1. Sauve qui peut (la vie) / Slow Motion / Every Man For Himself (1980, Jean-Luc Godard) Rewatch
2. L'esclave blanche / Pasha's Wives (1939, Georg Wilhelm Pabst, Marc Sorkin)
3. Le garçu (1997, Maurice Pialat)
4. Le bon et les méchants / The Good and the Bad (1976, Claude Lelouch)
5. Viens je t'emmène / Nobody's Hero (2022, Alain Guiraudie)
Let's open this with two more great JLG rewatches:
6. Passion (1982, Jean-Luc Godard)
"How's business?", asks the boss's wife, leaning out of her car window as a young woman approaches. Walking closer, and with a slight stutter, the woman replies, "You shouldn't make fun of the working classes". Walking on, the frame is disrupted by the almost violent arrival of another car, forcing itself into the frame, as the boss arrives from the opposite direction, rolls down his window, and tells his wife, "Don't speak to my employees".
Are we then in for another political film by Jean-Luc Godard? Perhaps in part, as the young woman is let go, and attempts to start a strike, but while much of the imagery and juxtapositions recall labour relations, both in the factory, and on the film set, this is hardly just a meditation on class relations, it is about love, even love of work, of movements, of, perhaps, grace(?), or certainly something biblical and how it all relates together, creating a composition of images and movements that are simultaneously free and restrained, messy but choreographed, crass but graceful.
To take a step back another key early line is "Why does there have to be a story?", spoken by a film director, seemingly shooting living realizations of portraits and biblical tableaus, and burning through his money fast. His production is also called "Passion", and this is where the lines of thought within the film become interesting, as the extras of the film are workers from the factory, and we see both kinds of work, as well as the work around them on the film set and within the factory itself.
Some of the most incredible shots of the film are of the compositions of extras enacting scenes, standing still in splendour, as we see the production around them, and the in-between takes.
But let's take another step back and mention that there's a love triangle, or perhaps a quadrangle, or maybe add one more to mix as a joker, and then take another step back and say that it is about the creation of this film, two love affairs (at least), a strike, and ... well, cinema itself and all its possibilities.
To say that Godard always investigated what cinema could be as a medium, experimenting within each film, is at this point a cliche, but it is true, and within this sphere of killing cinema so it can be reborn, Passion stands out as a particularly intriguing example.
We can see so many of the experimental techniques JLG developed while working with Anne-Marie Mieville in the 70s, traces of technical choices and shots we could also see in Slow Motion, but here we once again see screens within screens for great effect, and we see the tools applied to "narrative" (if we can call it that and I suppose we can) cinema.
While I don't want to say let's back up again, as it is becoming a gimmick, we must also talk about the cast. Isabelle Huppert joins for their second collaboration in a row as the young woman turned striker and unemployed. She is also joined by Michel Piccoli, reuniting with Godard, and two huge international names, Hanna Schygulla and Jerzy Radziwilowicz.
Passion is ridiculous in all the right ways, never really taking itself too seriously, while exploring its subject matter, or central idea with a great deal of earnest energy. Does it manage to prove the connection between love and work, between the ideas of what we perceive as toil and what we perceive as graceful or romantic? I am not quite sure, but it does pose a powerful question and presents it in such a rapturous symphony that you may even need to catch your breath.
It is a film that in so many ways is larger than life and transcends most traditional views of what cinema should be, while also running the risk of being too hectic, cramming too much in, and perhaps being a little too exhaustive. It's ending, leaving on comedy, may also either speak for it or against it. One thing is certain, it is a film I almost wanted to rewatch again as soon as it ended, and it is a film much can be explored and likely more can be revealed viewing after viewing, and to that, I just have to say "bravo"!
7. Scénario du film 'Passion' (1982, Jean-Luc Godard)
One of the most interesting aspects of Jean-Luc Godard's change of focus in the 80s was that he would set aside the time to create twin films, more than featurettes, but works of art of their own, exploring the films he had just made. His sadly still without subtitles, Sauve la vie (qui peut) is a full 1 hour and 42 minutes long and reworks Slow Motion, meanwhile, this film, Scénario du film 'Passion', is down at the 54-minute mark, and he would also go on to make a shorter exploration of Passion for TV, as well as a 25-minute look into Hail Mary, called Petites notes à propos du film 'Je vous salue, Marie'.It is easy to see this as a partial precursor to his Histoire(s) du cinema series, as well as a more direct continuation of the video art he was producing in the 70s.
Scénario du film 'Passion' is largely comprised of Jean-Luc Godard in his studio, often in silhouette, watching moments for Passion, reaching out and touching the images, and revealing his thought process, his vision - must of which can not be directly gleaned from the film - and how it came together, namely that the story was developed and changed while the film was being made. Rather than coming up with a scenario he wanted to "see" the scenario first. Takes from earlier versions, as the idea was coming together, are included, and when he is not in silhouette he will look directly into the camera and talk - of course, while smoking a large cigarette.
What is remarkable in Scénario du film 'Passion' is that it is very much a work of its own, an examination of how ideas are created, and different approaches to discovering and inventing cinema. It also brings added value to the work I had not considered, such as director in the film not actually wishing to be without a story, but like Godard, is searching for a story, with the irony that all the loose plot threads around him are stories of the own - meaning he is blind to inspiration. The film lives and breathes and has a near transcendental nature to it as images of the studio and the film merge, and hints at something far grander than Godard can express with words, and perhaps more than Passion can successfully convey.
-------------------AND THEN FOR THE REST-------------------
8. Les camisards / The French Calvinists (1972, René Allio)
René Allio is one of the most intriguing lost directors of the late-post New Wave period, debuting with the excellent comedy The Shameless Old Lady (1965), before developing a staunch, bleak and blunt minimalism ala Bresson going into Moi, Pierre Rivière (1976). Most of his films are not available (with English subtitles) and this recent release shows that minimalism was his forte. The French Calvinists is procedural and eagle eyes, showing a lot set of humans and the push to fight for Protestantism against its ban with as violent methods as that of the regime. It has no intention of making anyone particularly likeable, and rather shows the circle of violence.
While it lacks a little energy at parts, it is a striking and unusual vision with a lot to dive into. Unlike Bresson, it is also not ashamed of diving into the more ridiculous, with the clash against the Calvinists and the overly pompous and dressed-up officers and leaders as a clear tongue-in-cheek charm. This mixture of almost serene pictures of classical/romantic purity, with the touches of grotesque excess and general blunt, cold, procedural violence makes it a very dynamic and exciting work well worth full rediscovery. 7.5/10
9. La femme du bout du monde (1938, Jean Epstein)
Epstein did not handle the arrival of sound well, and this, his last feature, is a prime example of why he disappeared. The dialogue feels like an afterthought, and while from 1938, it sounds and feels like it was made in 1929. This would perhaps have been ok if it was led by his usual incredible visuals, but while he certainly had not lost his touch, and there's much magic, a lot of the film is semi-dry coverage of people talking. 5/10
10. Les cinq diables / The Five Devils (2022, Léa Mysius)
The Five Devils is an intriguing magical realist film that manages to create something of its own, though it does feel a little sprawling in its characters and storylines. The centre of the film is dual - a young girl, with an obsession with smells and an eerily hyper-alert nose accidentally triggers a way to time travel into the memories of the people whose scents she collects, unearthing the mystery surrounding her mother and the, until now, unknown sister of her father - and the relationship between the latter two characters. However, she is not just seeing the memories, while she herself can not directly interact with the past, someone can see her, and it may be the cause of what split her family apart and allowed her to be born.
The mood is restrained, but still with an explosive and raw underbelly, much like Mysius' debut, Ava. Adèle Exarchopoulos is excellent as the girl's mother, portraying her character two decades apart. The film allows you to feel, more than it directly explains or shows, but through the glimpses and the unspoken we start to see new dynamics and emotional connections. An excellent sophomore effort from a director who is starting to feel a little like an heir to Claire Denis. 8/10