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This is a fascinating film. The story of a modern day Virgin Mary
dealing with issues like human sexuality and the divinity as well as
themes of "intelligent design" /creationism are challenging for the
viewer to say the least. Godard has always been way ahead of his time
in terms of formal aspects of film as well as socio-political points of
view. This film was shot in 1984-85 and he addresses issues that are
very relevant to the contemporary resurgence of faith - especially in
American society today.
The fact that the professor's teachings are thinly veiled creationism as science is very revealing. It provides background and encourages the viewer question what is really going on with Mary and the idea of the creator/divine affecting her body and her life.
The nudity is not exploitative. A feminist reading of the film would probably be positive since the character of Mary is shown as intensely self-aware and strong rather than victimized or exploited.
The cinematography of Menoud and Firmann is excellent throughout. This applies to both the nature photography as well as the narrative composed shots. I think a lot of the shots were composed with the idea of replicating some classical paintings (Giotto, Fra Angelico) with severe fore-shortening.
The sound track is multiple-layered mix of music from Bach (St. Matthew's Passion, concertos) and Dvorak, dialog and sounds of natural environment and wildlife. It's a relatively short film (78 minutes)- but it's amazing to see and hear how densely compact it is with a very complex relationship of sound and image.
The way this film tackles the concept of divinity as it pertains to modern life is bound to cause controversy amongst conservative followers of organized religion precisely because it forces you to question what is taken as absolute. Whether you find it blasphemous or reverent is beside the point -that's the difference between spoonfed mainstream movies( like POTC) and the engaging cinema of Godard. You will find no moralistic pandering here. If you are close-minded or easily upset about nudity, then this film is not for you. If you have an open mind and are just curious to see what one of the true masters of cinema was capable of 20 years ago then you should see this interesting film. If you are willing to question the story of Mary not only from a theological perspective but from a post-modern point of view, then it is essential viewing.
Hmmm...I don't know if anything that I say about this movie will be
relevant to anyone else. This movie has been in my consciousness for
over 20 years and has influenced me in one way or another.
Trivia: It was because of the moving and sublime use of Mahler's 9th and Bach's Partita in this movie that I sought out the works of these composers and they've since become important points in my musical foundation.
At the lake the professor speaks of signals from outer space, the sound in the background is an electronic bzzt bzzt...but in the next shot we see the sound is merely the professor's magic marker as he doodles.
Mary politely nodding to instructions given by her basketball coach while piano music (J.S.Bach's wtc book1 prelude 1) swells in and out overwhelming the coach and the noise on the basketball court. She is still smiling and nodding and acting according to the earthly matters at hand even though The Voice calls to her. It is a very beautiful piece of cinema.
Mary and Joseph talking on the pier. In order to see him, Mary has to block out the blinding sun with her hand: that's the whole meaning of Mary brilliantly focused into one image.
The "oui, non" strophe/antistrophe appears first as a monologue by the student guiding the rubik's cube manipulator's hand to the solution, and then later as a monologue by Mary guiding Joseph's hand.
The "oui, non" strophe/antistrophe also appears in Godard's short film "Armide", his part of "Aria".
The little girl angel instructing Mary to "be pure, be tough." (I only have the Japanese DVD, so I'm paraphrasing. The original French is more flowing.) This is the first New Wave film - the first Godard film - I ever saw.
I discovered Jean-Luc Godard by reading James Monaco's "The New Wave".
I only plucked the Monaco book off the library shelf because at the time I was obsessed with "New Wave" bands like The Cure, Echo and the Bunnymen, The Smiths, New Order, etc.
The lipstick circles Myriem Roussel's open mouth, the end.
Hail Mary is done in the exact same style as the only other late Godard
I've seen, First Name: Carmen, which, I believe, he did right before this
one. The narrative is fractured, much more so than even his classical
such as Breathless and Pierrot le fou, and it is impossible to understand
exactly what's going on. Like in many of his early films, he plays with
sound effects and music. It may have been clever and interesting in Une
femme est une femme, but it has grown old here.
Still, Hail Mary, like First Name: Carmen, musters enough mood to make it well worth seeing. With First Name: Carmen, I was interested at the beginning and bored by the end. Here, although the prologue is quite good, the first half of the real film bothered me, and the second half grew more interesting as it progressed. What I'm saying here is that you have to stick with it and be patient. It can be rewarding.
Also, Hail Mary seemed to me one of Godard's more visually accomplished films, probably second to Vivre sa vie. You'll see some of the most gorgeous photographs of clouds and the sun, the moon, fields, flowers, and nude women. Some of the nudes are absolutely stunning and it never felt to me pornographic (unlike First Name: Carmen). They reminded me of beautiful paintings that I have seen by the likes of Lucien Freud (I don't know if people know him, but I was particularly struck by some of his sleeping nudes; I think he is the son of Sigmund, and I know he was a companion of Francis Bacon). Other more abstract photos reminded me of Picasso. 7/10.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Jean-Luc Godard directs "Hail Mary". Opening scene: the reflections of
moonlight on shimmering water. Second scene: a couple falling out of
love. "Men think they enter women," he says absent-mindedly. "All women
want something unique," she mumbles. Both characters are lost in
dissatisfaction, he unable to find joy in droll penetration, she
disillusioned with courtship rituals.
The film then cuts to Mary (Myriem Roussel), a young woman playing basketball. Godard stresses skimpy clothes and sexualised bodies, Mary's bouncing ball echoing the many full moons suggestive of the human body's many mysteries - which will later appear. Next scene: a classroom, in which a professor talks of "chance" and of there "not being enough time for life to have evolved on Earth". A female student Eva, pretty and on the cusp of womanhood finds these words disturbing. Life, the professor says, is "alien" and "programmed by a previous intelligence". It comes from "beyond humans", "beyond the womb", "beyond Earth". The professor then bluntly states that "humans are extraterrestrial". He then admits that he was persecuted for preaching this sacrilegious evangel. Eva finds him attractive.
Of course on a reductive level, humans are "alien". All carbon comes from dead stars, and so all carbon based life is extraterrestrial to the planet it develops on. It's likely that the other essential components of life (and the early building blocks of amino acids, RNA and DNA) likewise originated outside earth. Regardless, Godard isn't really interested in science. For him, the "life impulse", the desire to "breed", "love", "copulate" and "reproduce", is an "alien impulse". The subject doesn't ask for these impulses, doesn't know how it acquires them and doesn't know from where they originate. Sexual desire, then, is something imposed and always stems from outside the body.
Next scene: a plane rising above forests like a UFO. A sun then sets, ancient celestial bodies linked to the origins and yearnings of flesh. Mary is then visited by Uncle Gabriel (a reference to the Bible's Angel Gabriel), who tells her that she's pregnant. Mary, a virgin, is shocked (her mouth drops in a parody of classic Biblical films). "By whom?" Mary asks. "I sleep with no one!" The rest of the film watches as Mary immaculately conceives a child, whilst Eva has sex with the professor after biting an apple, the Biblical forbidden fruit.
Like the New Testament, Mary's in a relationship with a Joseph, re-imagined here as a taxi driver. Mary reads books on Francis of Assisi, Joseph reads Tomorrow Dogs, about futuristic, post-desire human beings. "Where's the child from?" Joseph asks a now pregnant Mary. "The child must have come from somewhere!?" Godard cuts to shots of the heavens, flowers and fields. Sex is all around, but Mary rejects her body. She pines for a spiritual asexuality, wishes to resist temptations, wishes to preserve an idealised version of romantic love, but her hand creeps toward her crotch and she finds herself masturbating frenetically. "All men are god's shadow," she cries. "God is a vampire, here not to deliver us from sin but profit from pain!" Later, quoting St Francis, she says: "The spirit acts on the body, breathes through it, transfigures it, veils it to make it less disgusting than it is." But the film itself denounce St Francis' words: the spirit does not ennoble flesh, but is that which debases it. The Creator is in your DNA and he's a kinky little fella. From here on, Mary hates "god", hates "nature", hates the earth, flesh and sex itself. These are desires forced upon her, a kind of rape or biological imposition.
Gabriel beats up Joseph and accuses the bespectacled man of being blind. He then teaches Joseph that all desire is the Alien Other's desire, but to nevertheless leave room for Mary's own wants and wishes, insofar as they exist. From here on, the self-obsessed Joseph learns how to touch, love and penetrate Mary by pulling away from her body. To respect and love "her own" desire and to perceive and undercut the power relations between people. From Joseph's failures of perception springs his redemption, his newfound ability to see and accept the freedom of others, and accept his and their own dis-empowerment in the face of a life-force that uses and abandons. For Godard, love is unconditional only when it recognises corporeal facts and Joseph's "pulling away" constitutes the film's only sacred act.
"Hail Mary" abounds with reflections, light always splattering across the surfaces of water. Mary talks of humans catching "only the shadow of love", love a reflection in which the true form of the "desired object" is misinterpreted. And this reflection is always deformed and not "ours" anyway. This becomes literal later in the film when the son Mary gives birth to is shown to "not belong" to Joseph. "He is not my father!" the child says, before running off into Nature. "I must tend to my father's affairs!" he yells, like a kid returning to daddy's embrace. Mary lets him go. Joseph still thinks personal desire, semen and offspring constitute some kind of ownership.
"Hail Mary" is arguably the best film in Godard's "body quartet" ("Slow Motion", "Passion", "Carmen", "Hail Mary"), all preoccupied with holes, orifices, vaginas and mouths. The rest of the film reverses Christian mythology, such that instead of a virgin immaculately conceiving a god who is free from sin and who dies because he unconditionally loves sinners, we have a humanity which is raped by an invisible life-force which perverts humans and instills in its children a desire to breed, f***, own and control. Fittingly, "Mary" itself ends with a shot of a vulgar hole: Mary's mouth adorned with lipstick, the girl attempting to claim her body, or make holy and beautiful that which might not be.
8.9/10 - Masterpiece.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
The best part of this film is the music. It is Classic. Dvorak Cello
Concerto and Bach Chaconne is well shuffled even before IPod existed.
So are the shots. Shuffled, repetitive, boring. The story? Confusing.
Religion has nothing to do with my comments. I am an Atheist. While the
actress playing the Virgin has a beautiful body and the naked shots are
most enjoyable, the script does not allow her to utter an intelligent
or intelligible sentence. The other actors are not convincing either.
They are not real, and in that respect the virgin birth could be
acceptable in the environment as presented. Could this film be regarded
as a great director's mistake?
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
The late Pope John Paul II said this film "deeply wounds the religious sentiments of believers." It may well be that the Roman Catholic hierarchy's cover-up of pedophile priests has done more to wound the religious sentiments of believers than any mere movie could. The controversy over "Hail, Mary," like the controversies surrounding "The Last Temptation of Christ," "The Passion of the Christ," and "The Da Vinci Code" shows that any time a filmmaker deals with religious issues in his work he risks offending a sizable constituency. That's understandable: faith is an important part of most people's lives, and in a world rife with religious divisions you can't please everyone. Who knows? Maybe you shouldn't try. "Hail Mary," though obscure and enigmatic in Godard's finest manner, is nowhere as blasphemous as most of Luis Bunuel's stuff. In updating the story of the Nativity to contemporary France he nowhere denies the historical truth of the Virgin Birth or the divinity of Christ. "Hail, Mary" marks a turning-point in Godard's career when he abandoned the materialism of his Maoist period for a more spiritual, philosophical approach. Beautiful Myriem Roussel gives a striking portrayal of the Virgin Mary as a high school basketball player who works at her father's gas station; when her thuggish boyfriend Joseph (Thierry Rode) learns she's pregnant he's understandably suspicious. The film is touching as it deals with two ordinary people trying to make sense of something extraordinary entering and disrupting their lives; one can well believe that the historical Mary and Joseph went through just such struggles as the couple in the film. We get only a brief glimpse of the boy Jesus, but his death on the Cross is clearly foreshadowed. Interestingly, Godard uses some of the same music that Pasolini used in "The Gospel According to Saint Matthew." "Hail Mary" deals with complicated themes of the meaning of life, the wonder of birth, creation v. evolution, in an intelligent and thoughtful way far superior to the strident agitprop produced by American evangelicals. A beautiful if perplexing film.
Without going into too much about it, this is more a image piece, the religious retelling about the story of the virgin Mary, who got mysteriously pregnant. The small film in it's starting, "The Book of Mary" is of Mary as a child, who lived in wealth. Her parents split up, where the sweet, little and very mature child, would visit her father, every often. The way the little Mary interacted with her parents, especially her mother, makes you appreciate what having a families about. The nude scene in the bath with mother and child, I admit, was confronting, it's frankness of not holding anything back, expressing the inestimable love between them, a natural human emotion, was one of many beautifully filmed scenes. I like the scene too with the father, helping the daughter with her trigonometry. Beautiful told. Some scenes were repeated, I don't why, like the shot of a jet, sailing over the woods. The second real film, has Mary grown up, her lover, a taxi driver having to come to terms with the unexplained pregnancy. Mary of course, can not allow herself to get pregnant, shunning the boyfriend when he goes to feel her stomach. This beautiful film does feature some nude shots of Mary, a beautiful actress filling the role, with such innocence, and independence in a film, it's beautifully told tale worth the view alone, for the double minded viewer. This controversial piece will cater also, to that a small number, who would given it the flick while sitting on the video shelves, including the non arty viewers. Incidentally, in Adelaide, in it's showing in 1985 at the Fair Lady, someone made a bomb threat, if the screening season went ahead.
This is one of the most magical films I have ever seen. A lot of people
weren't happy with the film, making it a controversial film, but I
think it has many good things going for it. Viewing the film also made
me wonder why it was so controversial, but as it continued through, I
got the hint to why it was the way it was, and why it got a half good,
half bad reputation.
All the film is about is it's a modern retelling of Mary experiencing life, working through it, and then having her baby Jesus. At first when I watched the film, it was very odd, out there and un-expecting.
I want to say one thing about the film which was hard to understand.
Every time a guy and his little girl or a blonde chick and an older guy came on screen, I never understood their purpose in the film. I never even understood what they were talking about. That's the only problem I had with the film but despite that little issue, I had nothing else wrong with the film and now I'm going to go through all of the keys that made this film super strong.
1. I understood the story, the issues that Mary & Joesph were going through, the mood, the themes and the dramatic moments very well.
2. As I continued to watch the film, The actress who played the Mary character so well was making it moving and it also made me feel emotional. That's how I felt about this film, it was moving and emotional. She was a strong actress who made this film.
3. I also loved the continuous shots with the moon, water and the rest of the environment, and the music was just a joy to listen to. I thought that set the tone for the film.
4. Not too mention how weird the ending was. The ending was an absolute joy to watch. Just love the ending close up shot showing Mary's lips and then it blacking out for a second.
I think that everyone who comes across this should give it a chance. It's not even a bad film and mostly everything in this film is solid as. It's just one of those films that you can't turn your back on, it's a film that lightens your eyes to watch every scene and it never gets boring. It was one of those rare films that you see rarely when you can engage with the story and characters and for some reason, I felt at times I engaged with the Mary character. It is a controversial classic and I love it.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
I like this film a lot, but I first have to get past my reaction to the
whale game. The problem is not merely that mother and son are involved
in an erotic game, but that they play it with such enthusiasm. She just
mentions the possibility of not playing the game later on, and they are
both quick to play it, like lovers who can't wait for nighttime and who
dive into bed at the thought of sex. What it means must be connected to
the scene in which Marie is bathing and talking about enjoying showing
her body to God. Her son is somehow the same as God. Even at the end of
the movie, Joseph still isn't getting anything; this is Mary's only
sexuality. Of course God is spirit, but her son would be spirit
incarnated. Because it is just a question of exposing her body, there
would be no physical love. So I guess it is just Mary's way of
reestablishing her relationship with God.
If we were on a different planet we would all look different. As we are, we would look strange to someone from a different planet. As the doctor said, women are essentially mysterious. Joseph loves Marie rightly when he has that sense of her mysteriousness.
There is a contrast with the affair between the professor and one of his students. He thinks that evolution requires some sort of intelligent design, but sees it in terms of a more advanced race coming to earth to steer the evolutionary process. He acknowledges the girl's suggestion of the possibility of God being the intelligent designer, but only as an afterthought. When he eventually leaves her he says that the world is not sad; it's big. The particular is not important; it is just part of this big scheme of things. The scheme of things dwarfs the particular, and thus there is no sadness. On the other hand, if you see the particular as coming from God, the particular is of the highest importance. It becomes mysterious through its relationship with its mysterious sourcethus enabling right love.
I felt that all this was confirmed by one of those bird calls. The bird, for one reason or another, is announcing it's presence. There is something out there over and above what our senses present to our mind's eye. That's the point of all the animal noises. On the other hand, the sound of the wind represents the presence of God. The sun and the moon represent the eternal. The significance of the repeated words "At that time" would be that the various events are happening in the temporal world. The angels come in at the airport; the landing airplanes represent the eternal becoming directly involved with the temporal.
All the writhing on the bed would be Mary's effort to deal with temptation. The long shot of the fingers in the bush indicate that the temptation is that of masturbation. Hence someone can say, "Hail Mary!" Her chastitywhich is not the chastity of do not lead me into temptationwas a real accomplishment. What she couldn't get from basketball's excitement and exhaustion was comfort. But flesh qua flesh is not comforting. It is the presence of the spirit in the flesh that allows flesh to be comforting. This spirit is suggested by the shot of Mary's open mouth at the end of the film. There is something mysterious animating this body.
When the professor is talking we hear Godard's own voice repeating the word "earth" in a reverential way. Godard has a reverence for this mysterious world we find ourselves on.
There must be some connection between the first film and the second. Marie needs the comfort that Mary finds in God. There's no comfort for Joseph though. No wonder at the end of the film he is still threatening to leave. Worse yet he has to see his wife playing whale with the child. Seeing her nakedness was all the sex that he had, and now the kid is having it too. But, no; it's different. He expressed love in response to her nakedness, and she is just telling the kid what people call various parts of the body. What is said conventionally about the body is the opposite of appreciating the mysteriousness of the body.
The shots of the dog and the shots of the paired animals and the donkey at the end of the film are meant to represent the strangeness of the body. Seeing the body as a freak mutant along with other freak mutants helps give us the sense of the (mysterious) spirit that is housed in the mysterious body.
When Mary asks the doctor whether we are spirits with bodies or bodies with spirits, it is very important to her. If we were bodies with spirits, then her denial of fleshly comfort would be denying what is primary.
There is something going on with money. Joseph can pay in two years. The rich people make Joseph wait days for them. The second naked girl gives the professor thousands of franks. She thinks he is a zero when he acts cool about giving it back to her. He is merely thinking about his status as he leaves her. He shakes hands with some other people after saying goodbye to her. Saying goodbye to her is just one more duty. He is acting as if there is nothing significant there, so she honks as the bird calls: I am here!
After checking out a couple of Godard's eighties work (First Name:
Carmen, which is a very good movie, and King Lear, which is one of the
most fascinating, car-wreck adaptations of Shakespeare to come out of
European cinema), I knew I had to check out Hail Mary, as by historical
account got the kind of treatment that was almost bestowed on Last
Temptation of Christ and Dogma. The religious right in America and
abroad thought of the film as blasphemous (many said this before seeing
this) and crude. I wouldn't compare Hail Mary to Last Temptation in
controversy, since neither one really has anything to be controversial
about. Whatever a viewer might take the film as, good or bad, it
doesn't degrade or spit on the Christian religion and its eternally
'sacred' story of the Virgin Mary, Joseph, and the baby Jesus. It is
Godard, after all, and outside of Weekend (a straight-up satire of the
60's radicalism and revolutionary air in France at the time), he hasn't
tried to deliberately get people ticked off by his work. By my account,
though, Hail Mary isn't a great movie, a good movie, or a particularly
engrossing account of the tale, despite the hype.
The story is fiddled through the Godardian consciousness as such: a teenage basketball player named Mary (Myriem Roussel), with a boyfriend who drives a Taxi named Joseph (Thierry Rode), is visited by a foul and entirely no non-sense uncle Gabriel (Philippe Lacoste, one of only two acting appearances ever) and told she will conceive God's child despite never having had sex with no one, including Joseph. This sparks a rage in Joseph, and disillusionment in Mary, who can't figure out what to do with the situation. The rest of the film unfolds in a style that reminded me of what Godard did later on with Nouvelle Vague, where-in whenever images are presented that suggest that Godard (in another life outside of being a new-wave pioneer) been more fit in his later days to be directing nature documentaries as opposed to feature-length films. There aren't many emotions outside of coldness between the supposed lovers Mary and Joseph, and scenes of a compulsively naked Roussel that inspire only one really memorable shot (I won't reveal it, but I found it freaky in how real it might have or might have not been).
There were problems I had with Hail Mary, as I have stated, and when the film was over the recent religious film gaining hoopla came to mind- Gibson's Passion of the Jesus. The two problems I had with both films were these- the first, for non-Christians or non believers in HIM, there is not real entry portal to really get into the sympathy of the character of Mary. She feels pain, resentment, love, all of these things for God, and the way the film presents it if you don't have or have not had before a kind of feeling or attitude towards God and Christianity (the entailing symbolism Godard uses included) the dramatizes of it all won't fit. The second, for a film, even what is supposedly a film in high regards to the great artists of the celluloid, dealing with as strong a subject as immaculate conception (with POTC it was the gradual torture and death of Jesus, besides the point), this is a highly boring and dis-jointed result. For all the images of nudity and skies and oceans and roads, there isn't really much that it amounts to.
This isn't helped by the performances either- Roussel, Rode, Lacoste, and even young Juliette Binoche either didn't get the right directions (or the on-the-fly style of Godard didn't work with them), or they just pushed the realism envelope to its limit and too beyond. Roussel's a lovely young girl and a fair actress, but when the audience gets to see a supporting character (Anderson's character) show more emotion in her face, her eyes, there's trouble. Rode also creates little by over-acting, or not being there at all emotionally. Perhaps another minor beef I had with Godard's treatment of the subject matter was this- by taking the 'His creation' story (which it is at base level, believe in it or not), really as much of a leap of faith as is the details of Jesus' crucifixion, in such a dead-pan, no humor, morose attitude, Godard tries for a kind of neo-realism that backfires. Why not make the film a straight out satire, or have fun with the story elements like with Gabriel's character (I was hoping his would be the one cool element of the film, but it's hard to keep of track of him)? The short film that precedes the film by occasional collaborator Anne-Marie Mieville, at least has a light-hearted feeling to it, and let's art combining well with empathetic characters (Smith's Dogma serves as another example, however more in the mainstream than here).
By the time Godard rumbles and plods through his images and music, a soundtrack that manages some of the few interesting parts of the film (Bach, Dvorak, and Coltrane are some artists among others that sometimes get annoyingly sampled over and over to no effect), and gets to Mary's end moment, the catharsis is empty and frustrating. Here his logic is generally, if not altogether, a one-note concept stretched out with practically one-note emotions strung out from the watchable yet poor actors, and there's one or two sub-plots in the film that boggles the mind. Maybe if I watched the film without sound it'd be of some interest on a mis-en-scene level, though even that wears thin. It's surely my least favorite film of the director's so far, and at best I can say that, like 'The Passion', you won't get it (or Roussel's private parts if you're that type of person) out of your head.
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