By Sherrie Li
By Falling James
By Amanda Lewis
By Amy Nicholson
By Amy Nicholson
By Jennifer Swann
By Scott Foundas
By Sherrie Li
“We’re all tricksters,” said the old man, “and we‘re all here to survive.” Perched on a podium, flanked by actors and producers, shielded by bodyguards (a reminder of a pie-throwing incident years earlier), the 70-year-old Jean-Luc Godard had just provided the 54th Cannes film festival with one of its truest descriptions. He was holding court at a press conference for his new film, Eloge de l’Amour, which, as it turned out, would provide the festival one of its few genuine grace notes. Godard had come before the international press at Cannes in the very best of circumstances: The film had been enthusiastically received, and, perhaps in return, he seemed in an expansive mood. As he periodically re-lit a cigar and dampened a smile, he again proved himself an exemplary entertainer, a philosophizing cutup who punctuates his deadpan timing and gusts of poeticism with the occasional shocking utterance -- at one point, in the midst of a parenthesis on Tolstoy, Godard referenced Anna Karina, the name of his former wife and New Wave muse, rather than that of Anna Karenina. Deliberate or not, it was great theater.
For nearly 45 minutes, Godard wittily and cryptically eased from topic to topic, from life to art and “something you call e-mail -- I‘m not clear what it’s about.” (He is evidently as committed to his William Castle--style hijinks as to his old typewriter: There was only one official press screening, which provoked a near riot, and he gave only two interviews.) Some in the press were similarly unclear as to what Godard‘s film was “about,” but the critical consensus was that Eloge de l’Amour marked not just a return to form but a return to emotion. Shot in luxuriant black-and-white 35mm film and deeply saturated color digital, Eloge de l‘Amour, as with many of Godard’s later works, is a meditation on history and memory, shaped equally by the heart and the mind. In some respects, it is a wayward love story about a young man working on a “project” (a reviled word here) titled Eloge de l‘Amour and a young woman whose grandparents are in the midst of selling their stories as war partisans to Hollywood. The name Steven Spielberg comes up in those negotiations, an invocation that has less to do with the man himself than with what he represents -- history as entertainment; the dividends and losses of selective amnesia.
Eloge de l’Amour is a fierce reminder that while film must engage history, it can never supplant it, a lesson lost on Spielberg and those who don‘t understand how the image of water pouring into a gas chamber is a matter not of artistic license but of moral cowardice. As usual with Godard, the film is also far more: historiography, slapstick, passion play, opera, and images that have the very cadence of music itself. In Eloge de l’Amour, love and history are inseparable, which is why the film is reminiscent of the early Godard in its lightness of touch and, in its reach and its melancholy, very much the work of a man taking measure of his own story‘s end. This, then, is the film of an artist who stays open to the possibility of beauty -- and this is one of the most beautiful of Godard’s films -- as well as the work of a man for whom art must always be a moral act. The anger remains, but here Godard adroitly plays his outrage for comedy and not just tragedy (or pedagogy). His insistence that the only way to live in the present is to live with the past may be unrelenting, but there is a gentleness to his insistence now, a sense of compassion for the amnesiac, the forgetful, that pierces the heart. That the director of Schindler‘s List had some hand in inspiring one of the greatest of Godard’s films is deliriously ironic, but it‘s an irony that, at least at the press conference, Godard refused to engage. He had taken history back from Hollywood, and that seemed enough.
Even as Godard rescued history, much of the rest of the cinema world seemed content to ignore it altogether. For many filmmakers, movies, not life, were the inspiration. From Joel Coen’s The Man Who Wasn‘t There, a jejune riff on film noir starring Billy Bob Thornton as a barber who slips into a shadow world amid allusions to Fritz Lang and Hitchcock, to Japanese director Nobuhiro Suwa’s H Story, a revisiting of Hiroshima, Mon Amour, to Austrian director Jessica Hausner‘s talented take on Fassbinder, Lovely Rita, the overwhelming theme of this year’s Cannes was pastiche. Hal Hartley made one bad horror movie, a crypto-Godard folly called No Such Thing, while Todd Solondz made another horror movie, this one a crypto-Solondz called Storytelling, another funny-mean excursion into cynicism but without the writing and acting that made Happiness tolerable. Far more unsettling was David Lynch‘s Mulholland Drive, a beautifully acted, shivery nightmare about Los Angeles and the movies that revisits many of the same themes he explored in Lost Highway to lesser effect. Originally made for television -- where it was, happily, rejected -- the film is among the director’s finest, as honest in its cruelty as Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me, yet shot through with tenderness. Like Shohei Imamura, whose delightfully ribald Warm Water Under a Red Bridge recalls a number of the Japanese director‘s recent films, Lynch may be cannibalizing himself, but at least there’s flesh on his bones.
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