In one of his versions of the play “Woyzeck”, Georg Büchner put into the mouth of one of the characters a sharp definition of what he is a man or a woman: “Every human creature is an abyss, you get dizzy when you look inside”. What goes on in a person’s head causes vertigo, resembling a bottomless pit. Not even in his last act did the filmmaker Jean-Luc Godard fail to cause astonishment when he communicated, through his wife, that he had only grown tired of life at the age of 91.
Years ago, he asked that he not be allowed to die sick or vegetating, without having the autonomy and freedom he always had. His films are a wonder for those looking for intelligence or a bore for the cult of entertainment. In the age of distraction, Godard hit the attention button. His latest works (“Socialism Film”, “Farewell to Language” and “Palavra a Imagem”) were exercises in the possibilities of cinema as a way of thinking, creating and imagining.
“I consider myself an essayist, I do essays in the form of novels or novels in the form of essays (…). For me, the continuity between all the ways of expressing oneself is very great”, said Godard, for whom there was no division between the written word, moving images and plastic arts. His movie quotes make my head hurt.
Understanding the current world requires too much attention, but the things of this world put people on the path of distraction. It was the Canadian writer Saul Bellow who warned of the predominance of the “distracted gaze” in culture. In addition to being a well-known novelist, he was an anthropologist and a keen observer of the movements of societies. An impasse: when we most need a watchful eye, given the global complexity, entertainment distracts us from the essentials.
Another master of quotation and reading like Godard, the writer Ricardo Piglia was not as pessimistic as Bellow. For the Argentinian, there is currently a “robber reader”, who goes from an internet site to a 19th century book, stopping at the end of everything in a television series. This reader was noticed, according to him, by Macedônio Fernández. Understanding the world demands a simultaneous, discontinuous look at an unprecedented variety of forms and contents.
“It is a portrait of the current reader, who is no longer one who is isolated, concentrated and struggling with interruption. Rather, he enters and leaves the text, moves, interacts with his surroundings, goes from one book to another or to other faster texts that appear on the internet. It is a reader who assumes the interruption as part of the narrative”, says Piglia, whose thinking serves as a key to understanding Godard’s cinema.
At the beginning of “Farewell to Language” (2014), Godard puts it in the mouth of a character: there is more information in Alexander Solzhenitsyn’s “Gulag Archipelago” than in the entire Google. The opening scenes show a robber style: cuts, repetitions, digital images with saturated colors, speeches that seem like aphorisms. Let the spectator be an actor of what is happening, let him begin to converse with the screen. It doesn’t fit a figure sitting in an armchair, eating popcorn and cheering with superheroes.
Godard’s bombing requires an attentive and thieving eye, given the profusion of quotations (books, films, plastic arts, European history). Saturation invites the spectator to disperse, but he is invited, all the time, to enter the game of messages, metaphors, without a fixed and definitive meaning. The monumental work “História(s) do Cinema” (1998) even became a book of provocative poems, in which Godard takes the reader/spectator out of the quiet place. It is an invitation to see the abyss and feel vertigo.
In the classic “Viver a Vida” (1962), there is a pertinent and memorable scene created by Godard until today. The character of actress Anna Karina (one of the director’s first wives) talks with philosopher Brice Parian. They discuss the importance of silence, excess of words, and cases when people discover the need to think. It is one of the most memorable sequences in world cinema. Godard’s cinema is for those who like to talk and listen to conversations.
Godard’s films are connected to the periods in which they were filmed – such as his later works dealing with European conflicts, such as “Forever Mozart” (1996). There will always be something dated, but whoever claims to write, film, stage and paint for posterity is blatantly lying. As an old wizard in the tropics once said, every author is a figure of his time and the space where he lives.
The narrative form chosen by Godard in his films is not the dramatization of the world. It is no longer about human theater. When he couldn’t say something for philosophy, Sartre turned to fiction novels, theater and memoirs. Godardian cinema came out of this costume. This is what Gilles Deleuze already said about Freud: subjectivity is no longer a daddy and mommy theater. The human being is a “desiring machine”, said the philosopher who was a contemporary of Godard.
The distracted eye looks for television series that dramatize the classic tragedy of a family in crisis. Oedipal complexes to infinity. Therefore, it is difficult to penetrate the universe of Jean-Luc Godard’s films. He incorporated the world around him in Switzerland in “Farewell to Language”, including the pet dog, to delve into the directions of contemporary life. Here’s his suggestion: the answers may be more in a book than Google.