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"Notre Music" is divided in three kingdoms: Hell, Purgatory and Paradise like in the Dante's Inferno in the Divine Comedy. Hell shows footages of many wars; Purgatory mixes reality and fiction in Sarajevo; and Paradise is a surrealistic view of a beach "protected" by the American Marines.Written by
Claudio Carvalho, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
Godard makes most other filmmakers look simple-minded
Godard's status as a filmmaker, and an auteur, cannot be challenged. He no longer needs to make a name for himself and is free (within reason) to pursue the projects he likes, and carry them out to his own satisfaction. He also has an enormous and varied body of work 'under his belt', along with the experience that this has brought. And yet, these facts do not seem to have made him complacent. No one could accuse him of 'going commercial', and though the new Godard is 'nicer' than the strident, know-it-all politician of his Maoist period, he can't be accused of slowing down.
This film is a case in point. Within in, one finds so much going on, so many ideas, and at such a pace, that it really needs multiple viewings. At 75 minutes, it flies by. It is hard, therefore, to cover all the issues raised by the film, but I will try to give a summary of my impressions.
The film follows a basic triptych structure named according to the rather Catholic names of Hell, Purgatory and Heaven. Parts 1 and 3 act like short wings to the hour-long centrepiece.
In a brutal first 10 minutes, appropriately called 'Hell', one is confronted with a mix of images of war from film and from war footage. Personally, I've always found documentary footage of war, however grainy or poorly shot, much more troubling than the most violent parts of acted film (such as Saving Private Ryan). Is Godard pushing the two together (implying moral responsibility of the filmmaker), or contrasting them through montage? (Suggesting the dual aspects of film-making, which he will emphasise later in the film, when comparing Israelis, who have become a film, to the Palestinians, who have become a documentary.) Like the rest of the film, it is a brilliantly edited tour-de-force of images and ideas.
The second section, Purgatory, consists largely of discussions between writers and journalists drawn to Sarajevo for a literary conference. The number of questions (though not answers) that bubble to the surface in these discussions is astounding. Citations (a Godardian standard) are given new meaning through editing / montage. And many more eminently quotable lines are added by Godard and the other participants, literary figures playing themselves, such as Mahmoud Darwish, whose analysis is original and perceptive, and Juan Goytisolo. This section has a documentary feel, but an artist's aesthetic. The film itself looks superb, demonstrating a real eye for shot composition. This makes his films 'surface' extremely watchable, even before the 'substance' is broached. The substance is tasty too, with a superabundance of wit on parade, not in the sense of trite humour, but real insight, combined with a sober sigh before the unchangeable.
The last 'movement' is of course 'Heaven', which is amusingly guarded by US marines, and looks a little like the less-than-heavenly site in which the end of Godard's 'Weekend' was played out. This playfulness and self-referentiality was typical of the rest of the film also, for example, in the trio of vocal Native Americans reminiscent of characters in 'Sympathy for the Devil'. Where does quotation end and creation begin? Godard's work is full of citation and self-allusion, but due to the (specifically filmic) nature of montage and narrative context, these citations and allusions take on new meanings.
The film is, therefore, certainly elitist, as are so many great films (and novels for that matter). 'Notre Musique' demands a cine-literate viewer, and preferably also familiar with Godard, since there is a lot of meaningful and playful self-referentiality. (One could also argue that someone new to this kind of film-making might be challenged to improve their cine-literacy). More importantly, it demands an alert viewer, because there is potentially much more happening than merely what is on the screen. Godard, in examining filmic space has also created a space between screen and viewer, making him or her an active part of the process of meaning-making.
Certainly, if all films were of this caliber, one would get a sore head thinking them through, but it is important to be enlivened by such a work as this from time to time, just to remember film's artistic and intellectual potential.
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