To pretend and evaluate Godard as a director is as laughable as claiming to fully understand the genius of one the most prolific directors in the history of French cinema. Jean Luc Godard and his work evoke reactions that rather often than not divide audiences into admirers and disappointed critics. Some believe that he is one of the most important directors of our time other regard him as an arrogant eccentric. Regardless, he is one of the most unique directors ever to step behind the camera and his works certainly deserve the attention of the serious film aficionado.
Notre Musique ("Our Music") is an ambitious work structured in three parts lightly resembling Dante's Divine Comedy. Hell, Purgatory, and Heaven are all frivolously intertwined in a web of sounds, documentary footage, fiction, narration full of classic references, political innuendos, and startling classical music. What appears as an incoherent mosaic of sounds and images is indeed a meticulously structured cinematic work. Each "kingdom" is a reflection of a period[s] of human history depicting dilemmas the human race has struggled to resolve.
In Hell, Godard presents a distressing composition of war images depicting human degradation free of historical context from the Zulu slaughtering to the horrors of the Holocaust. Music and image are brought together with the only purpose of creating an immediate impact over Notre Musique's audience. Chaos and unpredictability are fueled by graphic images of extreme violence and insanity.
Purgatory, the most elaborate of the three "kingdoms" is set in Sarajevo where the director is introduced in the company of a young Jewish girl of Russian decent, a Spanish writer, a Palestinian author, a group of American natives, and a Serbian translator among many others. Each of the characters relates their story to a history of their past they have struggled with or an experience that has brought some meaning to their life. These are disjointed stories that are often told in the context of a much larger narrative full of analogies and quotes. In a typical for Godard manner instead of revelation and logical conclusion the interaction between the main characters delivers more unanswered questions. It seems like the fascination that Godard had with film is now long gone and Notre Musique is simply a temporary meditation on both past and present.
Heaven, the third and final segment in this fictional trilogy is as peaceful as it is suggestive in its existence. Guarded by U.S marine troops Heaven is rather symbolic epitomizing the hopes of the human race…or so we are taught to believe. When a journalist wanders through the forest approaching Heaven a soldier, presumably American, asks for an identification card. After providing the requested document the journalist is allowed to continue and Heaven finally becomes a reality.
To rationalize what Jean Luc Godard, the once prominent French New Wave director, has created in Notre Musique is to understand the evolution of a director that nowadays seems tired and to a certain degree bitter of its own existence as a filmmaker. His latest work appears to have abandoned all that was once precious to the director. The once classic protagonist from Godard's early films has long ago disappeared. What Anna Karina was for Godard during the French New Wave period, and to a certain extent Monica Vitti in Antonioni's neo-realistic works, has progressed in an ultra modern approach to cinema that according to Godard "has two faces". In Notre Musique aesthetic and intellectual antagonism justifies what seems like a rushed attempt in documentary filmmaking. Under the surface of Godard's latest however lies a complex struggle for meaning and rationalization of the current state of cinema.
Halfway through Notre Musique a student asks Godard if the digital camera could save film. Godard looks at him, slowly removes his cigarette and remains silent. How ironic is it that the director remains silent to his own questions? It seems to me that the more we discover about Jean Luc Godard the less we learn about the person that signifies abstract filmmaking. After all his films have become so challenging that even the most zealous of his supporters admit that his work has evolved more into an intellectual test and less into a cinematic experience.
Godard states that "reality is uncertainty, imagination is certainty" and Notre Musique certainly creates the impression that imagination is still the substance that brings the director behind the camera. A move, a sound, and a bit of imagination…according to Godard that is all that cinema needs. He certainly has plenty of each though arguably his bitterness of being misunderstood through the years appears to have pushed him even further away from the populism of conventional cinema.
How Does the Disc Look?
Notre Musique is presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.37:1. It is very hard to judge the image quality of the Wellspring release due to the abundance of documentary footage as well as plenty of archive material. In my honest opinion however this is a DVD presentation that has captured the subtle use of colors by Godard and the hand-held camera moves perfectly. Optional (yellow) English subtitles are provided for the main feature.
How Does the Disc Sound?
The Wellspring presentation of Notre Musique comes with a Dolby Digital 2.0 and a Dolby Digital 5.1 French sound options. This a film that uses a number of different languages as a platform for its narrative-Russian, English, Hebrew, Serbian, etc., which could be easily heard. The 5.1 mix is much more active bringing the classical music soundtrack to its full glory. A fine presentation that leaves nothing to the viewer to complain about.
Unfortunately Wellspring have provided absolutely nothing to supply a rather controversial film. I can hardly think of a more deserving work from the last couple of years in terms of extras. There is so much that Wellspring could have done yet they failed to do so. The only extras provided are a trailer for the main feature, a gallery of other Wellspring releases, and a Jean Luc Godard filmography. Very disappointing indeed.
I realize that Notre Musique is a highly controversial and in a way elitist film that yet again will divide filmgoers into passionate supporters and critics. One of the film's main strengths is also its most vulnerable area- there is so much information, quotes, and historic references that one almost feels as if a preliminary education course is needed to fully grasp the message of Godard's latest. On the other hand I absolutely loved the suggestive nature of this film. There are historic analogies and political references that sound and look anything but abstract to me. Regardless, make the effort and see this film. If for nothing else at least so you could witness the genius of one of the most creative directors of our time. Recommended.