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Sauve Qui Peut loosely translates as "every man for himself" and as
such I guess is Godard's acknowledgment that 1968's dream of a new
society is gone and everyone has to get on with the daily grind. The
three protagonists try and save themselves in different ways, Natalie
Baye through getting back to nature, Huppert through selling herself
and the director Paul Godard through his work. Everyone however is
ground down by the social relations they must operate within.
As ever Godard leverages as much of his library as he can into the film, with huge chunks of Duras, Bukowski and sundry other writers cut & pasted in. And he plays the usual games with sound and image, juxtaposing them sometimes to beautiful effect, sometimes dissonant, quite often very funny.
A lot of people find Godard's later work somewhat depressing and it's true it mostly lacks the fizz of his early 60's stuff, however there are compensations; he seems to be putting more of his heart as well as his head into the work in later years. There is more than enough here to draw you in and keep you watching for several viewings.
There are three central characters in this film, and three central
stylistic devices that we must become accustomed to in order to better
appreciate the concept of the film as Godard sees it. The first of
these particular devices is a literal slowing down of time; in which
the action of the film freezes and then advances one single frame at a
time at seemingly sporadic points throughout. The second is Godard's
continually jarring use of sound design and editing; taking dialog from
one scene and placing it over shots taken from somewhere else entirely,
or, indeed, occasionally having the audio from one scene continue into
the next one before having it cut out abruptly. The third and final
technique is much more transparent and involves the director
manipulating the events of the film into recognisable chapter points
decided by theme. This creates an often jarring and confusing rupture
in the film's linear timeline, making the film more of a formal
essay/thematic rumination than an actual, identifiable narrative. At
any rate, if you're familiar with Godard's work, then some of these
techniques will be fairly recognisable. However, the film is still one
of the director's most challenging and enigmatic experiments; filled
with subtle elements of almost Buñuelian satire, and some deeply flawed
and often detestable characters.
With this in mind, the film can be interpreted on a number of levels, not least as a visual essay on the creative process itself. However, one recognisable strand of the film deals most plainly with human relationships, frailties and fragilities, and the idea of escape. The way the layers of theme, character and events are woven throughout the film - combined with Godard's bold experiments with structure and presentation - is truly fascinating, though it certainly isn't an easy film to enjoy or comprehend without the benefit of repeated viewings. The satire used throughout is incredibly subtle, with references to society as prostitution, the role of the director as a selfish deviant and the mechanics of society in relation to the sold out 60's generation cast adrift in the 80's consumerist abyss, all hinted at through the bold combination of character, dialog, scenario, and the actual presentation of the film. Instead of presenting this colourfully, as someone like Buñuel might have done - as evident in films such as Belle de jour (1967), The Phantom of Liberty (1974) and The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie (1972) - Godard's presentation of the film seems incredibly straight-faced, with a largely un-stylised and matter-of-fact approach to the cinematography, shot composition and production design going against the more iconic and imaginative films that he produced in the 1960's.
This was effectively the beginning of the third phase of Godard's career, following on from his more aggressive, experimental and politically-themed films of the 1970's, and seeming to show a greater level of intelligence and emotional maturity than his much more successful work of the early-to-mid 1960's. I wouldn't go so far as to call it a masterpiece, but it is at least a thought-provoking and fascinating idea and one that is conveyed in Godard's typically jarring and alienating approach to editing, sound design and direction. It is also notable for the two incredibly bold and effective performances from Natalie Baye and Isabelle Huppert, who act as the principal anchors to the film's central thematic preoccupations. Both of these characters share similar qualities, though ultimately seem to come from completely different worlds. Baye's character works in television, is in the midst of an on-again-off-again love affair with a jaded television director, and seems to be struggling to reconcile her once defiant need for independence and that 60's sense of individuality in favour of a comfortable life in the country.
On the other side of the fence we have Huppert's character, a young prostitute also looking to make an escape of sorts, though not quite on the same emotional level as Baye. In exploring Huppert's character, Godard creates his most pertinent scene of satire and indeed, the most iconic scene in the film. Here, Huppert's prostitute is involved in an elaborate sex game with a high-ranking business man, his young assistant and a second prostitute that never speaks. The scene is shocking, uncomfortable and incredibly funny, all at the same time; much like the film itself. More importantly however, Godard uses this scene to make his most explicit comment on the notion of industry and the foundation of society at the dawn of a new decade. It also ties in with certain implications of the title; Sauve qui peut (la vie) (1980). At its most simplified level, the title can be translated as Save (Your Life) Who's Able / Run for (Your Life) If You Can, which suggests certain ideas that Godard himself talks about in the film with the character of the television director played by Jacques Dutronc; a man whose selfishness and volatile relationships with the various women in his life make up yet another facet of the film's complicated emotional design.
The title can also be seen as an ironic judgement on the once radical 60's generation that Godard was very much part of; a generation now consumed by commercialised consumption, greed and pointless self-absorption, guilt and examination. The title more commonly used in the UK, Slow Motion, is also alluded to by Godard, not only with the film's deliberately slow pace, but with the idea of slowing down moments in the attempt to see beyond the surface action, and instead, to see whether or not there is something else happening behind the facade of this ever moving tableau. Ultimately, Godard's ideas remain vague, forcing the viewer to question the intentions of the characters and what the filmmaker seems to be suggesting by their presentation within the film.
This was the first feature by Godard after a decade spent experimenting
with politics and video. It's as traditional a narrative as we have
ever seen from him. The story has three parts. Denise Rimbaud (Baye)
represents the imagination; she's a film editor who drops her
frustrating work to find some fresh air in the Alps. Paul Godard
(Dutronc) is the fearful-dependent side of most of us: he's afraid to
leave the city, but can't live without Denise. Then there's business,
represented by Isabelle the prostitute (Huppert).
The director, now 50 and with a flagging libido, has a field day with his sexual fantasies. The scene with the two hookers in the businessman's office is wonderfully funny, in its deadpan way it recalls Deux ou trois choses que je sais d'elle. The use of sound is more imaginative; he isn't using the montage of Beethoven quartet snippets that he often relies on. His camera moves more than in the past; there's a great slo-mo of Dutronc jumping over a table to tackle Baye, then they both collapse laughing onto the floor. The sense of freedom suddenly released is exhilarating.
The foremost image in this film, which I find difficult to erase from
my memory, is that of the 2 prostitutes, 1 john and 1 lackey set up.
How original. It made me think of "Vivre sa vie" and then "2 or 3
things I know about her". Granted these are the only Godard films I've
seen, but the sex trade theme is definitely prevalent.
In the earlier films, of course, it's toned down but one of the things they all have in common is the coldness of the transaction and the purely business way that they are carried out. It almost seems as though they have not been directed by a man, but a woman.
All in all, I find Jean Luc, one of the more honest and clear thinking directors of not only our generation, but any generation. Can't wait to see more.
Somewhere about thirty minutes into the movie it struck me how much Godard loves something about movie-making. That's a rare feeling -- to watch a movie and feel the director's love, passion, or fascination for/with the medium. There's a character named Godard in the movie. He's a director. At one point, he says, "The only reason I make movies is because I haven't the strength to do nothing at all." One thinks that the Real Godard would have us believe the words were coming from him. BUT seeing his frames, his cuts, the way he sets the light -- the inventiveness of all of it -- you just feel his joy in the enterprise.
I never did quite 'get' Dali. All those contortions. Grotesque shapes.
Stunted creatures. Then one day I saw clues. His 'melting pocket-watch'
(The Persistence Of Memory) was not just a silly timepiece, bent out of
shape like wax melting off a table. It was the fluidity of time, how we
perceive time in different ways. When we have fun (for instance) and
time seems to speed up. When we're bored, and it slows.
Our inner experience of time is affected by our perception. Our focus, our mental state, it makes a big difference. We are similarly affected by how things are presented externally. Trees flashing past so quickly they are almost a blur. Have you ever been on a train as it traverses a wooded hill? But see the same trees from the hilltop and their majesty and poetry become evident. In both cases, perhaps there is no absolute 'reality' only different ways of perceiving it. At any one second, our senses are overloaded with more data than our consciousness allows. It is less a case of 'seeing what is really there' - but of exerting control over our selection process, our filtering, and deciding what data to take time to consciously process; and what our conscious mind ignores.
Perception is, for Godard, an enduring theme. Speed it up, slow it down. The camera mimics the process of visual perception. It chooses what to observe, and how. It 'tells' us what to think. Can cinema, by its careful control of simulated perception, increase our understanding of 'how' we perceive things? Or alert us to the possibility that there is 'more' in front of our eyes than we might have assumed on that busy day? The nominal plot revolves around a three characters. A filmmaker called Godard. Denise, a writer/editor trying to make a career change. And Isabelle, a prostitute (Isabelle Huppert) trying to better herself. Godard and Denise are in the painful process of ending a relationship. He is also going through a tough time with his ex-wife and daughter. Denise sees Isabelle being abused in the street. Isabelle sleeps with Godard after going to a movie with him. She wants to get a new place to live even phoning about a flat during a bizarre sex scene - and she wants to work for herself instead of the pimp. Not knowing Godard is the landlord, she visits their cottage up for rent as Godard throws himself across the table at Denise.
Three wildly different life trajectories. Intersecting in ways that allow the film to challenge accepted notions. Toying with the nature of perception. And even asking how we get to where we want to be in life or not. Separate chapters - after the intro sequences - for each character. Then 'Music' brings all three together. (Look out for unusual sound tropes as well.) Slow Motion by whatever name we call it is almost as conventional as Godard gets. While the narrative is far from mainstream, it is a more recognisable cinema experience than much of his most challenging (or didactic, uncommercial) work. And it provides material to sustain many repeated viewings.
The film includes about 15 'stop-action' shots, where the image is stopped completely, slowed down, replayed, and/or speeded up. We don't just analyse images outside of their diegetic function: we are able to invent a parallel diegesis. It is almost like the break-up of a relationship where a man and woman see 'reality' from totally different perspectives. Godard deconstructs his own maxim of 'truth 24 times per second' by varying the speeds. Outwardly hollow moments contain more than might otherwise meet the eye. It is not the subject matter and characters that demand Brechtian analysis, to become aware of our spectator involvement, so much as the process of perception itself. In a scene where an executive orchestrates a scenario with two prostitutes and another man, we are again confronted with complex metaphor, ("Okay," he says, "we've got the image, now we'll take care of the sound.") But here, the symbol of prostitution is not playing into the Marxist-bourgeois analogy so commonly used by Godard in films such as 2 Or 3 Things I Know About Her. In the debauchery, we can see the construction processes and their perception, the images, the sound, used to no specific purpose other than gratification thus mimicking the production of mindless entertainment in Hollywood consumerist cinema.
Compounding such stop-motion tropes is the use of interior dialogue. Isabelle plays out another life in her head while having sex with clients. What do we choose to 'see'? To hear? Comparison of the prostitution scenes and the scenes where natural, spontaneous sexuality is apparent or implied, coupled with the 'selection' process we make when determining how we 'see' things, might reflect not only on how men and women (or any two people) can be 'in tune' but also, with different emphases affecting the data-perception process, the very gender difference apparent when we look at how men and women might typically view things differently. There might be life apart from the diegetic one. We might choose what we perceive to be 'real' but ultimately we make our own reality.
Dehumanization occurs when a person is not able to order their life according to their will. At that point, the individual has become a slave to the senses rather than their master. One might not be able to change the territory in which one finds oneself but, by standing back far enough to discern the wood from the trees, one might at least find new perceptions that can be converted to reality.
The English title of this film "Sauve qui peut la vie" made by Jean Luc Godard is "Everyman for himself".This is exactly what happens in this film which is only for people having unusual cinematographic tastes.All the three main characters are in their own world without bothering about what the other persons are doing.There are a lot of similarities between the film maker Jean Luc Godard and the film director's role played nicely by French singer,actor Jacques Dutronc. It appears as if Godard had deliberately chosen Dutronc for that role keeping in mind their own erratic behavioral patterns.Nathalie Baye is acceptable in her role as the hapless girl friend of this eccentric director.The most challenging and in some sense controversial part has been played by Isabelle Huppert as an innocent prostitute who silently bears all the ill treatment meted to her by her clients.This is a good psychological film directed by Godard about the emotional stagnation of some characters who are unable to come out of their mental framework.
Godard is fearless. Of that there is no doubt, and if that were enough to warrant him as a master of filmmaking, then countless filmmakers would be labeled masters for making films not for the audience but for themselves. Every director, to an extent, is making the film for themselves. But in the process of making it for themselves, they come into contact with and then disseminate elements that later speak to someone who might be watching the film. With the majority of Godard's films, it feels as though he is laughing at an in-joke or propagating an anti-societal agenda with elements only he is capable of deciphering. The result, at least for me, is almost always a drunken flurry of images, incongruous sounds, and inexplicable character actions that show me method in madness but distance me from feeling the madness in the method. "Every Man for Himself" is a perfect example of this. It jumps around and gets inside (as all Godard films do) a number of different characters, many of whom have nothing to do with anything other than perhaps preach a shocking aphorism here or there. The film starts with a woman, shows her in various countryside locations riding her bike and standing with wind in her hair. These are not actors but models, and NOT in the Bressonian sense. Bresson used his actors as models, true, but he still somehow was masterful at imbuing them with a sense of purpose (even if the purpose is dealing with purposelessness) and a sense of orientation. Godard fails at this, and perhaps because he WANTS to fail. It's clear watching any of his films that he is a man who cringes at the slightest hint that his art might be compared to another's or that an audience member dares "understand" his film. I understand this impulse, but not Godard's execution of it, with the exception of his work on everything before and including Pierrot le fou. In those films, Godard reached us with his passion for cinema (particularly American films) and his daring vision of contemporary life at odds with itself. It just seems, at a certain point, that Godard's filmmaking offers us little pieces of insight, little moments of cinematic ingenuity that do nothing to enhance the raw impact of his films but instead commend him as what he primarily is: a theorist and critic with more thought than execution going on in the majority of his post-60s films.
An examination of sexual relationships, in which three protagonists
interact in different combinations.
In addition to Godard's typical refusal to keep viewers oriented through expository dialogue and continuity editing, the film is experimental in its use of the technique that Godard called "decomposition," which he first employed for the 1979 French television mini-series "France/tour/detour/deux/enfants". In the technique, there is a periodic slowing down of the action to a frame by frame advancement. The "slow motion" segments are somewhat obnoxious and really detract from the enjoyment of the film.
Film critic Vincent Canby, writing in The New York Times, described the film effusively as "stunning," "beautiful," and "brilliant". I don't feel as strongly.
An interesting side note: the appearance of the nationality sticker on the back of a car. In the United States, these did not really become popular until the 1990s or later, and yet they seem to be found somewhat commonly in 1980s Europe.
Jean-Luc Godard's "comeback" movie is his best work since the 1960's, which is either saying a lot or a little depending on point of view of his work in the past thirty-five years. It actually tells *stories* while having the usual lot of bizarre play and dour commentary on commerce. The acting is also uniformly excellent, and they do a lot without always having to do too much; it's interesting to note Huppert here, the same year she got plopped into Heaven's Gate she got to play another woman 'of the night' as it were, but she fits much better under Godard's hand. It's the kind of movie that reminds me why I keep watching whatever the man does, even after I get burned by one of his more pedantic-semantic movies. It has energy, gusto, and I could put it on any time and feel like I got something new out of the experience.
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