In Praise of Love (2001)
Directed by Jean-Luc Godard
September 15, at the Museum of the Moving Image, part of the J. Hoberman-curated Film After Film series
In the Jean-Luc Godard biography Everything is Cinema, Richard Brody traces a fluid meshing of life and art in the lives of the French New Wave filmmakers. Godard’s film In Praise of Love builds on that intimate history— befittingly, since the film is about histories personal and political, for the 1968 generation more seamlessly connected than we have experienced since. Made in 2001, the movie opens with a recollection of a romantic encounter at a political demonstration. “Do you remember the words?” a male voice asks off-camera. Memory’s timeline expands, backward and outward, as the action moves forward: a young man, Edgar, wishes to make a film as he recovers from a painful breakup. In his peregrinations through Paris, Edgar meets producers, intellectuals and friends. Joycean in ambition, the journey is carefully modulated, as mise-en-scène is bared, actors’ roles assigned, directions given, and the past, shot in diffused color, set in contrast to the stark present, shot in black-and-white.
Godard’s tone is markedly literary, with chapter titles and quotes from famous authors, which can feel at times like Western Civ 101. The film’s intense intimacy, on the other hand, with little to no exposition, is akin to following a close-first-person unreliable narrator. It’s quietly sensual but claustrophobic, and at times quite distant, throwing viewers into a world whose signifiers resist decoding.
Godard's love for the movies goes hand-in-hand with his distaste for present-day Hollywood, which he condemns for mining History for sentimental blockbusters, catering to an audience that lacks a real sense of History. The latter accusation is trite, a willfully inaccurate portrayal of America; it too had its 1968. The former, with the mentions of Spielberg and of the Holocaust, feels like a swipe at Schindler’s List. Against the rush to flatten and to aggrandize, Godard offers a vision of history that is intransigently personal to the point of being solipsistic. His film is an artful transmutation of solipsism: in one scene, as Edgar, the aspiring filmmaker/writer, gets dressed to leave, an image of a foaming sea is superimposed. This vision of hallucinatory beauty, of time, memory, surging towards us, is followed by the opening line: “Do you remember the words?” the male voice asks again. For all its meta-hypereloquence, In Praise of Love shows with haunting visual simplicity how, in time’s detritus, between what’s lost and what remains, youth and old age, an adult consciousness is forged.