After spending the best part of the 1970’s ‘in research’ as he puts it, Jean-Luc Godard returns to cinema emphatically with “Sauve qui Peut (la vie)” [Eng. Title: Slow Motion], an extraordinary dish nevertheless served with recognisable ingredients used in “Vivre sa Vie” and “2 ou 3 choses que je sais d’elle”, but also flavoured with politics, sociology, the customary cynicism, and topped with an extra dash of mordant humour. But this film is more than that – Godard philosophises and experiments with theories on art and film – an exercise that re-establishes his undiminished love for the medium that is cinema, and a tacit withdrawal of his earlier claim that cinema was dead!
About the film:
The French title roughly translates as ‘Everyone for himself’, which may pretty much be what the film portrays, but it is the English title (Slow Motion) that gives a hint of his experimentation here. The technique used in the film isn’t exactly slow-motion as used by François Truffaut quite beautifully in “Jules et Jim” – it is more like stop-motion (he calls it ‘décompositions’) used in some strategic moments of the film. Godard says that he was attracted to the idea of trying to find a different ‘rhythm’ with which to make cinema represent life, rather than the conventional 24 frames per second which we’re used to. He reminds us that during the silent era where there were technical limitations, it was possible to depict events using different rhythms, and the audience readily accepted it, helped of course by actors who understood and achieved different rhythms through their very performances. On the film’s concept, I’ll quote his own words (translated of course): “…the idea I had for this film was that of a character who comes back, or is seen by others as coming back, and yet his return is a departure from somewhere. It’s a problem that young people must experience – those moments when one has to not only find oneself, but also know where one wants to be in order to make a new start.”
Yep, there is one – Godard works with a narrative for a change. It is about three characters with very different outlooks, as observed through three chapters – The Imaginary, Fear, and Commerce. A fourth chapter, Music, connects these characters together along with the film’s theme music. Paul Godard, a film director and one of the three main characters, evades the amorous advances of a hotel bellboy to return to his flat, to realise that his girlfriend Denise had just left him – she’d quit her job in Television, and arrives at a village hoping to find some work at a local printing press. Denise is the second main character. The third is prostitute Isabelle, who goes about her business by confronting day-to-day challenges and embracing various opportunities. The chapters are essentially non-linear vignettes of these three characters interacting with people they know or encounter.
Intensely engaging, the film is also outrageously shocking in places, like the seemingly casual conversation Paul has with his football coach-friend, or the middle-aged client who wants Isabelle to pretend she’s his daughter, and the ‘orgy’ she later participates in with a businessman, his male secretary, and another prostitute. But there are also some memorable film moments like when Paul leaps over the table to wrestle with Denise, the ensuing stop-motion accompanied by theme music, and the final scene of Paul’s young daughter and his ex-wife walking away from the camera. The performances by the three main actors is excellent – Jacques Dutronc as Paul is convincing, Isabelle Huppert as Isabelle is incredible to say the least, and the exquisite Nathalie Baye shines as Denise – a role for which she even won a César – her first of many. The cinematography, editing, and soundtrack aptly complement the film’s theme. Needless to say, this is a superb Godard, and Highly Recommended Viewing..!
Amazon.fr Box-set Link
This is the only sensible way to add to your Godard Collection. The Gaumont box-set comes with no less than nine films chosen from different stages of his career, includes generous extras, and fills gaps left by some of the more famous UK/US sets.
It’s taken a while but I’m glad to have finally started the filmography here of one of the most talented actresses ever to have appeared on screen – the magnificent Isabelle Huppert. Renowned for the challenging roles she often takes on, through her films she has made many an ordinary director look good, and fine directors great. There is very little I could possibly add to what has already been written about this shining gem in the jewel of European cinema. It is however reassuring to see her still active in films these days, and I look forward to writing more about her work in this blog.