Monday, July 16, 2007

To see the world in a cup of coffee

Girl: Is poetry formative, or is it only embellishment?
Ivanoff: Well, everything that embellishes is formative.

- Jean-Luc Godard, 2 ou 3 choses que je sais d'elle

Can't resist posting this clip from Godard's Two or Three Things I Know About Her, which I watched over the weekend, while everyone else in the Universe was apparently watching the twaddle that is Harry Potter (clip possibly NSFW) [1]. How can you not love a film where a conversation between two complete strangers in a cafe about the meaning of conversation is interrupted by a shot of two people, named, inevitably, Bouvard and Pecuchet, seated at a table surrounded by books, reading extracts from them at random and jotting them down?

Unfortunately, I couldn't find a clip with subtitles online, but the text of the commentary is given below (translation by Alfred Guzzetti [2]).

Commentary 10

Here is how Juliette, at 3:37 P.M., saw turn the pages of that object which, in journalistic language, is called a magazine. And there is how, about one hundred and fifty frames further along, another young woman, her likeness, her sister, saw the same object.

Where then is the truth? In full face or in profile? And anyway, what is an object?

(Music enters. The coffee is stirred and the spoon is put down on the saucer)

Commentary 11

Maybe an object is what permits us to pass from one subject to the other, therefore to live in society,

(The young man looks at Juliette. She returns his gaze)

to be together. But then,

(he looks down again)

since social relationships are always ambiguous, since my thought divides as much as it unites, since my speech brings nearer through that which it expresses and isolates through that about which it is silent,

(He looks at her again, then back down. She returns his gaze, then looks away)

since an immense gulf separates the subjective certitude that I have of myself from the objective truth that I am for others, since I do not cease to find myself guilty although I feel innocent, since each event transforms my daily life, since I ceaselessly fail to communicate -

(The spoon enters the frame and stirs the coffee)

I mean, to understand, to love, to be loved -

(The spoon leaves the frame)

and each failure makes me experience my solitude, since...

(Juliette looks up, off left. The bartender looks off right, then at what he is doing, then off right again, then again at what he is doing. He exits left. A hand pulls the faucet, lets it go, pulls it again, lets it go again.)

Commentary 12

since....since I cannot tear myself from the objectivity that crushes me nor from the subjectivity that exiles me, since I am permitted neither to lift myself to being nor fall into nothingness, I must listen, I must look around me more than ever at the world, my likeness, my brother.

(Juliette is looking at the young man. He turns to look at her, then they both look away. Pause. Just before the commentary starts, Juliette again looks at him.)

Commentary 13

The world by itself today, when revolutions are impossible, when bloody wars threaten it, when capitalism is no longer very sure of its rights and the working class is in retreat, when the advance...the lightning advances of science give to future centuries a haunting presence, when the future is more present than the present, when distant galaxies are at my door: my likeness, my brother.

(The young man smokes, looks down. He looks at Juliette, then looks away.)

Commentary 14

(A sugar cube plunges into the coffee. Pause.)

Where does it begin? But where does what begin? God created the heavens and the earth, of course. But that is a bit cowardly and easy.

(The image is out of focus and is becoming more so.)

One should be able to say something better, to say that the limits of language are those of the world, that the limits of my language are those of my world. And that in speaking, I limit the world, I end it. And that one logical and mysterious day death will come to abolish that limit and there will be neither question nor answer; everything will be fuzzy.

(The image starts to come into focus, becoming sharp after the word 'nettes' i.e. sharp)

But if by chance things again become sharp, this can be only with the appearance of consciousness and conscience. After that, everything will connect and proceed.


The swirling shapes in the coffee, conjuring both galaxies and the beginning of life (Pascal, anyone?), the haunted whisper of the monologue, the refrain from Baudelaire, the perfect evocation of the experience of sitting in a cafe thinking your own thoughts and looking up every now and then to notice the world around you. Brilliant, just brilliant.


[1] And which, incidentally, is been screened two weeks from now at the MOMA, along with Masculine Feminine - for those of you in NYC who may be interested.

[2] The translation of the conversation between the girl and Ivanoff later in the film is what I remember from the subtitles in the film. Guzzetti translates this exchange - which in the original reads "La poesie forme, ou bien est-ce qu'elle decore seulement?"; "Et bien, tout ce qui decore la vie est une formation" - as "Does poetry educate, or is it only decoration?"; "Well, everything that decorates life is education". His translation is probably more accurate, but it lacks a certain something.


The One said...

Its a brilliant movie indeed. Made even better by the realization that the "her" in question is Paris herself.

Space Bar said...

utter joy. i love godard, not least because there's something you're sure to have never noticed before no matter how many times you watch his films; but also because he's one of the few filmmakers making films today who is not ashamed to be cerebral and elliptic.



Cheshire Cat said...

Cerebral, perhaps, but undoubtedly "cerebral". I actually prefer Godard's eye to Godard's brain - whatever his movies might mean, they're unquestionably beautiful.

Falstaff said...

the one: Yes, I know, it is, isn't it?

space bar: Yes, exactly. What I love about him is not just that there's something new to discover every time but that you know this while you're watching the film, so that you (or at least I) sit there feeling like shouting stop! stop! I need to take this all in before I can go on.

cat: I agree to an extent. I like Godard not for what his movies might mean (which I don't pretend to understand) but because of the sensibility he is able to communicate - the way you come out of the movie with your brain humming and this strange kaleidoscope of ideas and quotations and images tumbling about in your head. It's the same rush I get from reading great poetry.

The Black Mamba said...


though would have enjoyed it better with subtitles... I couldn't help but feel that I would be able to make some sense if only I understood the commentary... ah well.

Like Cat, I am a fan of Godard's visuals. Something so attractive about his (and other Auteurs) being able to control the medusa medium of film - light, sound, story, pace...

more of these please.

Falstaff said...

BM: Thanks. Yes, subtitles would be good - not so much because you'd make sense of the thing overall, but some of the connections between the words and the image would come out more clearly.

More of these? Sure. You know I'd never realized that in addition to everything else I can get from the library I can also issue out film scripts? Much joy.

Life's Elsewhere said...

I must thank you. Quoted you here: