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A filmic essay on class struggle which draws on images from westerns but has no plot and is both an experiment in making a revolutionary film and an interrogation of how successfully such a film can be revolutionary.
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A dialectic is established here across time and space. "Here", in 1974 present time, a Parisian bourgeois family is watching TV in their cosy livingroom. "Elsewhere", in 1970, Godard and his Dziga Vertov company is in Palestine making a documentary about a strife that goes back in centuries and is expected to blossom into a revolution. I won't say I'm glad the documentary was never completed, but I'm glad that what started as political rhetoric four years later was allowed to be reflected upon in the aftermath of that political rhetoric, what it addresses and what it fails to, and how the artistic voice is shaped in that gap.
I will preface this by saying that I admire in Godard not the sentiment to formulate the political rhetoric, but the conviction to formulate it in harm's way. It's one thing to play out a little reenactment of a revolution in the safety of the Parisian countryside, as he did in Week End, and it's a different thing altogether to leave behind your life and film in Fatah's stomping grounds. All this coming from the same filmmaker who years earlier was in position to make a film with Brigitte Bardot and Jack Palance. I applaud the breach and the reclusiveness. When Godard said "fin du cinema", he was only talking for himself, but he meant it, at least at the time.
I know Herzog can't stand Godard, but a film like this reminds me of him. How he took a camera across the world to make small essayist pieces that would never be exposed to a big audience, the sense of adventure and exploration and the openness to the possibilities of making a film that "catches life unawares". Herzog probed the universe and the human soul, sought truth above and below reality, in the ecstacy that liberates from it. Godard is an intellectual, I see in him a filmmaker sadly anguished inside his own head. His folly, indeed the folly of the intellectual, is that he needs a cause to be passionate about. If inspiration doesn't come from the heart he will seek it in the outwards. Godard found it in the revolution. What fascinates me with Godard then is watching him struggle to break free from the confines of his head. I see a lot of conceit in his expression, but I am intrigued by the struggle to express it. With, and often without, regard to expectations, his own and those of others.
The beauty of Ici et Ailleurs for me is that Godard self-examinates. Another reviewer aptly put it that "no one questions the political image like Godard". Here, he plays tricks with the image and the word, he connects the Middle East struggle back to France, to Hitler, to the October Revolution of 1917. But what is more apt for me, what I appreciate here, is that Godard begins to question the political image of Godard, by extention the concept or conceit of "cinema verite".
Near the end, as we see on screen a group of Palestinian guerillas huddling together to devise strategy, all of whom would be dead in a few months (we see their dead bodies), Godard ruefully laments they didn't say anything. The female narrator interrupts and says "you, you could have said something".
This doesn't so much question the person, because whay could Godard have said to sway a band of armed guerillas, but the art. Dziga Vertov imagined a cinema that "caught life unawares" in the hope that, through the artifice of a cinema narrative, a truth could be surmised. What happens though when in the pursuit of that "kino-pravda" (cine-truth) we only observe but don't participate? Does the filmed image carry moral complications and is the camera complicit in what it sees? Food for thought.
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