Notre Musique

This evening, I had the distinct pleasure of seeing Jean-Luc Godard’s latest luminous rant, Notre Musique. The film is a panoply of feelings and conflicted politics but is mostly an elegy, a one-way visual poem set to the saddened tune of our times.
The movie is broken up into three parts. The first part, Hell, is a montage of Hollywood and documentary war footage so well melded together that it’s hard to distinguish fact from fiction and fiction from fact. In this section, Godard both pokes fun at our inability to differentiate and describe the sheer horrors of war and gleefully relishes the chaos of images that emanate from the silver screen. The beauty is in the juxtaposition, which like any American Avant-Garde production, relishes the sheer cacophony of a given topic’s sights and sounds; this one happens to be about war and human death. I’m sure that Godard had Goya’s (pun intended?) Disasters of War in mind.
The second part, Purgatory, is a narrative of (I think) numerous intellectuals meeting up in contemporary Sarajevo to talk about and think about the samesaid horrors of war and the dread that comes along thereafter. It’s also a meditation on our pre-occupation with death in life as the characters ask questions of each other that can’t be answered. In one scene, a character asks Godard himself whether digital video will save “cinema” and he only stares back, no answer forthcoming, as if the focus on technology is really just a staving off of death. In fact, I always believed that our focus on technology is really just a staving off of death. One line of this part of the film struck me as particularly beautiful and overwhelming in it’s insight. In thinking about death, the narrator says something like “There are two ways to think about [it]: One is that death is the impossibility of the possible. The other is that death is the possibility of the impossible.” But this is not profound. This was: “Death is when the word ‘I’ gets to be said by someone else”.
This last sentence struck my bones hard and chilled them to the marrow.
The final part of Notre Musique, Heaven, is an ironic take on the unreality and unknowable climax of existence. In this short, one of the protagonists is seen traipsing through gorgeous forests guarded by American marines and militia as in a dream. People in heaven are reading, are nice to each other, and seem immune to the vagaries and vapidity of modern life. Yet they are clearly moderns. It’s a gorgeous set of scenes set on the edge of an island that feels phenomenally claustrophobic and severe in its limited real estate yet someone Heaven appears free.
(I take some umbrage with Godard’s inane political opportunism. During much of the second part, for some reason he places Native Americans in the mise en scene like some bad 1970s advertisement. The scene takes place in war-ravaged Sarajevo and Native Americans (sometimes in tribal dress) are so completely out of place that their placement there as a foil is patronizing at best. Similarly, the two female protagonists in this section are female Jews, who are essentially (and delightfully watchable) cardboard characters that think and talk about the Israeli/Palestinian dilemma. Why does Godard need these particular characters in Sarajevo to talk about the tragedies of war? In his attempt to link footage of the the United States with newspaper headlines on the current Iraq war with Israel and the Palestinian crisis to Sarajevo, it seems that he’s attributing the fall of Sarajevo to the Americans, which is a lie and a conceit. I don’t know why French intellectuals can’t take blame for the genocides on their own continent. Jews and Native Americans have about as much to do with Yugoslavia as Godard does with Justin Timberlake.)

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