25 April 2009

WEEKEND - (Dir. Jean Luc Godard, 1967, France) - 'From French revolutions to Gaullist weekends, freedom is violence'

I’m not sure if there is a definitive Godard film. He made so many uncompromising and radical films that the term masterpiece seems inadequate to associate with a cinema that rejected such superficial ways of canonising films. Made a year before the student protest movement and the tumultuous events of 68, Godard’s zeitgeist polemic on the banality of bourgeoisie French society can never really date or lose any of its political force as long as much of the West continues to depend upon the inequalities of the class system as a means of ensuring that hegemony prevails. Alongside ‘La Chinoise’ and ‘Tout Va Bien’, ‘Weekend’ is one of the most sophisticated of the films Godard directed in the 1960s. The plot is non existent and difficult to recall so I’m not going to even try providing some kind of synopsis. This is cinema about political agitation and the deconstructive approach Godard implements through what is a starkly elliptical narrative demands that we engage with the political ideas in a way which makes us question the illusionary and beguiling nature of traditional mainstream cinema. A violence emerges out of the disconnected shots and daring use of the frame, a frame that is disruptive in how it refuses to allow us to gain any kind of spectator control. Political slogans are juxtaposed to the appearance of beatnik revolutionary characters who offer a kind of sustained political commentary on the sickness of bourgeoisie values.

Some film academics have argued that ‘Weekend’ was the last film Godard directed before he shifted into his more politically experimental phase with the formation of the Dziga Vertov Group in 1968, yet his flirtations with Marxist ideology had already emerged in a film like ‘La Chinoise’. ‘Weekend’ also seems to be a creative summation of Godard’s achievements up to that point in his career, having worked prolifically since 1959, developing a discernible cinematic style that argued for the creation of a new self reflexive language with which to speak to audiences about the state of things. It might be a strikingly obvious point to make even today but Godard truly did evolve as a film maker with each film, questioning and even rejecting earlier films for reasons to do with political acquiescence. Such self awareness naturally set him apart from the French new wave and his distrust of sentimentality as a cinematic reflex meant that his Marxist leanings echoed the failed attempts within French society to attack traditional moral forces like the bourgeoisie. Prior to the events of May 1968, much of Godard’s work responded to the anxieties and aspirations for deep social change within a Gaullist French society and the jarring antics of ‘Weekend’ acts as a challenging historical document. However, much one would like to label this as cinematic, Godard’s daring break from the unwritten rules of film making has more in common with the political writings of radical thinkers like Marx, Engels and Sartre. This is one of the few films that does embody the spirit and idea of cultural revolution.

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