Godard’s Second First Film (Or Is It?)

11/10/2010 4:00 AM |

Every Man for Himself (1980)

Directed by Jean-Luc Godard

Every Man for Himself was greeted upon its initial release as a comeback for Jean-Luc Godard, who for eight years prior had been making difficult political essay films no one wanted to see. The director himself cemented this view by calling it his “second first film,” the Breathless of a next wave. That wave never rolled in. Thirty years later, Every Man for Himself—a dark but cheeky, slightly surreal sexual comedy of manners about the existential chasm separating men and women—still causes the heart to leap. It’s just that it’s beginning to look less like the start of a second act than a particular highpoint in an ongoing continuum. The truth is, Godard never left us; it was we who left him.

Let the reappraisal begin. A month ago, Godard’s challenging new feature, Film Socialisme, screened at the New York Film Festival to surprising acclaim. And now, a day before he is scheduled to receive an honorary Oscar at a Los Angeles ceremony he refuses to attend, Film Forum opens a timely two-week run of Every Man for Himself in a beautiful 35mm print. It’s a perfect opportunity not to reevaluate the film itself, enthralling as ever, but to reconsider the larger JLG project, his singular way of tinkering with and reinventing our basic film grammar.

There are no title cards bearing ironic political slogans, no disquisitions on Vietnam played across disjointed imagery. The intertwined stories of a divorced television newsman (Jacques Dutronc), his girlfriend (Nathalie Baye), and a hooker he hires (Isabelle Huppert), are told straightforwardly and without authorial interruption. But even gone mainstream, Godard keeps the technical innovations in place (using slow motion, for example, to make violence look erotic and vice versa), and his dialectical thinking is apparent in his signature themes of prostitution and commerce, more appropriate here than ever.

Opens November 12 at Film Forum