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In this film, 'Her' refers to both Paris, the character of Juliette Janson and the actress playing her, Marina Vlady. The film is a kind of dramatised documentary, illustrating and exaggerating the emotionless lives of characters in the new Paris of the 60s, where commercialism mocks families getting by on small incomes, where prostitution is a moneyspinning option, and where people are coldly resigned and immune to the human nightmares of Vietnam, and impending Atomic war. Written by
Do you go to the movies expecting to exhilaration, emotion? Maybe this film is not for you. Godard once said, "I don't think you should FEEL about a movie. You should feel about a woman. You can't kiss a movie."
The film does have enough spice to tantalise prurient tastes (middle-class part-time hooker). Yet our storyline is no tempestuous avalanche of excitement crashing to a windswept climax. Godard uses it as an attack on fiction itself. In doing so he questions how we fictionalise our very lives. Buying into lifestyles or accepting dominant themes in merchandising and politics. "Pax Americana: jumbo-sized advertising," as a voice-over proclaims.
Performances are excellent. Cinematography has plenty of Godard's hallmark, arresting features. The film integrates a political kick more successfully than many of his attempts. But the real thrill is an intellectual one. 2 or 3 Things I Know about Her appeals to the philosophically inclined. For this viewer, it is a film to watch and re-watch many times, enjoying the test of ideas. A work of great beauty. It also transports Godard to being more than just a filmmaker.
An exemplary demonstration and examination of Brechtian technique, it is more than a purely cinematic use of Bernold Brecht's 'alienation' effect. Godard uses it to make the viewer examine the nature sensory perception and the almost existential convenience of any definition of truth.
Peter Wollen, in his essay 'Godard and Counter Cinema', described how the director was working towards a political rationale for his attack on fiction. Fiction=mystification=bourgeois ideology. But Wollen acknowledges that initially Godard's fascination is more connected with, "the misleading and dissembling nature of appearances, the impossibility of reading an essence from a phenomenal surface, of seeing a soul through and within a body or telling a lie from a truth."
The basis for all this is a story of Paris it could be the 'her' of the title. Galloping consumerism. Policies determined by economics, not people. Demolition and construction at an alarming pace. While the ordinary decent person cannot keep up. "If you can't afford LSD buy a colour TV."
Our 'ordinary decent person' is an attractive woman on the balcony of high-rise. Our voice-over describes a few things about her. As she turns her head, he describes her again. Same description. Different name. The first time, the real actress (Marina Vlady). Then she is the character, Juliette Janson. "Her hair is dark auburn or light brown," says the voice-over, "I'm not sure."
The voice-over (Godard himself in a conspiratorial whisper) switches back and forth between politics and Juliette's situation, leaving us in no doubt over parallels. The two are then linked diegetically: "The government is disrupting the nation's economy, not to mention its basic moral fibre."
Johnson's futile bombing campaigns in the Vietnam also come under attack. One of Juliette's clients is a war reporter. She does a 'double / all-nighter' with her colleague Marianne which includes parading naked with flight bags over their heads. We are treated to intercut pictures of napalmed victims.
Although it is one of Godard's cleverest and most rounded attacks on capitalism, the film comes into its own as he questions the nature of reality, neatly linked up using gender politics. "What is language, Mummy," asks Juliette's youngster. "Language is the house man lives in," she answers. Examples of male-dominated language pervade the film, from street hoardings to bright signage (both used as intertitles).
Language is not 'objective' and defines how we view things rather than just what they 'are'. Juliette's husband is proud of how clever she is, finding a car at a 'bargain' price. She doesn't reveal to him how she is helping things along.
Juliette is objectivised, both in the story with our conscious collusion and by her habit of turning to the camera to address us directly as Vlady, the actress commenting on the character, speaking about her and through her.
Yet Godard attempts to rise above male-orientated perception. "Should I have talked about Juliette or the leaves . . . since it's impossible to do both at once?" Perhaps our use of language extends to our thinking, where it can be equally subverted. "Now I understand the thought process," says Juliette, "It's substituting an effort of the imagination for an examination of real objects." A more precise definition is developing. What is an object? It is something we pass from subject to subject to allow us to live together. Arbitrary agreements, a language, an arbitrary 'reality.'
But it is not all dour. Take love. "True love changes you, false love leaves you as you are." Juliette seems unaffected by her double life as a hooker. She applies garish red lipstick before servicing a client. (But her studied indifference would tend to make her, one must assume, a rather unappealing prostitute in real life.) And as Godard lifts our spirits more with thoughts of leaves and children than of the depredation he has critiqued, we are lifted to savour the divine inspiration of a seeker after truth. "One must always be sensitive to the intoxication of life." He says. Which can be taken both ways. Both the leaves and Juliette, "trembled slightly."
A particularly beautiful sequence is when Juliette says, "You can describe what happens when I do something without necessarily indicating what makes me do it." She sheds a tear. "This is how, 150 frames later . . .."
2 or 3 Things I Know about Her also contains perhaps the most legendary close-up of a cup of coffee ever made. Foamy swirls appear only to disappear again. Visual metaphor appearing and dissolving.
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