Notre Musique(Wellspring, 5.17.2005)
Jean Luc Godard's 2004 feature Notre Musique explores the director's world-weariness, a disenchantment that has haunted a number of his features post-1968. There is no specific target for Godard's discontent, although we can guess his preoccupations are warfare, conflict, displacement, the United States, revolution, and perhaps even digital cameras. The film is structured in a triptych fashion, inspired by Dante. The sections of Hell, Purgatory, and Paradise divide the film with Purgatory taking up nearly forty minutes of the film's eighty minute time span.
Running only ten minutes, Hell is a silent montage of war footage. Both found footage and clips from fiction films are edited seamlessly so that fiction hardly stands out from reality. These images of destruction -- ranging from massacred Native Americans to World War II battlefields -- are juxtaposed with simple piano accompaniment. The ideas of uncertainty and identity are strong in this film, beginning with these images and fleshed out in Purgatory.
In the second segment, a slim narrative holds Purgatory together as fictional characters -- including two female Jewish Israeli journalists, Judith (Sarah Adler) and Olga (Nade Dieu) -- interact at a literary conference in Sarajevo with a very non-fiction Godard, as well as other "real-life" figures. Questions are raised at this conference concerning Palestine and Israel but only in the abstract. As with the rest of the film, Godard never reveals his cards but merely hints at ideas.
One of the central points of the film is a lecture Godard gives at the conference, discussing the idea of shot/reverse shot. In an attempt to reverse assumptions, he asks students to identify an image, a black-and-white photograph of a war ravaged landscape containing only a bombed out building. The students suggest Hiroshima or Sarajevo, obvious responses, but the answer is Richmond VA, 1865. This play with image, as well as audience perception, is one of Godard's strongest suits and it's one of the abilities he has not lost with age.
The final sequence of Paradise loses its way and is reminiscent of the final moments in Weekend, as Judith wanders through beautifully-shot landscapes of a forest and lake in an unnamed country, encountering Marines and hippie-like figures. The loose imagery is unconvincing and cannibalizes earlier works by the filmmaker. Overall, the film is slightly opaque (a standard Godardian trait) but, unlike his strongly political works of the sixties, there is no clear argument against Algeria or even capitalism, merely bitter musings of an aging and perhaps dejected director.
Unfortunately, the DVD lacks any interesting extra features. The film is presented in its original 1:33:1 ratio and the theatrical trailer is included, along with Godard's filmography, a number of Wellspring trailers, and weblinks. Perhaps an essay or commentary by Godard would be useful but this is a nearly impossible task, considering Godard's reclusive status. Nonetheless, the film's poetic and lyrical qualities stand strongly enough on their own that a more concrete explanation could be unnecessary. -- Jenny Jediny