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Reviews » DVD Video Reviews » In Praise Of Love
In Praise Of Love
New Yorker Video // PG // July 22, 2003
List Price: $29.99 [Buy now and save at Amazon]
Review by Don Houston | posted August 2, 2003 | E-mail the Author
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Movie: Jean-Luc Godard is sometimes referred to as a national treasure in France. His movies over the decades have altered the course of filmmaking both in terms of his experimental nature (Godard often employs techniques that are unconventional) as well as his willingness to explore facets of life that aren't really easy to handle. The most common criticism I've heard in regard to Godard is that his movies are either anti-American, too self indulgent, or simply too inaccessible. Each point has a lot of validity but there's definitely a market for his movies and their totality have added a lot to the culture of movies in general, for all their limitations. In his latest release to dvd, In Praise Of Love, Godard takes a look at the four stages of love.

Bruno Putzulu plays Edgar, a young writer trying to audition women for a role in his movie. He falls for one of them but she won't participate in the movie. The two spend a lot of time discussing seemingly unrelated and meaningless things, although they get quite clear when they start making negative comments about those mean old "Americans of the North" (USA). The movie for this first half is filmed in 35 mm B&W, and has such comments as: "When I think about something, I'm really thinking about something else." The movie continues in the second half, recorded in digital video with a lot of quirky tricks like superimposition, color saturation, and editing, with an American negotiating the rights to a couple of French resistance fighters from WWII. This part actually takes place two years prior to the first section of the movie and fills in a couple (but only a couple) of the blanks left open in the front end of the movie. The anti-American sentiments were focused on a lot more here-with the characters arguing about petty things like names (apparently, Godard has gone to the well a few too many times and must resort to semantic games to justify his political leanings). A prolonged conversation took place when the negotiators are put on the spot over "which" American group will be the origin of the writer of the screenplay-it's pointed out that the various major countries all have states that are united so why is it assumed that the "United States" is not one of them, rather the country designated as the USA. (As an aside, I'd point out that the others countries probably feel the need to designate themselves as something else because they too see the term "The United States of America" as referring to a specific group of states and not some generic term.)

If all this sounds complex, it's because that's how Godard likes to layer his movies. By being obscure on many points, he can later deflect the criticisms more readily and it also allows his movies to be interpreted, rightly or wrongly, as something more than they really are. By leaving them open to interpretation, a viewer can see what he wants to see (even if nobody else does) and get them to thinking for themselves. Not a bad concept in theory and Godard's been able to pull it off in the past much better than recently.

So, would an average movie goer appreciate this film? I don't think this is the case. While you could dissect the various elements and point to why they were included, there was a lack of the whole story-telling process here. If Godard is unable to convey his message, outside of his bitter attitude towards Americans and Hollywood, then he might want to retire to write his autobiography. The acting was sometimes stilted and the editing jarring more often than not, which made the lack of a focused theme a bit tough to take. Further, most people aren't going to want to put in the work required to even passingly appreciate some of the more subtle points (typically those relating to the themes of age, memory, and rewriting history). It's been my experience that few people want to spend a lot of time trying to understand a movie that's purposefully obscure (except those who want to impress people with their faux knowledge).

If you're a fan of Godard, movies that few people will ever see, or more importantly-want to see, and think you'll be able to impress the intellectuals in your social circle by coming up with some meaning to this movie, you'll have a lot to work with here. For the vast majority of people though, I think this one is worth a rating of Skip It. The simple fact is that the movie dances around a lot of issues but rarely addresses them in a straightforward manner although it's possible the subtitles missed some of the words (at times, there was a lot of talking but few words on the screen and the same goes for the subtext of most signs, etc.) which might have added the extra meaning at times to make this one more accessible.

Picture: The picture was presented in 1.85:1 ratio widescreen with the fist part in B&W and the latter part in color. There was a certain amount of edge enhancement but it paled in comparison to the multitude of visual effects that were intentionally added in terms of impacting the picture (in a negative way more often than not). The moiré, inaccurate fleshtones, halo effect, scratches on the film stock and simple lack of sharpness in much of the movie made it look like it was shot on a shoestring budget over the course of a week for a film school project.

Sound: The sound was presented in Dolby Digital French with optional English subtitles. There was some separation between the channels but most of the sound came from the center channel and the score was minimal. Generally, it was clear if unexceptional.

Extras: trailers and a paper insert for the chapters

Final Thoughts: The true focus of the movie wasn't love so much as regret and that poured through the many aspects of the movie I might've found enjoyable. The lecturing tone of 2/3's of the movie about how clueless Americans (well, "Americans of the North") are and how evil Hollywood is didn't help either. If you want to feel superior to those poor working people of the world who "don't get it", put on your black outfit, eat a croissant and watch this one. You'll tell everyone how fascinating and deep it was, knowing full well that no one will be able to contradict you, including many of the critics quoted on the dvd cover.

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