Godard in Paris

On Film / The Daily — Jan 8, 2020
The visual motif for Tout Godard, the retrospective at the Cinémathèque française, is a still from Alphaville (1965) featuring the late Anna Karina

Starting today, the Cinémathèque française in Paris will present what has to be one of the most complete surveys of work by Jean-Luc Godard ever mounted. Seventy-one programs divided into six sections—New Wave (1954–1965), Sociological Fables (1965–1966), Revolutionary Works (1967–1972), Video Experimentation (1975–1978), Dialogue Between the Arts (1979–1992), and Historical Meditations (1993–2019)—will culminate on March 1 with a conversation with Godard himself led by programmer and scholar Nicole Brenez and Cinémathèque director Frédéric Bonnaud.


Along with special introductions for many of the screenings, there will also be talks with Alain Bergala, a filmmaker, curator, critic, and former editor of Cahiers du cinéma; Antoine de Baecque, the author of biographies of Godard, François Truffaut, and Eric Rohmer; David Faroult, a lecturer whose focus has been on the Dziga Vertov Group, the collective founded in 1968 by Godard and Jean-Pierre Gorin; Dominique Païni, former director of the Cinémathèque and author of several books on cinema; and Jacques Aumont, who has also published widely and written critical studies of Godard’s work.

Those of us who won’t be able to make it to Paris in the next two months but who’d nevertheless like to get into the spirit of a year that will see Godard turning ninety in December might want to turn to the London Review of Books. For one more week, the full archive will be freely accessible. In 1998, filmmaker and theorist Peter Wollen, who passed away just last month—in the New York Times, Neil Genzlinger notes that Wollen’s 1969 book Signs and Meaning in Cinema is “widely credited with helping to re-energize film studies”—quoted Manny Farber, who wrote in Artforum in 1968 that “at the end of this director’s career, there will probably be a hundred films, each one a bizarrely different species, with its own excruciatingly singular skeleton, tendons, plumage.” The only tweak to be made more than fifty years later is that, as the Cinémathèque points out, it’s closer to two hundred films—so far.

The occasion for Wollen’s piece was the then-recent publication of Wheeler Winston Dixon’s “compendious and acute” The Films of Jean-Luc Godard and Kaja Silverman and Harun Farocki’s Speaking About Godard, a book that’s “bravely experimental in form, written in alternating paragraphs of dialogue, as if there was a conversation taking place between the two authors as they watch the films.” Those films “have an underlying logic in their obsession with freedom and their immersion in the present at the same time as cannibalizing the past,” wrote Wollen, “although the logic has mutated from time to time, as he changed his place of residence, his circle of intimates, and his mode of production.”

Wollen noted that in a 1991 essay, Colin MacCabe provided “the most useful sketch of Godard’s development to date,” dividing the life and work “into seven schematic episodes.” On Monday, Jonathan Rosenbaum reposted his 2004 review of MacCabe’s Godard: A Portrait of the Artist at Seventy, in which he pointed out that, after giving it a decade of thought, MacCabe had revised his outline: “Despite the fact that each episode or chapter—and there are now five rather than seven—seems to redraft the book’s agenda slightly, becoming progressively more of a critical study and less of a biography as it proceeds, this is a book that adds considerably to our understanding of Godard, and no one who wishes to study his career in any depth can afford to be without it.” Rosenbaum has also reposted his 2008 review of Richard Brody’s Everything Is Cinema: The Working Life of Jean-Luc Godard, in which he argued that “Brody’s main strength, apart from the fact that he’s never boring, is his ease in clarifying the intricacies of French politics and philosophy as they interact with Godard’s evolution.”

To return to the LRB, the late, great Gilberto Perez also reviewed MacCabe’s book in 2004—and for those wanting to take full advantage of free access to the archive, let’s note that Perez also wrote for the LRB about Alfred Hitchcock, John Cassavetes, Abbas Kiarostami, Andrei Tarkovsky, Michael Haneke, and Terrence Malick. MacCabe and his book serve Perez primarily as points from which to leap off into his own assessment of Godard’s oeuvre, and his discussion of In Praise of Love (2001), contrasting the sheer beauty of the film with what MacCabe perceives to be its facile politics, is particularly enlightening. “As an artist,” writes Perez, “Godard had a wonderful, exciting moment of youth in the days of the nouvelle vague. Then he had a problematic artistic adulthood. But since Nouvelle Vague [1990], which he made in his sixtieth year, he has been having a moment of old age that can stand beside the works of his youth.”


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