Released in 1985 to a chorus of religious condemnation and social opprobrium, it's Jean-Luc Godard's most divisive film, which is saying something
Reviewed by Josh Rosenblatt, Fri., Oct. 27, 2006
New Yorker Video, $29.95
Released in 1985 to a chorus of religious condemnation and social opprobrium, Hail Mary is Jean-Luc Godard's most divisive film, which is saying something. The movie, a modern update of the Annunciation, with the role of Mary played by a gas-station attendant and that of Joseph by a skeptical and distant cabdriver, was officially denounced by the Roman Catholic Church as blasphemous upon its release and was boycotted and banned in several countries. Pope John Paul II even went so far as to say the film "deeply wounds the religious sentiments of believers." Which means one of two things: One, the religious sentiments of believers are too easily wounded, which is probable; or two, the pope was talking about a different Hail Mary than the one I watched, which is less so.
Say what you will about this movie that it's abstruse, heavy-handed, self-important, slow-moving but to claim it's a damaging theological polemic misses the point. Hail Mary is a rumination, not a proclamation, and Godard is too busy asking questions to bother with answers. And if the adherents of a 2,000-year-old religion can't survive the musings of a single French filmmaker, maybe they should stop going to the movies. Besides, Hail Mary might be too recondite in its intentions and realization to be offensive: Besides Godard himself, who can honestly say they understand what this film is really about? Even the making-of documentary that accompanies the movie on this DVD is nearly impossible to follow. Hopefully a more straightforward making-of documentary about the making-of documentary will be forthcoming.
On a lighter note, when Hail Mary first appeared on the festival circuit, it was accompanied by a 25-minute short called "The Book of Mary," directed by longtime Godard collaborator Anne-Marie Miéville, and this DVD features both films. "The Book of Mary," though obviously influenced by Godard's revolutionary narrative and structural ideas, is smaller and more personal in tone than Hail Mary: a simple and heartrending story of a disintegrating marriage as seen through the eyes of the couple's young daughter.