2 Or 3 Things I Know About Her

2 Or 3 Things I Know About Her

*****

Reviewed by: Chris

Do you go to the movies expecting to feel exhilaration and emotion? Then maybe this film is not for you. Godard once said, “I don't think you should feel about a movie. You should feel about a woman. You can't kiss a movie.” Which is almost opposite the criteria used by many critics in judging.

This film does have enough spice to tantalise prurient tastes (enter middle class part-time hooker). Yet our storyline is no tempestuous avalanche of excitement crashing to a windswept climax. Godard uses it as an attack on fiction itself. In doing so, he questions how we fictionalise our very lives. Buying into lifestyles or accepting dominant themes in merchandising and politics. “Pax Americana: jumbo-sized advertising,” as a voiceover proclaims.

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The performances are excellent. The cinematography has plenty of Godard’s hallmark, arresting features. The film integrates a political kick more successfully than many of his attempts. But the real thrill is an intellectual one. 2 Or 3 Things I Know About Her appeals to the philosophically inclined. For this viewer, it is a film to watch and rewatch many times, enjoying the test of ideas. A work of great beauty. It also establishes Godard as being more than just a filmmaker.

An exemplary demonstration and examination of Brechtian technique, it is more than a purely cinematic use of Bernold Brecht’s ‘alienation’ effect. Godard uses it to make the viewer examine, specifically, the nature of sensory perception and the almost existential convenience of any definition of truth.

Peter Wollen, in his essay Godard And Counter Cinema, describes how the director was working towards a political rationale for his attack on fiction. Fiction=mystification=bourgeois ideology. But Wollen acknowledges that initially Godard’s fascination is more connected with “the misleading and dissembling nature of appearances, the impossibility of reading an essence from a phenomenal surface, of seeing a soul through and within a body or telling a lie from a truth.” Ultimately the formulas are a tool rather than the goal.

The basis for all this is a story about the French capital. Paris – it could be the ‘Her’ of the title. Galloping consumerism. Policies determined by economics, not people. Demolition and construction at an alarming pace. While the ordinary decent person cannot keep up. “If you can’t afford LSD buy a colour TV.”

Our ‘ordinary decent person’ is soon defined as an attractive woman on the balcony of a high-rise. Our voiceover describes a few things about her. As she turns her head, he describes her again. Same description. Different name. The first time, the real actress (Marina Vlady). Then she is the character, Juliette Janson. “Her hair is dark auburn or light brown,” says the voiceover, “I’m not sure.”

The voiceover (Godard himself, in a conspiratorial whisper) switches back and forth between politics and Juliette’s situation, leaving us in no doubt over parallels. The two are then linked diegetically: “The government is disrupting the nation’s economy, not to mention its basic moral fibre.” Both the nominal plot and the real obstacles to artistic filmmaking become part of our story.

President Johnson’s futile bombing campaigns in the American-Vietnam war also come under attack. One of Juliette’s clients is a war reporter. She does a ‘double/all-nighter’ with her colleague Marianne, which includes parading naked with flight bags over their heads. And all the while, we are treated to intercut pictures of napalmed victims.

Although it is one of Godard’s cleverest and most rounded attacks on capitalism, the film comes into its own as he questions the nature of reality, neatly linked up using gender politics. “What is language, Mummy?” asks Juliette’s youngster. “Language is the house man lives in,” she answers. Examples of male-dominated language pervade the film, from street hoardings to bright signage (both used as intertitles).

Juliette’s husband is proud of how clever she is, finding a car at a ‘bargain’ price. She doesn’t reveal to him how she is helping things along. Juliette is objectivised, both in the story – with our conscious collusion – and by her habit of turning to the camera to address us directly as Vlady, the actress commenting on the character, both speaking about her and through her.

Yet Godard attempts to rise above male-orientated perception. “Should I have talked about Juliette or the leaves... since it’s impossible to do both at once?” Perhaps our use of language extends to our thinking, where it can be equally easily subverted. “Now I understand the thought process,” says Juliette, “It’s substituting an effort of the imagination for an examination of real objects.” A more precise definition is developing. What is an object? It is something we pass from subject to subject to allow us to live together. Arbitrary agreements, a language, an arbitrary ‘reality’.

But it is not all dour. Take love. “True love changes you, false love leaves you as you are.” Juliette seems unaffected by her double life as a hooker. She applies garish red lipstick before servicing a client. (But her studied indifference would tend to make her, one must assume, a rather unappealing prostitute in real life.) And as Godard lifts our spirits more with thoughts of leaves and children than of the depredation he has critiqued, we are lifted to savour the divine inspiration of a seeker after truth. “One must always be sensitive to the intoxication of life,” he says. Which can be taken both ways. For both the leaves and Juliette “trembled slightly.”

A particularly beautiful sequence is when Juliette says, “You can describe what happens when I do something without necessarily indicating what makes me do it.” She sheds a tear. “This is how, 150 frames later... ” And so it is described for us.

2 Or 3 Things I Know About Her also contains perhaps the most legendary close-up of a cup of coffee ever made. Foamy swirls appear only to disappear again. Visual metaphor appearing and dissolving. Nice. Even if you want to take it as no more than a visual treat.

Reviewed on: 01 Dec 2008
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An exploration of capitalism, its effect on individuals, and the nature of reality.
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Director: Jean-Luc Godard

Writer: Jean-Luc Godard

Starring: Joseph Gehrard, Marina Vlady, Anny Duperey, Roger Montsoret, Raoul Lévy, Jean Narboni

Year: 1967

Runtime: 87 minutes

BBFC: 15 - Age Restricted

Country: France

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