Sunday, June 22, 2014

Soigne Ta Droite

(Jean-Luc Godard, France, 1987)

A typically Godardian mix of the beautiful and the ponderous.  I'm still learning how to watch his films; to keep up with them, to seek out whatever pattern might exist, to let them flow like water down a cataract, sitting patiently with my bewilderment. 

The film is consistently, magnificently beautiful.  I don't think I've ever been so aware of the quality of JLG's eye; his knack for color and composition, his subtle and exceptionally sensitive way with light, is tremendous.  And his cuts are as decisive as heartbeats.  There's also plenty of Godard's typical combination of the wry with the silly, made all the more prominent by the deadly (literally) serious subject matter.  It's all about Art and Death; and while certain sequences and moments do contain surprising volumes of emotion, there's much else that appears wildly, unproductively incoherent.  There is, for instance, Godard's famous penchant for philosophical voiceover.  But not merely philosophical; this is reading from a term-paper philosophical.  Godard is undoubtedly a visual poet of the first order, but his facility with words, at least as they appear in his movies, leaves much to be desired, and the discrepancy between the two induces friction.  Not good friction, either. 

It's clear that by 1987 Godard was well into his grab-bag montage phase, constructing his films with the barest semblance of a structure.  It's not a matter of story; post-Breathless, it was clear that he had no interest in story, character, at least in the classical sense.  But even a structure based on theme is too rigid for JLG.  His later films are sometimes called essayistic, but essays have every bit as much predetermined structure as fiction.  Better to call Godard diaristic.  He thinks of an image, an idea, a swatch of text, and he's off to the races.  It's as if he were building a model train set while the train cars were already running.  He just keeps adding track.  It's not purely linear - plenty of motifs are repeated, and the film does have a shape - but it's a shaggy dog story, a virtuosic improvisation, and one that still falters tonally.  This may be his great flaw as an artist; even more than his involuted philosophical tract-mongering, his constant stream of intertextual references that he fires off with compulsive, Tourettish abandon, is his desultory way with mood.  The film swings in and out of seriousness; of course, even when he's being funny, he's being serious, but there's a distance to his stance, a giddiness borne of reticence.  Overflowing with ideas and images, a film like Soigne Ta Droite nonetheless feels like it's holding something back.  It might be that Godard's just flying at an altitude beyond my mortal powers of sensation and comprehension, but there's enough that's recognizably human about his work that I wonder: how much more do I need to learn?  And how much is just, finally, private and unknowable?

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