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I almost don't know why I am rating Numero Deux (or Number Two, ho-ho)
so high. I think a good lot of it may have to do with sheer audacity,
which if nothing else is what impresses me with Godard. For better or
worse (sometimes more for the worse, but better if it's in the 60's),
Jean-Luc Godard is a director who really does a job f***ing with the
audience (or at least with me), and part of it is a certain arrogance
on his part, I think, as he is a gifted filmmaker with a sort of mad
genius about him at times. Like with several of his 80's films, with
Numero deux, he is saying 'I will go even further than I have before,
because it's the only way I know how'. In a way he reminds me of George
Carlin, only on a different level; Carlin wants to take his audience
across whatever line it is that is improper or expectable, and then
have the audience be glad that they did it. Godard does this, but not
always does he bring the audience with him, which is why he's always
remained on the outskirts of the film-world. Number Two is one of those
films where he really wants to take people across the 'line' by doing
what he calls a 'remake' of Breathless, his first film. I've found this
kind of talk from him (which also includes his 'End of Cinema' claim at
the end of Week End) a little unbelievable, as he is always
experimenting with each film, not just Number Two. At least here, he is
successful in not letting one drift too much into boredom.
When I say too much though, let it be known, nothing really 'happens' in this film. It's really an examination by Godard and his first time collaborator Anne-Marie Mieville on a sort of cross examination of "politics and porno" (it's a pretty funny moment when that comes up, by the way). In fact, the first ten minutes or so of the film are the first real hurdle (make no mistake, this is not an easy film) by watching Godard sort of 'testing' out his experiment of using video monitors (which, at the time, must have been a new revolution in the film-making process). He goes off on tangents, sometimes more interesting and with some grounding than in other films, sometimes not at all. In a way it sets up the film as more of a video essay than something of a real motion picture. The bulk of the film then focuses on a family of four, a husband, a wife, and their son and daughter, who seem to be in this apartment all the time, slowly going nuts, growing bored with their sexual organs.
This is where the 'porno' part of the film comes into play, and at times it became a little too disturbing (this would definitely not pass the censors if it was made in America, in any form), as the kids get to practically see their parents in the act so to speak. Godard has a peculiar fascination with such taboo subject matter; all of these scenes, of course, are shown through video monitors, wherein the viewer has to look further into the given space of the frame. Who is more of the voyeur, Godard might be asking. It's hard to find any true 'enjoyment' in many of their scenes, except from complete detachment. There is one very flight-of-fancy type scene where the mother does a dance (in the Godard tradition of course, one shot, one long take, where she starts spewing out communistic one-liners. In fact, this is Godard coming right out of, if not still hip-deep, in his Maoist period, and at times one wonders whether is satirizing some of this, or if he is just a hardcore, Maoist filmmaker who does everything but start waving the red flag on camera.
Like First Name: Carmen, none of the scenes of nudity or overt sexuality are at all sensual, or erotically charged like in a Bertolucci movie. This becomes a sort of intrigue to what might be one of the key points of the film; what happens with our perception of the image, how it gets filtered through, and under such documentary-style circumstances (all actors, per the arrangement, are non-professionals)? The last fifteen minutes of the film are when it starts to lag on, losing some of the strengths that went with the earlier part of the film. But I still couldn't look away, even during a late-night viewing. As another commenter on this film has said, the film is desperate, with Godard trying to 'reach out' to someone with his style at a time that had moved on from the peak of the 'new wave' of French cinema. Damn it all if it isn't a good, intellectual 'trip' seeing some of these images; one scene that I thought was maybe my favorite of the film is when a hand, almost alien-like (the body in silhouette except for the hand) punches keys to flicker up images on the monitor, as a female voice-over guides through almost nothingness.
It would be hard for me to sit through this movie again anytime soon, but at the least it wasn't as pretentious or inexplicably filmed as with some of his later works.
The first time I ever saw "Numero Deux" was the last time a movie almost had me in tears, - 'cause it's desperate. Done on video "Numero Deux" was Godard's attempt to overcome the - as he had put it himself - "End of cinema", Godard himself having blown it to pieces in "Pierrot le Fou" and "Weekend". "Numero Deux" was to be a new beginning, a new "Breathless" (which was number one), - but absolutely NOTHING seems to be working. "Numero Deux" is a shipwreck of a movie. The over-all "theme" or premise of the movie can be summed up like this: What the American were doing in Vietnam can be compared to a husband anally raping his wife. Because of it, both of them - Vietnam as well as the wife - now have bowel problems. Hardly the most convincing analogy, I am sure you all agree, and Godard seems to have great difficulties figuring out what to do with it. HE is the one who cannot deliver, and a lot of the time we see him just sitting there, arguing with himself, like a guy stuck in a public restroom. It's pathetic, and it's sad. It's one of my all time favorite movies.
Depicting an "alienated" French family on video monitors that
swim in a black void, Godard creates a kind of mystical proletarian
naturalism that carroms against strange folkloric proverbs, surreal
interaction played utterly flat, and a quiescent sexual explicitness
that has the calm uninflection of hardcore pornography. At first it
seems like a Franz Xaver Kroetz play on a video monitor (which
gives it an occult-like power); then the family goes on to take on the
primal, iconic qualities of a Henry Moore family group. An
exploration of the hidden properties of the image, and the
global-scale forces that (in Godard's view) pull all the strings of our
intimate lives, NUMERO DEUX ranks with Godard's greatest work.
Not even the finest of his later work has the immense force,
striking simplicity or blinding insight of this picture.
This was Godard's first film after the Dziga Vertov collaborations of the late sixties and early seventies,and his last feature film for five years.It can be seen as poised uncertainly between the analytical agitprop of the Vertov period and the more accessible films of the eighties which were his return to commercial film making.Its radical innovation which is at once striking and deeply unsettling for the average viewer is his use of split screen for most of the running length. The film tells of a youngish couple who live a seemingly conventional family life with their two young children and his mother and father,but beneath the facade of normality there runs a relentless deconstruction of the sexual power play of married life,the boredom and frustration of the wife and the alienation of the husband trapped in an exploitative job.An extremely pessimistic and very difficult film to watch.
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