"Godard Forever: Part Two" spans the French filmmaker's post-1960s output, from his radical 1970s work to this year's Adieu au language.
Weekend, Jean-Luc Godard’s capstone to his work in the 1960s, closes on a dark note worthy of the apocalyptic drama that precedes it. “Fin de cinéma,” boasts the final title card, suggesting an end to more than simply the film we’ve just seen. For a lot of fans of Godard’s formally daring, endlessly inventive films in his most widely celebrated period, that note proved prophetic: the consensus around what followed, mostly from people who saw at most a film or two, is that Godard became something of a difficult, Maoist, anti-American scold whose prolific output was not worth tracking. You can’t entirely blame casual cinephiles for not disabusing themselves of that opinion, given how hard it’s been to track down so many of Godard’s later films, many of which have languished undistributed after festival debuts and limited runs. Enter TIFF Cinematheque, which offers the back half of its exhaustive Godard retrospective this fall under the perfectly Godardian title “Godard Forever: Part Two.”
Anyone anxious about the supposed inaccessibility of Godard’s output after the 1960s—which has some bearing in truth for those not up on their Marxist theory or continental philosophy—would do well to start with the retrospective’s opener, 1980’s Sauve qui peut (la vie), a film Godard famously dubbed his second first movie. His proper return to narrative cinema after over a decade of experimental political missives, it’s bracing, unexpectedly moving stuff, charting the insidious way capitalism creeps through quotidian life. The film is also a more head-on exploration of sex work than his more widely seen Vivre sa vie, and features strong lead performances by a young Isabelle Huppert and Nathalie Baye. Those seeking something a bit livelier might also look to 1972’s Tout va bien, Godard’s last feature with the Dziga Vertov Group. A rigorously composed, mean Brechtian comedy about a strike at a sausage factory—starring Jane Fonda as a journalist known only as “She”—it’s also Godard’s funniest film in this period, possessed of his sharp visual intelligence as well as his acerbic wit.
Tout va bien is certainly the highest-profile work of Godard’s Dziga Vertov period—born of a collective co-founded with French filmmaker and scholar Jean-Pierre Gorin—largely because it’s the most accessible both in terms of its filmmaking and distribution. Those interested in exploring some of the back catalogue will also be well-served by the retrospective: University of Regina Associate Professor Christina Stojanova will be introducing Struggles in Italy, a film commissioned and then rejected by Italy’s RAI Television. Godard’s work following the group’s dissolution was similarly collaborative. Of his films co-conceived with his then-partner Anne-Marie Miéville—a photographer and filmmaker in her own right—we’d recommend Soft and Hard (which TIFF is pairing with The Children Play Russian) as a primer. It’s at once an uncharacteristically warm parody of the he-said-she-said dynamic of much of Godard’s films about relationships—a satire of the banality of domestic life and an earnest conversation between two artists about the nature of film images and memory, among other topics. It’s also your best opportunity to see Godard sporting a tennis racket.
For our money, Godard has made some of his more impenetrable (For Ever Mozart, a beautifully-mounted but deliberately remote take on filmmaking and the Bosnian War) as well as his most engaging films since the mid-1990s. The highlight for us is Éloge de l’amour, which loosely concerns itself with a filmmaker’s efforts to tell the story of the French Resistance and offers a cantata for French philosopher Simone Weil. Despite that opaque premise, it’s a haunting and a visually beguiling form, defined by Godard’s gutsy formal gambit of using gorgeous black-and-white photography of a sightseer-perfect Paris in the first half and toxically oversaturated green and yellow digital video in the second. We’d also go to bat for the retrospective’s closer, Godard’s Cannes award-winning Goodbye to Language 3D, his most playful (but still intellectually rigorous) film in years and one that features easily the most inventive use of 3D we’ve seen yet.
Sensing the challenges of offering up such an overstuffed programme—at once historically, formally, and politically disparate—TIFF has brought in some big names to help contextualize Godard’s late period. New Yorker critic Richard Brody (author of Everything Is Cinema: The Working Life of Jean-Luc Godard) introduces Godard’s rarely screened King Lear, while longtime Village Voice staple J. Hoberman will be on hand for Numéro Deux, widely considered Godard’s best from the 1970s, which provides another look at the intersection between consumerism and private life.