A mystical Godard: homage to a giant of cinema

On September 13, 2022, we heard the last undertow of the new wave and the last breath of Jean-Luc Godard. Cinema and television hadn’t interested him for a while. They had become too flat, whereas the earth is not flat. She is round, round like Mary’s belly. He dug the depth of the present in his images and his dialogues with street noises, jazz, Bach, unusual shots or an off commentary, like Mallarmé dug his verses with his words and his images taken from his head. Godard wanted to film the invisible otherwise he would have made TV movies, he explained. At least, with the cinema we raise our heads; with TV, we lower it, he also said.

At the time, the cathode ray tube could still make believe in a certain depth; today, screens are flat like what they broadcast. What were his feelings at the time of his end of assisted life, do we wonder in the same way that he wondered in off what were the feelings of the three young actors dancing the madison in a band apart? Claude Brasseur was looking at her feet, Anna Karina was worried about whether the other two were looking at her breasts and Sami Frey was thinking about everything and nothing. And if that was Godard finally, a permanent voiceover, taking the decision to integrate the words of the commentator with the music and the sounds, telling us in musical phrasing: be careful what you see when you go to the cinema, eh well, the real is both simpler and more complicated. A prosody that we will miss because birth and death, yes, it is both simple and complicated.

At the beginning of Godard’s films was the verb of the commentator; before the image, the words of an actress or an actor, who create their cinema in our heads. Hearing precedes sight, it’s as old as The Song of Songs: “It is the voice of my beloved! He hits ! Him. Open to me, my sister, my friend, my dove, my very pure (…) my entrails quivered: it was him! (…) I opened the door to my beloved: my beloved had turned away, he had disappeared. » Marie the basketball player, before entering the game, wonders off “if something happened in my life”. She enters the field … static shot showing the moon. She steps forward to throw the ball, the voiceover still, “All I had of love…this static shot on the moon…the shadow and even the shadow of a shadow.” Later, her uncle Gabriel announces to her that she is going to have a child. “From whom? she asks. “Don’t play the innocent”uncle replies curtly.

Godard, the Calvinist atheist, inscribes his scenario in the tradition of the Gospels, he multiplies the levels of discourse: conception, birth, fertilization, nativity, virginity, pregnancy, chastity, infidelity, procreation, incarnation, duality of the soul and the body. Godard says, shows, suggests, names and creates but does not explain. The pope was wounded, the traditionalists saw in it a blasphemy, La Croix, Etudes, Panorama, Témoignage Chrétien, the great return of religion in French cinema, some, a psalm, and the general public, a modern parable, that of the chicken and egg: beyond metaphysics, the grain and the ear of Aristotle. Some moviegoers saw it as a laborious and badly turned pastiche.

Eight years later I salute you mariehe delivers a short film, Hail Sarajevo, two minutes fifteen, the brief second part of an altarpiece dedicated to Mary. Next to the Annunciation, a mother of pain. As much as the first painting of the diptych abounded with images, characters and shots, the second, as if in counterpoint to a visual fugue, shows only one image, a war photo by photographer Ron Haviv, taken during the massacre of Bijeljina in Bosnia on April 1 and 2, 1992. A mother at the foot of a son, a Serbian militiaman from the paramilitary group Arkan’s Tigers who is about to give the deathblow to a woman lying on a sidewalk with a blow head to toe. Maybe she’s already dead. He’s relaxed, cigarette in hand, sunglasses on his forehead, it looks like he’s going to kick a ball. The prosody of the voiceover becomes a cantata, it reads Bernanos, The humiliated : “Fear, you see, is all the same the daughter of God, redeemed on Good Friday night, she is not pretty to see, sometimes scratchy, sometimes media, and yet make no mistake about it, she is at the bedside of each agony, she intercedes for man. » What was Godard afraid of if not death?

Christophe Courtin, former director of projects and programs at the Catholic Committee against Hunger and for Development (CCFD), is an international consultant on issues of civil society, rule of law, justice and human rights in Africa. Columnist in the magazine Golias Hebdo, he is the author of Sufi letters. Reason, revelation and tradition in the Sahel (L’Harmattan, 2005) and The dictionary of received ideas about development aid (Golias, 2016).

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A mystical Godard: homage to a giant of cinema

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