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Michael Macfeat
Photo By Michael Macfeat

Godard’s The Search In Film

Politics and passion are often thought to be incompatible with one another. Jean Luc Godard has become a master at meshing politics and passion together contemplatively. Such connections have become a key feature in his films. The first time this is most notable is in Alphaville. Most of time the character is the main part in the story however in this film the city was the main part in the story. Once again Jean-Luc Godard showed the versatile characteristics of the medium film.

The Importance Of Montage

The setting of Alphaville is a futuristic Paris. Inspiration for it was Eluard’s poems “Capitale de la Doleur,” which loosely translates to “lost city.” Although the film has a futuristic feel, no decorative props were used. The suburban location in Paris was recently constructed, and that transformed Paris from classical to extremely postmodern. What people could only previously imagine had come to life in the film. The present already carries the future. The world around us is changing constantly without us being part of it. And that is exactly the concerns Godard has and wants to share with us.

A few years later, Godard filmed La Chinoise. The movie is about a group of university students who are highly engaged in politics. Inspired by theories and philosophies by minds like Brecht and Marx, the group begins to work on creating a “real theatre” play. The students believe that theatre is absent in the world and want to return it to its rightful place. Regarding the Marxist theory that history repeats itself, and that revolution should anticipate such recurrences, this leads to radicalized action and violence. Godard was criticized by authorities for encouraging students to apply violence to activism. However, Godard wouldn’t send a message lacking idealism. As a matter of fact, he wanted to show the dangers of idealism and violence. Dangers of the past linger in the present. Hence, history was important to the story. Godard merely wanted to tell the story the right way.

Like when Jean-Pierre Leaud’s character aggressively states in La Chinoise, “Although Méliès and Brecht are similar, we shouldn’t forget the differences between the two,” Godard brings a similar theme to Notre Musique when asking Bosnian students the similarities between two pictures. However, Godard is much more passive in his approach. Because of that, the members of the group begin to align with one another, and a deep dialogue takes place about the pictures. The images are from a movie of filmmaker Howard Hawks. A similar vantage point is used, but the subjects are different. One is a man. The other, a woman. Godard says that Hawks couldn’t see the differences. Also seen in this film is footage of the Stari Most bridge destruction, which used to connect civilians with one another. The bridge also symbolized the past and present. Godard uses this to show the viewers a hopeful future.

Showing differences through similarities is a significant theme in Godard’s later works. He compares past and present wars. An example of this is Ici Et Ailleurs, a documentary that compares the Palestinian Conflict with the Vietnam War. Godard sees film as more than a script translated onto a screen. He sees it as a medium to search for reality. The use of montage was fascinating. Where Eisenstein has used montage to draw viewers into the characterization and lead them away from catharsis, Godard used montage to show the similarity of images and search for a shared reality.

New Art Form

Godard received a great deal of help from Anne-Marie Mieville, a visual artist and also his wife. Together, they used all kinds footage combined with a strange form of non-fiction to create a new art form. Their films blurred the lines between fiction and documentary. This proves that Godard is a filmmaker who uses all available tools to build and tell a compelling story. He is a filmmaker who is not afraid to take a stand, whatever the establishment may think. Sometimes, this even meant going against established and traditional filming and interviewing techniques.

At the IDFA the annual documentary festival in Amsterdam—I watched The Offended by Marcela Zamora. She used the film as a means of learning more about her father. When he was a political prisoner during a conflict in El Salvador, he had been tortured. She did not only make the film, she participated in it. Zamora interviewed various individuals who had been involved in the conflict. To develop the context, she used what is called “found-footage.” The result of this was mixing the interviews consistently with film. After the showing, she held a Q&A session in the theatre. There, she explained the importance of history. By creating the documentary, she had enlightened the world to the issues many El Salvadorians face. So many had thanked her on Facebook for making a film that allowed reconciliation. Zamora is just like Godard—both want to show us a bright, hopeful future.