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In part one there is talk of a project on the subject of love, with the example of three couples, one young, one mature and the other elderly. At this point the author comes into contact with a young woman he had already met three years earlier. Just as the project is about to become reality, all problems of an artistic or financial nature having been resolved, the author learns that the young woman has died. Part two concerns the events of three years earlier. While interviewing an historian, the future author meets for the first time the young woman, who is training as a lawyer. She has been asked by her own grandparents, formerly of the French resistance, to examine a contract offered to them by Americans who want to make a film about their activities during the Nazi occupation of France. Written by
Godard begins the new millennium with one of his greatest works yet.
In 1961, Jean-Luc Godard directed Une femme est une femme; a full colour pastiche of the contemporary relationship foibles of a troubled young couple at the heart of swinging-sixties Paris. Starring Godard's own former wife and muse Anna Karina in the lead role, it saw the filmmaker at his most joyous and creative; resulting in a finished film that was not only 'in praise of love', but very much in love with its characters and the presentation of the film itself. Forty years on however and Godard found himself looking once again at the subject of love with Éloge de l'amour (2001), a film that claims to be 'In Praise of Love', but is actually quite the opposite.
Presenting a melancholic view of love that is as bewildering as the emotion itself, Éloge de l'amour opens in a monochromatic Paris that brings to mind the beauty and grandeur of Godard earlier classics, such as À bout de soufflé (1959) and Bande à part (1964). Enticing it's viewers into a world of jarring contradictions, a varied selection of characterless characters who shuffle through the streets like empty vessels dying without soul, and some of the most intense uses of cinematic composition ever seen; 'Éloge de l'amour' successfully draws us into a labyrinthine underground of dreams, thoughts, desires and hopes; never quite sure where one ends and one begins. Here, we are constantly being forced to look at the film more closely than we normally would, searching for some kind of clue to unlock the images and scenes that are being offered to us, in a way that manages to reference the full spectrum of Godard's work; from the aforementioned romanticism of Une femme est une femme, through to the Brechtian-like alienation techniques of Week End (1967), and on to the blending of the two with Slow Motion (1980).
Being Godard of course, the film also throws us some political ideology and some valid arguments against Hollywood film-making and its strangle-hold like monopoly on the idea of what cinema really is. Those raised outside of the US will no doubt agree with Godard's allusions to Hollywood re-writing history to serve as entertainment, as we grow up in a world where films like The Patriot (2000), Braveheart (1995), Titanic (1997) and Pearl Harbour (2001) are becoming educational tools to a generation who derive little pleasure from reading books or researching history. Godard understands the importance of historical accuracy in cinema and makes the points clear (one scene in particular stands out; a scene in which an elderly man and a young couple stand outside a cinema, the old man looking at the publicity poster for Robert Bresson's Pickpocket, whist the young couple completely ignore it, more interested in an advert for The Matrix). Is Godard trying to suggest that an ignorant youth will someday slowly discard what has come before? Or is he simply showing us the cinematic climate as it is now? Éloge de l'amour is never relaxed in its messages; sometimes bordering on the same kind of inconstant ranting that for many destroyed the intensity of a film like Week End. Yet Godard curiously restrains himself here, and, with the last thirty-minutes of the film, makes his attack clearer, and more concise.
Photographed in vibrantly coloured digital-video, over-saturated and manipulated, the end of the film seems much more human in comparison to the cold, black and white "pure cinema" appeal of the first hour. The focus of this segment is people; elderly people for that matter, at odds with a world and culture they no longer understand. The gesture here is touching, not only because of the way its shot and acted, but because it draws a beautiful parallel with the now seventy-something Godard's own thoughts and ruminations on life. Éloge de l'amour is certainly not easy going; it's uncompromising, jarring, distant, elusive, alienating and for the most part, hard to follow. It has a bleak and broken down view of life which creates a sour undercurrent to the optimism of the title. This is not a film that praises love; this is a film that is trying to come to terms with love in a society and culture that is slowly bastardising the word into something devoid of deeper meaning, and searching for that meaning on a horizon filled with broken vessels and broken dreams. No matter what your opinion of him, Godard has, with this film, created a cinematic dream that requires the viewer to invest some time and thought into the experience.
Think of the significance of the interspersed black screens, the recurrence of the title caption, and what is achieved with the switch from monochrome stock to colour video. These are all just part of a single interpretation, but there is a joy that comes from looking at a film and being challenged to think about it. Éloge de l'amour is a film that never quite makes sense and is often hard to watch, but you thank god for its existence. Whether you see Godard as a filmmaker passed his peak and nearing the end, or whether you believe that with this film he is working up to something bigger and better - something that will bring back the magic of his early works - you can rejoice in the fact that Éloge de l'amour is every bit as intelligent, challenging, thoughtful and emotional as anything he created before.
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