Anne-Marie Miéville first worked with Jean-Luc Godard in 1970, on a film project about Palestinians. Since then she has been his companion and frequent collaborator on such projects as Soft and Hard (1985), which portrays Godard and Miéville respectfully disagreeing about approaches to filmmaking. In the four features and three shorts in BAM’s Miéville retro (April 25 through 28), polite discussion is supplanted by the bumptious, garrulous discourse of men and women entwined in messy emotions. Words pile up furiously in Miéville’s films; the result of the prolixity is often a hushed, solemn moment, offering a hopeful glimpse of the happiness her couples could share—if only they could stop talking.
“We talk because it comes naturally to us,” Miéville says in Reaching an Understanding (2000). Indeed, women in Miéville’s films are far more aware of the talking cure’s salutary effects than men are. Lou (Marie Bunel) in Lou Didn’t Say No (1993) volunteers as a phone counselor on an SOS helpline; three generations of women in My Dear Subject (1988) retain their close-knit bonds by dispensing advice and consoling. As interlocutors, men are often petulant or self-pitying: “You’re incapable of loving—and not much better at being loved!” screams Pierre (Manuel Blanc) in Lou Didn’t Say No. Women can’t understand why men are so mistrustful, and men can’t fathom why women hate them so much.
Godard himself makes a memorable counterpart to Aurore Clément in We’re All Still Here (1997) and Miéville in Reaching an Understanding, the latter film offering the rare spectacle of JLG crying. “Must you really keep talking so much?” he sobs to Miéville, whose barrage of gnomic statements (“We exist so there is an existence”) exhausts us, too. Yet just when logorrhea nearly extinguishes the possibility of harmonious coupling, Miéville ultimately reveals the restorative power of silence, which washes over the clamor of petty disquisitions and self-righteousness. “Show me how things can be happy,” implores Clement to Godard in We’re All Still Here. The answer lies in the quiet of a nighttime stroll.