Thursday, October 6, 2011

Qu'est-ce que c'est degueulasse?

In the films we have view thus far in the semester there seems to be an emphasis on the complexity of language. In our reading, Morrey asserts that another theme, death, cannot be appropriated, that it is unknowable. I feel the same way about the representation of language in the films of Godard. Language presents a mystery that our characters wrestle with and attempt to overcome. 

In the final scene of À Bout de Souffle communication is obscured by Michel’s death. The translation that the police officer offers to Patricia is clumsy and careless. Ultimately even this translation is futile as Patricia still does not fully understand. For me this highlights the inert value of words. They are merely placeholders for ideas, not complete in and of themselves. We speak and we think we are being understood, we think we are communicating, but in the films we have watched thus far, that communication is anything but certain. The elusive nature of language seems to be a recurring theme in much of Godard’s work. 

Godard explores this theme further in Vivre sa Vie. Nana speaks with the philosopher Brice Parain in a café as they discuss the essence of communication and thought. Here Nana, as a stand in for Godard, questions the need for communication, and expresses a desire to live in silence stating  “the more one talks the less words mean”. For me, Godard presents language as kind of an antagonist.  They are complex packages of meaning, threatening to misrepresent all meaning in cinema. They require a work and finesse beyond the immediacy of film. Nana questions, “Do words betray us?” Is true communication futile? 

All of the films that we have watched this semester have touched on the problem of language. Whether it be miscommunication in films like À Bout de Souffle and Le Mépris, or even subtle plays with words. This playfulness can be seen in small ways, like in Alphaville.  where Nueva York, the Spanish pronunciation is substituted for either the French or the English. This signals to me a deeper fascination with interpretation. Godard represents language in his films very much the same way he wishes to represent film itself, as something that is dynamic. This reminds me of Barthes and his firm belief that the written word should be played with, revisited and mulled over. Here too we can say the same about dialogue, it is never fixed and offers many different manifestations each contextualizing the characters and action is subtly different ways.

In other cases is feels as though Godard casts language as the outright villain. In Alphaville for example Natacha indicates that the bible, actually a constantly evolving dictionary, loses words that are perceived to elicit emotion. The words are subsequently removed and banned. Alphaville seems to bring to life the kind of world that Nana wishes  for in Vivre sa Vie, however it turns out to be a frightful dystopia.

This has been a recurring problem for myself. I tend to focus too much on what is being said literally rather than what is being said in between the lines. I scan the dialogue in hopes that they will provide clarity, but in cases like Alphaville and Le Mépris I think Godard would argue just the opposite. I think he would say that perceived concreteness of words serve to obscure meaning.

This idea reminds me of the film Waking Life by Richard Linklater. In it he delves more into the philosophy of words. The character here states that “Creativity arises from imperfection”, perhaps that is why Godard chooses his unscripted and spontaneous approach. His frustration with the status quo of filmmaking allowed him to strive for something much different, a new form of communication. The reference in Vivre sa Vie to Edgar Allen Poe’s “The Oval Portrait seems to underscore this point. The price of perfection is demise. For Godard, to painstakingly craft a perfect story down to the smallest detail is precisely to take out of that story what it is that makes it alive.

This to me encapsulates the character of these early films. Language, like film is often misunderstood. People speak all the time to each other and think they know what language is, and how to communicate. But much like Godard showed audiences a cinema that they did not know existed, he also encourages him to rethink their relationship with language and by proxy their own thoughts. As Nana and Parain’s conversation emphasizes the need of language in our thought process, but if Nana is right and words do betray us, don’t our thoughts also? 

Oz Skinner

No comments:

Post a Comment