Sunday, November 7, 2010


This past Friday, I went to Anthology Film Archives to view Portuguese Filmmaker Pedro Costa speak about his new project Ne Change Rien.  In addition to the premiere, Costa has assembled a program of selects that will play throughout the next two weeks.  Within the program, the film Soigne Ta Droite (Keep Your Right Up), a mid-eighties film by Jean-Luc Godard, caught my attention. The film, complete with a Godard as Godard appearance – including a Chaplinesque leap into a Ferrari, expands the filmmaker’s layering of sounds, images and narration.  Although profound, for the purposes of this entry, I would like to concentrate on the accompanying short film, Puissance de la Parole.

As if the free speaking engagement and film selects were not sufficient, Costa is also inserting a number of surprise screenings within the series.  Anthology has billed these proverbial easter eggs as “a selection of miscellaneous music-related clips, videos, and other surprises throughout the programs, demonstrating his genius as filmmaker, curator, and YouTube-deejay!”  Included within the Keep Your Right Up program is the short Puissance de la Parole.

Puuissance de la Parole is an unreleased video commercial prepared for France Telecom.  Two main themes are reinforced via the film.  First, the film highlights Godard’s ability to remain outside of the mainstream, even when funded by a corporate entity.  Much like France / Tour / Detour / Deux / Enfants, the originality of the work is underexposed due to its obscurity.  Nonetheless, Godard does not change his style to appease commercial entities.  In fact, seemingly, his interaction with the commercial world makes his approach even more stringent.  Second, the film suggests an expansion of the aesthetic qualities of Godard’s work.  Puissance de la Parole, translated as the Power of the Word, is one of Godard’s first films created on video.  As Godard warms up to this new technology, it seems obvious that the medium will serve as an enhancement, rather than a detriment, to his visual style.

In the clip provided, observe the intercutting between water, sun, clouds, film and satellite images.  The scene could be interpreted on many levels.  Ironically, as technological determinism, the video suggests a collision between images from natural and modern societies.  In addition, the quick intercutting stresses the tension that has developed between both areas.  Even more delightful, the combination of images creates a new visual aesthetic in Godard’s work.  Although this is not the first time that he has used fast-motion cutting, the rhythm of the cut has accelerated and extended.  Whereas previous films would include short sequences of quick cutting, Puissance de Parole makes use of lengthy sequences of crosscutting.  I’ve always felt that the work of Godard has lacked the aesthetic precision of filmmakers like Marker, Antonioni or Ozu.  With Puissance de la Parole, there is hope that Godard’s video oeuvre will begin to develop a sense of visual pleasure and move beyond a textual/narration emphasis.  As suggested by Godard himself, for brief moments in Puissance de la Parole, he may be a cinematic Picasso, presenting work of a confounding and abnormal visual aesthetic, yet, at the same time, re-defining the parameters of image perception and sight.

Having only seen two late era Godard films, I am eager to view work from the post La Chinoise period.  As Sam mentioned in class, Film Forum will also be showing Every Man For Himself from November 12-25.  These films, along with our in-class screenings, will provide context for an era that is extremely rare: Godard’s work of the last 40 years.


1 comment:

  1. Thanks for the report Paul. Puissance is one of a number of remarkable works of Godard's middle period that I've only now discovered via YouTube. (So thanks YouTube!) While I agree with you that there does seem to be a more decisive shift towards montage in this period, I'm reluctant to refer to his earlier work in terms of a "textual/narrative emphasis." (I can see "text" to some degree, but "narrative"? It's more poetic than narrative.) I'm also happy to have a world where the formal precision of Ozu and Antonioni exists alongside the more open work-as-process style of Godard and Rossellini. Having said all this, I too am excited to discover more of the later Godard films. I just watched Prenom: Carmen and it is EXTRAORDINARY.