Saturday, 18 September 2021

Struggle in Italy (Lotte in Italia) [1970]

 Conflict between theory and practice, one’s social conditions and thoughts, awareness and involvement, and ultimately image and sound, formed the key strands in Struggle in Italy, the second of five formal collaboration between Godard and Gorin (Wind from the East was begun first). Shot partially in Italy and in the flat in Paris that Godard shared with Anne Wiazemsky, this rather stark, analytic, discursive and deliberately incoherent work foregrounded on Althusser’s texts – a relatively lesser Groupe Dziga Vertov output, despite its undeniable political clarity – was centered on Paola (Cristiana Tulio-Altan), a young Italian university student, who’s striving to juxtapose her bourgeois upbringing with her Marxist convictions, and therefore realizing that active transformative action would ultimately define her revolutionary political consciousness and therefore shape her journey as a militant. The cyclical narrative was broken into two halves wherein the first half portrayed “theory” – i.e. her realization of the disparity between her convictions and the conservative social construct she belongs to – while the latter chronicled her active opposition to the various tenets of a capitalist sociopolitical structure – the university, family and state apparatuses – and therefore “practice”. The achronologically sequenced and repetitive vignettes featuring the girl were, in turn, interjected with grainy outdoor shots, footage of workers in shopfloor, B/W political images, and blank screens In an interesting stylistic choice and a touch of Brechtian distancing technique, the film’s spoken language was Italian, which was dubbed in parallel into French, albeit oftentimes out of sync. Further, as an aside, automobile giants continued to serve as a rhetorical metonym for capitalism on wheels, with Fiat here taking the place of British Motor Car Company in British Sounds and Skoda in Pravda.

 

 


 

 

 

Director: Jean-Luc Godard & Jean-Pierre Gorin

Genre: Drama/Political Drama/Essay Film/Agitprop

Language: French/Italian

Country: France/Italy

Tuesday, 14 September 2021

Pravda [1969]

 Godard, in his 2nd collaboration with filmmaker Jean-Henri Roger, shifted his searing, pugnacious and rasping attention to Czechoslovakia just a year after possibly the single most dramatic moment in the country’s post-WW2 history, viz. the thudding end to its liberal socialist years – fondly referred to as Prague Spring – through the emergence of Soviet tanks in Wenceslas Square. Lacking in the dialectical lucidity of A Film Like Any Other and the rebellious bravura of British Sounds – the other two works made thus far as part of his radical Marxist-Maoist phase – Pravda was a comparatively more straightforward essay and a decidedly straight-up polemical diatribe, which made it relatively less absorbing on stylistic front; and yet, its epistolary formal device, politically satiric metaphors, whiplash sarcastic tone and ferociously confrontational stance made it an intriguing agitprop of surprising vitality despite its deliberately dry, monotonous, drone-like and testy tonal palette. The film’s political discourse was posited as a mock-serious, ironic and incisive conversation between Vladimir (Lenin) and Rosa (Luxembourg), and the central tenet was the contention between words and image – and therefore between theory and practice – when it comes to what socialism as was envisaged by Dubček (where the proletariat superseded the state) vis-à-vis the revisionist manifestation of it imposed on them by the Soviets (with the state dominating the proletariat in an ironic mirroring of a capitalist consumerist economy). Contradictions, therefore, abounded – be it in a tree full of fruits available to be plucked by the people but the massive field behind it enclosed by fences; or a people’s car built by nationalized auto company, but profited by auto agencies and advertisers; or a sexually liberated woman turned into consumerist prop; etc.

 

 


 

 

 

Directors: Jean-Luc Godard & Jean-Henri Roger

Genre: Documentary/Essay Film/Agitprop

Language: French

Country: France

Sunday, 12 September 2021

British Sounds (See You At Mao) [1969]

 Godard, in his second outing to the UK after the terrific, rebellious and riotously impudent Sympathy for the Devil, made this equally provocative, radical, deadpan, trenchant, divisive, scathing and electrifying essay. And, in keeping with the Dziga Vertov Group’s manifesto, this rarely seen film was defiantly anti-narrative, ferociously polemical and formally rigorous. Co-directed with Jean-Henri Roger, British Sounds (aka See You at Mao), therefore, demonstrated his genius when it came to blending revolutionary dialectics with subversive humour, striking agitprop with sardonic political satire, deadpan mise-en-scene with structurally experimental bravado, and intellectually invigorating analyses with the kind of straight-faced levity that perhaps only he could conceive or conjure. Stylistically, structurally and visually, it’s structured into five modules (aside from the distinctively Godardian prologue and coda featuring a fist smashing through the Union Jack) – Marxist examination of capital and labour accompanying a slow, unbroken dolly shot depicting a luxury car assembly line; bold feminist evocation through bitingly funny indictment of conservative patriarchal views, with a largely static camera focused on a naked lady; a tar-black, pungently satirical section featuring a smug broadcaster spewing fascist bile, counterpointed with grainy, evocative outdoor shots of the working-class; a group of men engaging in a freewheeling conversation – as the camera swivels back and forth like a machine gun, with Picasso’s Guernica in the background – on the bourgeoisie’s disdainful treatment of workers, and hence the need for a socialist revolution; and, in the film’s most fluid, freestyle segment captured using hand-held cam, a collective of freespirited university students, over a lively session, converting the Beatles song “Hello, Goodbye” into a revolutionary pop-anthem with ironic antitheses, like “You say Nixon, I say Mao” and so forth.

 

 


 

 

 

Directors: Jean-Luc Godard & Jean-Henri Roger

Genre: Black Comedy/Political Satire/Essay Film

Language: English

Country: UK

Friday, 10 September 2021

A Film Like Any Other [1968]

 Cinema was as much a medium as it was a weapon for Godard, and that was increasingly and unequivocally accentuated towards the magnificent last leg of his trailblazing Nouvelle Vague years. And, with the closing message in his explosive masterwork Week-end, viz. “Fin de Cinéma”, he announced an irrevocable breach with its conventional confines. He forsook authorship and transitioned into his most politically radicalized period by founding the Dziga Vertov Group – named after the renowned Soviet filmmaking pioneer – along with fellow militant leftist Jean-Pierre Gorin (discussions with him had already played a part when the French enfant terrible wrote his subversive gem La Chinoise the previous year). This overlooked period in his career – wherein, as per their manifesto, they sought to “make political films politically” – was marked by guerilla filmmaking, Marxist and revolutionary themes, championing of anti-bourgeoisie and anti-imperialist stances, and experimental works defined by dense essayistic form and Brechtian distancing techniques. A Film Like Any Other, which formed the first title of this underground, agitprop collective, bore all the quintessential hallmarks that made this invigorating, provocative and intellectually dense in equal measures. This fiercely discursive, dialectical and kaleidoscopic essay, foregrounded on the epochal student demonstrations and massive worker strikes that it was made in the aftermath of, was a free-association treatise on May’68 in terms of what transpired and what it stood for. Godard structured it along two parallel strands – a group of students, whilst in relaxing postures amidst tranquil grassy environs and whose faces we hardly ever see, engaging in dry, rhetorical, crisscrossing discussions analyzing and interpreting the events; and, intercut with that, were riveting B/W documentary montage capturing the May'68 protests, rallies, blockades and police crackdowns.





 

 

Director: Jean-Luc Godard

Genre: Essay Film/Experimental Film/Agitprop

Language: French

Country: France