In Praise of Love
2001, PG, 97 min. Directed by Jean-Luc Godard. Starring Bruno Putzulu, Cecile Camp, Jean Davy, Françoise Verny, Claude Baignières.
REVIEWED By Marc Savlov, Fri., Jan. 17, 2003
It's been a few years since my high school French courses, but if I remember correctly, a more accurate translation of the en français title (Eloge de l'Amour) of Godard's newest would be “Eulogy of Love,” an altogether more somber title than the distributor has seen fit to tack onto the fore of this bleak and catty Rubik's Cube of Godardian angst. One of the primary sparkplugs of the French New Wave, the 70-year-old Godard has become, to judge from In Praise of Love, the sort of bitter old crank who sits behind his light meter and harangues the supposed injustices of the artistic world-at-large without doing all that much to correct them. Certainly this bewilderingly complex and queerly orchestrated film that repeatedly veers from the technically dazzling to the downright combative in the time it takes to correctly spell “Spielberg,” is an angry rant of sorts. It's just that Godard's characters come off as petulant whippersnappers, subbing as they are for the grand old man of cinematic revolutionaries. It's as if Che Guevara were still around and lobbing razored bons mots at the Man while safely ensconced at Cabo Wabo. Comprising two distinct sections, Godard's sojourn into “Whaaaa?” begins in pristine, crackling black and white, with the young Parisian filmmaker, Edgar (Putzulu), auditioning actresses for a role in his new production. Godard's eye remains unjaundiced; his camera lingers on the Parisian streets, a former footbridge over which the Roman soldiers once crossed into the Gallic capital, the Eiffel Tower, and more. He films this nervous young intellectual as he rifles through books devoid of printing (pick your metaphor), searches, I assume, for the perfect actress, and makes pointed pronouncements about Hollywood and America (“Hollywood has no history of its own so they must steal the histories of others”) and so forth. Again, Godard's eye ravishes the frame, but his ideas and his philosophy here are murkier than the Seine in spring. Part two of the film bursts, without warning, into super-saturated digital video, all polychromatic colors that shock the screen with their outrageous tones. The story, what there is of it, goes back some years to Brittany, where an American corporate interest (the oddly monikered “Spielberg and Filmmaking Associates”) is trying to buy the rights to the love story of a pair of former French Resistance fighters. Here Godard oozes bile at everything from The Matrix to Titanic and Spielberg himself, and while the riotous palette is engrossingly bizarre (And Godard is saying what? That the past is more gushily arresting than the obvious, black-and-white present? Well, OK then), the sequences seem strung together and the sentiments are borderline whiny. Godard was never the New Wave's most easily appreciated poster boy, and In Praise of Love is clearly the work of a profoundly annoyed filmmaker, one who has seen the Hollywood beast become all-powerful and ultimately global in its domination of the “art” of filmmaking. Viewed in that light you can almost make sense of Godard's argumentative film, but in all honesty I'd advise you to go rent the stunning (and brand-new) DVD of the director's great Le Mépris (Contempt), which seems to me to be much more Godardian and much less hopeless.