Latest Godard: An Elegy for 20th-Century Europe, the Cinema, and Himself


Olympian in its detachment, Notre Musique is the latest and scarcely the least of Jean-Luc Godard’s elegies for 20th-century Europe, the cinema, and himself. Has our irascible JLG been reconciled? The 74-year-old director’s serene meditation on Europe’s landscape after battle has an unusually obvious triptych structure, with each panel (or act) named for one of Dante’s three “kingdoms.” The central, hour-long “Purgatory” of a writers’ conference in Sarajevo bridges the opening 10-minute “Hell” and a concluding 10-minute “Heaven.” “Hell” is a sensationally edited found-footage montage that yokes together clips from newsreels and all manner of movies. Are these images real? Drawing on the video-layering techniques Godard developed in Histoire(s) du Cinéma, this distressed, bleeding assemblage is something like his bid for a Guernica—a visceral and formally brilliant evocation of total war. As in Dante, Hell is a tough act to follow—although JLG manages a critique, appearing as his rumpled self at the Sarajevo literary conference. The heart of the movie is his lecture (a disquisition on the ethics of montage) and its failure. Notre Musique is strongly documentary although, exercising his programmatic perversity, Godard keeps stressing the importance of fiction, fable, and icon. The haunting final movement is a paradise that, despite the presence of U.S. Marines, resembles the Swiss landscape where Godard shot his last meditation on the Balkan wars, For Ever Mozart. Notre Musique may be too touchy-feely for hardcore Godardians but it’s the most lucid and affecting of the master’s recent films.