TamTam Books News

Thursday, December 02, 2004:

This is an interview with Jean-Luc Godard on his new film. I got this from the Wellspring website:


    From Le Monde - Interview by Jacques Mandelbaum

                                    and Thomas Sotinel


By happy coincidence, just as Europe is expanding and the cinema is wondering where its own boundaries lie, Jean-Luc Godard went to Sarajevo to make “Notre Musique” (Our Music), a serious and optimistic film. He describes the genesis of the film and the sense of serenity he found in an abandoned city where there is some hope of reconstruction.


Three years ago in Cannes, you said you already knew your next film would be called Notre musique.


Since A bout de souffle [Breathless, 1959], I’ve always known the names of my films ahead of time. Whether it’s a stick or a carrot, that’s how it goes. It’s an indicator, a sound. Something could be called such-and-such – so what do we need to do so that it can be called by that name? 


What made you decide to divide the film into three parts: Hell, Purgatory, and Heaven?


One concept I share with Anne-Marie Miéville is making triptychs: a past, a present, a future; one image, another image and what comes between, what I call the real image, the third person, as in the Trinity. And I would call the third person the image, the image we don’t see, that comes from what we’ve glimpsed of what we will be seeing. For the rest, the cinema works in a naïve way technically, practically, just like that. And so when I went to Sarajevo, clearly it was Purgatory. They had Hell before, now it’s Purgatory, but I don’t think they’ll ever have Heaven.


What principles were you following when you filmed the Hell segment, which is a montage of war images?


I’m always afraid that I’ll wind up with no more than an hour and 20 minutes of film. So there was one hour for Purgatory, and I told myself we needed 10 minutes before and 10 minutes afterwards. Hell is quite long, with 10 minutes’ worth of documents, divided into four small moments, which is easier than going on for 10 minutes. The first part is all the wars, the second is technology – tanks, aircraft, ships. The third is victims of war, and the fourth part is some images of Sarajevo during the war, to introduce the Purgatory segment.


Why did you decide to mix documentary images and fiction?


I don’t make a big distinction between the two. You won’t see a couple kissing in a document[ary], you’ll see it in a fiction film. I was thinking of the [Robert] Aldrich film Kiss Me Deadly and then showing a map of Hiroshima after the destruction, since the Aldrich film was a metaphor for the atomic bomb at the time.


What made you want to go to Sarajevo?


I’d been there once or twice before. I was invited by the Rencontres du livre, and suddenly I said to myself, that’s where this should take place, almost as if I was drawn to it. And then I’d rather – whether because I’m afraid or I just prefer it that way or want to be contrary, go there once the fire’s been extinguished, but there’s always something going on under the ashes when everyone’s gone. The place itself is abandoned, neglected again.


You put the Sarajevo Rencontres du livre up on the screen. How did you work with the writers we see?


Juan Goytisolo had been there three times. There were some unknown writers whose prose I found interesting or touching. And then there was [the Palestinian poet] Mahmoud Darwish for a bit of the Israel-Palestine theme, which was an underlying theme but I didn’t want to make it the main element. That would have turned it into a different film, let’s say the story of that Israeli reporter or the story of Olga, the Jewish student of Russian origin. I wanted to show them all on equal terms, I wanted to be democratic, with both fiction and documentary, real actors and false actors and no actors at all, and me intervening as a guest.


It’s almost a tribute to the written form.


Yes, a tribute to the written form by its greatest destroyer.  But what I’m destroying is a way of using the written form that refuses to take images on equal terms.


Do we detect a certain disenchantment in the infernal beginning of the film, in the tone of your “cinema lesson”?


No, there was, but not any more. I’m just an ordinary citizen who’s disenchanted with a certain number of things. Once you get older sometimes you’re a little more disenchanted, but at the same time enchanted with other things you discover with age. But there are so many things that don’t work – why is that?


I don’t see why they invented social security during the Liberation and then, 50 years later, it can’t exist any more. And why they started to talk about retirement during the Liberation, but that doesn’t work. The other day, I got a call from a contract worker. I told him, “If you want an hour-long discussion, go to my press conference. I’d be delighted not to do it.” He was talking about occupation, and I told him, “If you’re putting up a resistance, it’s hard to use the word ‘occupation’.”


Three Jewish characters is a lot in one movie.


I’m the fourth. I’m a Jew of the cinema.


You seem to be placing more and more emphasis on the fate of the Jews. Where does that come from?


It’s been a gradual process, because I’ve had to educate myself on the subject. At my grandfather’s house – he was a collaborationist – we would listen to speeches by Philippe Henriot every evening. During the war, my parents were part of the Swiss Red Cross, visiting refugee camps. But no one ever explained to me what had happened.


Afterwards, bit by bit, I did some reading here and there and finally made some  connections. But basically, I’ve never succeeded in knowing what it really means to be Jewish. The only way for me to understand it is to tell myself that I’m the same: I want to be with others, and at the same time not with others. This is a feeling I have myself.


Exactly what do you mean by the parallel you make between Jews and Muslims in the film, based on the two photos of Nazi death-camp prisoners? Where did you get the photos you used for that?


The first photo is well known, it’s a picture of a prisoner with bulging eyeballs, which I believe was taken when the camps were liberated. The other photo, of a deported person, gives you the feeling that the end is near. They’re the ones who were so exhausted physically they were nearly dead, who were called “Muslims” in the camps. I’ve always wondered how it happened that the Germans called Jews  “Muslims.” And then I realized that this was where the Middle East conflict started. You’re in an apartment, and someone arrives and says, “I have been appointed by God;  I will now occupy this apartment.” I wanted to make a movie about that with Marcel Ophuis, where we would show the two of them in that apartment. We talked, we tried to solve the question between ourselves, as if we had the power to do so, but it didn’t work out.


Isn’t it dangerous to suggest, as you do, a parallel between the extermination of the Jews and the Palestinian exile due to the Middle East conflict?


Of course, I thought about that for a long time. When you put the two things side by side, they say it’s disgusting. But how is it that no one – neither the Jews nor the Palestinians – has drawn that parallel? And when I do that, I’m not thinking about it, I do it like a scientist bringing elements together. People would rather talk about something than really look at it. What I’m saying is, let’s look at the images. I would rather look [first], then talk about it afterwards.


In the dialogue between the Israeli journalist and the Palestinian poet Mahmoud Darwish, they don’t speak the same language, but they seem to understand each other.


He understood her, because Darwish speaks Arabic and understands Hebrew, but she didn’t understand him, because she doesn’t speak Arabic, but she’s a good actress.


The poet says, “We are fortunate that our enemy is Israel, because the Jews are the centre of the world.” What is your understanding of this idea that the Jewish people, the pariah of the nations for 20 centuries, is the centre of the world?


What does that mean, “the centre of the world”? Here’s how I understand it. There is something very original about the Israelis, but they’ve introduced the idea of origin into their originality. Origin means that someone came first. They have theorized about all that, and so it’s completely normal that what happened to them did happen to them, and they’ve been able to theorize about it because it happened to them.


Let’s move from the centre of the world to the masters of the world, the Americans, who are also, in your film, the guards of Heaven…


I didn’t invent that. Everyone will credit me with making that anti-American comment, but you should know that it comes from the last couplet of the Marines’ Hymn, which we’ve heard 100 times from Ford or Hawks. How would I invent that? The Americans want to have everything… There are many lands on the American continent, so why is just that little bit of it called America? The U.S. knows very well that it’s the name of a country that has no land, people who have no land, so they need to find their land somewhere else.


You’ve said that you feel you’re on the fringes of the cinema. Do you feel more serene about that experience today?


Of course I do, but it was Sarajevo that brought me that, Sarajevo as a metaphor for Europe, with people who feel that they’re separated from others and at the same time are with us, with something to be reconstructed together. That’s why my film is relatively serious, but also an optimistic film.

Tosh // 9:03 AM

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