- The Washington Times - Thursday, December 9, 2004

“Notre Musique,” exclusively at the Landmark E Street Cinema, is an amorphous meditation on the sorrows of the world from Jean-Luc Godard, the once impish, exploratory and influential pacesetter of the French new wave. Grizzled and gravel-voiced now at age 73, the director appears as himself in the extended midsection of this three-part ramble, musing paradoxically while attending a low-watt cultural gathering in Sarajevo, “European Literary Encounters.”

Mr. Godard has chosen the heading “Purgatory” for Part II, which follows a miscellany of war-spectacle imagery — some fictional, some documentary, some grave, some trifling — that he boldly labels “Hell.” In his mind, it may provide a haunting pictorial introduction to the scarred cityscapes of Sarajevo, but as a practical matter, it’s easier to apprehend as a movie trivia parade.

Certain images are readily identifiable: from “Alexander Nevsky,” “Potemkin,” “Que Viva Mexico!” John Ford’s cavalry Westerns, the finale of “Kiss Me Deadly.” Others remain murky or elusive. In any case, his juxtaposing of simulated battles and suffering with authentic counterparts never transcends dialectical triteness.

Most of the “Purgatory” passage is loosely organized around an inquiring freelance journalist named Olga, reputed to be French and Israeli. Her principal interview subject is an exiled Palestinian named Mahmoud Darwish, and they seem to share a compatible melancholy.

In the final segment, “Heaven,” Mr. Godard wraps up the conspicuously inconclusive Q&As; by announcing that Olga has committed suicide. He gets a funny, albeit self-deflating, inspiration at this point and envisions the border of heaven as a wooded seashore literally guarded by U.S. military personnel, while invoking the Marine Hymn on the soundtrack.

The echoes of Mr. Godard in his prime, when his intuitions about contemporary moods and upheavals were often astute and funny enough to trump a slapdash method of storytelling, are few and far between. His paradoxes while touring purgatory run a gamut of possibly endearing feebleness while turning words or cliches inside out. For example, this reflection on death: It expresses “the impossibility of the possible and the possibility of the impossible.” Or this modest brainstorm: “We always discuss the key to the problem, never the lock.”

The closest Mr. Godard comes to a wishful-thinking remedy for a century of appalling political despotism — some of which he foolishly endorsed as a doctrinaire propagandist for French-accented Maoism in the late 1960s and early 1970s — is a shift from political revolution to “creative revolution.” If memory serves, the creative refinements once were envisioned as mere corollaries to massive political transformation. This tilt left Mr. Godard’s career and cinematic originality in a state of permanent disrepair.

In some respects, “Notre Musique” seems to be an attempt to start all over again. Mr. Godard was always at a sentimental disadvantage without a lost ingenue at the center of his movies. Jean Seberg’s character in “Breathless” had a fleeting assignment to interview a celebrity, played by the French director Jean-Pierre Melville. The sweetest music for Jean-Luc Godard in his dotage might be an attentive Olga, listening with the patience of a nun while he rephrases a lifetime of platitudes, longings and regrets.


TITLE: “Notre Musique”

RATING: No MPAA rating (Adult subject matter, with some archival footage depicting war carnage and atrocities)

CREDITS: Written and directed by Jean-Luc Godard. In French, Arabic, Hebrew, Serbo-Croatian and Spanish with English subtitles

RUNNING TIME: 79 minutes

WEB SITE: www.wellspring.com/movies


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