For most of my cinematic life I have striven to become as familiar as possible with the works of great directors. Repeated viewings of Ozu, Ford and Bergman have yielded untold pleasures. Immersion in other directors’ work was not as pleasurable, but was fruitful in advancing cinematic knowledge (Ophuls, later Lang, later Renoir, later Fellini). But there is one director whose work has mocked just about every attempt I have made to understand it or, at least, become familiar with it: Jean-Luc Godard.
To date, I have seen at least 15 of his films. I can say that I adore Vivre Sa Vie, was delighted by Une Femme est Une Femme and have tolerated multiple viewings of Breathless, but that’s it. I finally waved the white flag earlier this week about half-way through Masculin-Feminin. After 50 minutes I realized that I had no idea what I was watching. I stopped it, and vengefully deleted it from my DVR along with a copy of Contempt, which I refused to watch.
As readers of this blog know, I don’t shy away from the austere and the dense. I love Jeanne Dielmann. Andrei Rublev I find sublime, all 205 minutes of it. I have had fun puzzling out Last Year at Marienbad, and have luxuriated in Persona, while admitting I was mostly baffled by most of it.
But Godard is something else entirely for me. His are the only films that make me feel inadequate. I watch and I watch and I never, ever connect. I keep coming back because many people who I deeply respect are people who revere Godard.
So, I am making a request. If you are one of these people, please help me here. Let me hear from you how to engage these films. And I want concrete answers. I don’t want to hear ‘Let it just wash over you!’ ‘Don’t get hung up on what it means.’ When I hear that kind of thing, I hear you saying to me, ‘I have no idea either, but I am not going to admit it.’
So please, no flaming (if anyone still uses that term!). Just practical advice.