Helas Pour Moi
1993, NR, 84 min. Directed by Jean-Luc Godard. Starring Gerard Depardieu, Laurence Masliah, Bernard Verlay, Jean-Louis Lorca, Francois Germond, Anny Romand, Roland Blanche, Marc Betton.
REVIEWED By Marjorie Baumgarten, Fri., Feb. 17, 1995
Three or so decades ago, director Jean-Luc Godard was recognized as one of the seismic forces of the French New Wave that introduced us to postmodernist filmmaking and, later on, as a politically committed leftist film and video essayist. In recent years, Godard's feature films have grown increasingly contemplative and, one might say, spiritual. Others might say obscurantist. During this time, his films have also grown increasingly scarce on the American distribution circuit. Made in 1993, Hélas pour moi represents a continuation of Godard's dubious quest. Once again, he plunges into the ineffable with the rigor and discipline of a research scientist and the eyes and ears of an artist. Hélas pour moi is awash in images of beautiful European countryside and placid expanses of nature. As is Godard's style, the images are also broken up with inter-title cards that fragment the story and express various “aphorisms” and outside-the-text commentaries. Additionally, these thoughts are expressed by the film's narrator, a publisher who travels to a little Swiss town to discover for himself the veracity of a tale he's heard in which the body of an innkeeper, Simon Donnadieu (a surname that translates as “God-given”), was really inhabited briefly by God. Wanting to feel human desire, God becomes inspired by the beauty of Simon's wife Rachel and thus assumes Simon's body in order to make love to Rachel. Rachel discovers that she is tempted by the flesh but resists because she does not wish to exchange her favors for immortality. Godard's image of God is a man in a trench coat with a strange, gravelly voice. He is accompanied to earth by a tennis-racket-wielding Mercury. This God is, more likely, Zeus, since Godard's notes for the movie make clear that he has based his story on a Greek myth in which Zeus impersonates Amphitryon in order to sleep with his wife Alcmene. All this is kind of dense going in the movie, although it is punctuated by moments of typical Godardian humor, like when a bicycle is dropped from the sky to see what will happen to it or when the commentary states that The Communist Manifesto and Alice in Wonderland were both written in the same year. As a film, Hélas pour moi is rather abstract and self-limiting. Personally, I prefer the days when Godard used to make movies for “the children of Marx and Coca-Cola.” To me, they're “the real thing.”