenthal); Runtime: 97; MPAA Rating: PG; producers: Alain Sarde/Ruth Waldburger; Manhattan Pictures; 2001-France, in French with English subtitles)

 
"What keeps me coming back to a filmmaker I never warmed up to, is that I find the rascal irresistible."

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

I was not charmed by the 71-year-old Jean-Luc Godard's elusive non-linear 84th film after one viewing of a film that might require many viewings for it to become accessible and appreciated. It is filmed in the first 57 minutes in glorious b/w as it explores the present but in the last part it returns to the past and is filmed like many modern films in video and in a florid display of rich colors. It's the same facile dialogue the cranky filmmaker has been dishing out for years, of cinema as political dialectic. Though after his more recent traffic accident, he slipped considerably and made a string of films that were visually appealing but so incoherent they were difficult to connect with--perhaps, even for his many admirers. This attempt signals a return to communicate with his audience again with his familiar style. The legendary provocative French director made his name a lasting one in cinematic history a long time ago with his masterpiece Breathless, and seems to persevere in his love/hate relationship with the viewer and in his ability to still sting a modern audience with his brand of the truth. This film is filled with philosophical sounding arguments about the arts, religion, history, and love that sometimes rings true but more often than not seems pretentious and is presented in a way that resists being challenged. Here he again offers his ongoing battle with America and Hollywood, a film industry earlier on in his career he revered and imitated with great success. His ridiculous resentment about the Americans arrogantly calling themselves Americans refers to his belief that the United States of America is a country without a name. Godard's inane argument to ridicule America as a pompous country is reinforced by his statement that there is both a North and South America, and that Brazil has a united states and Mexico has states and is in North America. Therefore, America has no name and is only belittling all the other countries in our hemisphere by its citizens referring to themselves as Americans. Godard uses Spielberg to vent his anger at Hollywood, as he infers that Spielberg is not only a terrible filmmaker (there are many critics who would agree!) but financially screwed the 94-year-old Mrs. Schindler, who is in a state of poverty and is being treated in a German hospital, out of her hubby's story and never gave her proper credit for helping the Jews and never paid her fairly while he made millions from Schindler's List. What Godard actually said was that "Mrs. Schindler was never paid; she's in poverty in Argentina." 

The point Godard's trying to force-feed through his endless use of slogans as sound bites, is that since Americans have no roots "Americans buy the past of others." I'm not saying that there are not arguments to be made about the failures of both the American and Hollywood dream; in fact, I would be suspicious of anyone who didn't see the many faults of America and its thirst for world power and pop culture. But, though I couldn't resist all of Godard's slogans as unfurled I just question what he's spewing and of him being the messenger of dissent for the things I believe in. 

"In Praise of Love" plays as a melancholy celebration of something that has been lost, as it states "No resistance without memory or universality." The plot line involves a director named Edgar (Bruno Putzulu) who wants to make a film about the four stages of love: "the meeting, the physical passion, the quarrels and separation, the reconciliation." 

As respected film critic and noted Godard enthusiast Jonathan Rosenbaum suggests, "the first two-thirds of the film has less to do with love per se than with the lives of members of the French resistance during World War II and of poor and homeless Parisians in the present. Eventually we discover that Berthe -- a young woman Edgar met in Brittany two years earlier and particularly wants to include in his project, though she shows no interest in participating -- has killed herself. In the film's final section, set two years earlier, the themes of love and the French resistance are intertwined. Edgar arrives in Brittany to interview a historian, Jean Lacouture, about Catholics in the resistance, saying he's "composing a cantata for Simone Weil." This leads to his meeting an elderly couple, friends of Lacouture who fought in the resistance and have been together ever since -- even though the man, following the orders of his superiors, exposed the woman as a member of the underground during the war. The two are now negotiating with a representative of the American embassy in Paris to sell their story to a Hollywood studio, for a feature to be directed by Steven Spielberg. The couple's granddaughter, a legal trainee who advises them on the contract, is Berthe, the woman who will kill herself two years later."

For me, at least, this Rosenbaum explanation of the hazy plot cleared up where the story was going and gave me a sense that there's a rhyme to Godard's reasoning. I must admit that I got lost in a sea of quotes--which I found clever but not my idea of a fulfilling film experience. I was hung up on all the slogans and spent my viewing time cataloging as many quotes as I could and feel compelled to just list some of them, since that's mostly what I got from this film experience and if this review is boring as a result that is nonetheless how I found the film: "How odd that works of art demand titles." "Truth may turn out to be sad." "Happiness is never cheerful." "Every thought should recall the debris of a smile." "Adulthood doesn't exist." "The State is the antithesis of love." We're all jesters, we outlive our problems." "Nothing said could be pointless." "Every problem denotes a mystery." And, "You can only think of something, if you can think of something else." 

The homage to one of the directors I admired most, Robert Bresson, warmed my heart. 

Godard flashes a poster of the "Pickpocket" and uses Bresson's quote "Not a question of directing someone else, but of directing oneself." This was taken from Bresson's book explaining his film theory, which is a book of quotes.  

From what I could gather, the film glosses over Godard's main viewpoint that Americans are vampire consumers without a sense of culture. Godard uses every opportunity to mock American pop culture as an art form.

I'm not even sure that Godard is relevant anymore, as his messages are delivered in an old style and seem to be more of a reflex reaction than something burning inside with urgency. What keeps me coming back to a filmmaker I never warmed up to, is that I find the rascal irresistible. That so few pics are even addressed to the intellect as this one is, makes me keep searching inside for my Godard visionary key to his inscrutable language--something I still haven't discovered and probably never will. 

REVIEWED ON 12/5/2003     GRADE: C+

Dennis Schwartz: "Ozus' World Movie Reviews"

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