Eloge de l’amour

There’s a comforting feel to Jean-Luc Godard’s In Praise of Love, like an old bottle of wine one discovers by chance that still surprisingly retains its familiar bouquet. After a decade in which the unrepentant nouvelle vaguer has become progressively more marginal in his feature outings (though not in his non-fiction work), Love finds the now 70-year-old director rediscovering much of the visual rigour and intellectual elan of his most fruitful periods, the ’60s and ’80s. The film offers a frequently obscure but always watchable look at history, memory andoin the most rarefied senseolove.
Godard’s seemingly perverse decision to shoot the first hour (set in the present) in black and white 35mm and the final third (set two years earlier) in colour DVD actually pays major dividends. The monochrome section recalls the timeless, abstract look of his great movies of the ’60s (especially Alphaville, Vivre sa vie and Masculin-Feminin) and the video portion, with its frequently rich, vibrant hues, has a warmer palette suited to its content. In a movie that is more concerned with the past’s value to the present, Godard’s gambit successfully plays against the accepted convention of relegating memories and history to cold monochrome.
The first hour is a familiar barrage of intellectual jesting, punctuated by repeated intertitles (‘Of Something’, ‘Of Love’), against the background of a production being planned by a director, Edgar (Bruno Putzulu), and some wealthy producers. In the course of casting sessions, which are more like metaphysical interviews, Edgar comes across a shadowy young woman (Cecile Camp) whom he realises he met earlier and who seems perfect for his leading role. However, when Edgar is finally ready to offer her the role, he hears she has died.
With a shock effect similar to the final reel of Tarkovsky’s Andrei Rublev, the film switches abruptly to colour with a lush, fully-saturated sunset that prepares the viewer for the emotional meat of the piece. It’s two years earlier, and Edgar is present by chance at the house of an old couple (Jean Davy, Françoise Verney) whose true-life story of love and heroism during the Nazi Occupation is being bought by a Hollywood studio, here represented by an official from the U.S. embassy in Paris. Edgar is there to meet a historian friend (Jean Lacouture) of the old couple, who have asked their granddaughter, a lawyer in training, to check the contract. She’s the woman Edgar is to meet again in the future.
Whereas the first section is thick with the usual Godardian undergrowth of literary and philosophical references, intellectual pranksterism and sloganising (e.g. ‘There can be no resistance without memory or universalisation’), the final half-hour shows the feisty old codger giving free rein to his long-running love-hate affair with Hollywood and the U.S. In one particularly witty sequence, the young woman questions the very meaning of the names ‘the United States’ and ‘America’, calling into question the right of the U.S. to hijack a simple descriptive phrase and a whole continent’s name purely for itself. More apposite to the film is a separate discussion over the country (as represented by Hollywood in popular culture) to ‘buy up’ other country’s histories and cultures and possess them for itself, to fill a void in its own make-up.
As usual, Godard simply throws out ideas for discussion rather than actually resolving them or providing solutions. Like a monkey tweaking a tiger, he knows he can always scamper to the higher branches of cultural superiority for safety. But it’s good to see him at least spending some time fighting familiar battles down on the groundoand in a lively, entertaining way.
France-Switzerland, 2001. English subtitles. Black and white/colour. 97 mins.

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