The latest Godard film is just that, a Godard film. It could quite possibly be that I am still suffering from an overdose of Godard due to a class induced binge of his work during the fall months, but Notre Music lacks a freshness that one comes to expect from Godard, even after 70 years and 80 some film/video projects.
Divided into three chapters, each one’s title mirroring a section of Dante’s Divine Comedy, Notre Music finds its central focus on war and in particular, the victims of a war and the voice of those defeated. The first chapter being titled Hell is a craftily composed montage of war images culled from documentaries and Hollywood war dramas. Images of the holocaust collide with feathered head dresses straight from a studio costume shop. It’s a brief, but engaging ten minutes that leads straight to the steps of chapter two – Purgatory.
For the middle chapter, and most of the film, Godard sets up a series of situations each with its own purpose, all designed to allow Godard to make a point. From images of books waiting to be burned, to the reconstruction of a war torn bridge, to the ghostly appearance of Native American poets, the story itself revolves around a depressed Israeli film student named Olga. She is there and then she is gone, coming and going, popping up from time to time. The cast of characters and the scenes while not exactly slamming into one another as much as creating a well woven world. It’s backdrop or stage, not so real as constructed. Of course, at the center of this constructed world is Godard who makes his now expected cameo, speaking to film students in Sarajevo. Giving an example of shot/counter shot Godard bounces between images of bombed out Virginia, Palestine, Israel, and a Howard Hawks film. Just like so many of Godard’s ideas this one if brief, brilliant, but quickly replaced with a new one. While the entire film may be an exploration on the destruction of war Godard’s constant use of references, be they cultural, historical, literary, artistic, or otherwise places too much emphasis on the decoding. While it is not necessary to catch all of Godard’s many references or clues, it certainly does feel as if you are not seeing the whole picture. In this respect, the message to be culled from Purgatory is much less apparent than the images of Hell, which might be rightfully so.
For the final chapter Godard takes us to Heaven where we meet up once again with Olga. Now passed on, we are told she was shot dead in an Israeli movie theater, not carrying a bomb, but rather books – perhaps more deadly. Certainly, they are Godard’s weapon of choice; they are the bullets in his gun/camera. In Heaven there are guns as well. Portrayed as a lush riverside forest, Heaven is guarded by the United States Armed Services. Filled with youth, slightly communal Heaven looks a lot like Godard’s Weekend, sans autos and cannibals. Tracking through the forest Olga and Godard’s camera come to rest at the river’s shore.
Profoundly beautiful and full of thought, Notre Music is not to be missed, even if the film is more lecture than narrative, but that is Godard and that’s what makes his films continually unique, even if they are starting to feel very similar – they still don’t feel like anyone else’s.