Teaching a seminar on text and images in film during a literary conference in Sarajevo, director Jean-Luc Godard illustrates the concept of shot and reverse shot with stills of Cary Grant and Rosalind Russell from "His Girl Friday." The director as character in his own film celebrates the two sides to every truth, the fiction and documentary, positives and negatives of film itself, his music, "Notre Musique."
Jean-Luc Godard has made more than one film for every year he has been alive, from early New Wave films like "Breathless" through his video experimentation of the seventies, ofttimes confounding films of the eighties and "Histoire(s) du cinéma" series of the nineties. "Notre Musique" is stuffed full of ideas, artfully crafted and thoroughly engrossing. Part documentary, part fiction, this film is a unique meditation on war and death that is surprisingly hopeful.
"Notre Musique" is a triptych divided into "Hell," "Purgatory" and "Heaven." "Hell" is made up of documentary footage and movie clips representing war through the ages ('And so, in the age of fable there appeared on earth men armed for extermination'). The images bleed back and forth from black and white to different color tinting. This ten minute introduction segues into the meat of the film, "Purgatory," where a large cross section of people meet in Sarajevo for a conference. We arrive with the director in the airport and follow him to a reception held by French Ambassador Olivier Naville (Simon Eine, "Another Man, Another Chance"), but we do not stay with him. Spanish novelist Juan Goytisolo recites poetry from within the ruins of a library. Native American Indians appear at various sites to plead their case. Israeli journalist Judith Lerner (Sarah Adler) interviews Palestinian poet Mahmoud Darwich, who points out that the poetry of the vanquished has been proven by history and that, therefore, Israel has helped to celebrate them. Judith, who has ties to the ambassador through her grandfather, tells him that she has come to Sarajevo to see a place where reconciliation is possible. Another Jewish woman, Olga (Nade Dieu, "The Butterfly"), professes a desire to die, even though she loves life. 'There will be total liberty when it is the same to live or die,' she tells her uncle. Olga makes a video which she arranges to be given to Godard. Upon his return home, he hears that a young Russian woman who threatened to blow up a cinema(!) was shot and killed by police - Olga. It is Olga who takes us into the final segment, "Heaven," which is guarded by U.S. Marines. just as they declare in their own Marines' Hymn.
This third segment is the most perplexing, unless Godard and his long-time art director Anne-Marie Miéville's color scheme is analyzed. Where "Hell" is a melding of color and black and white, "Purgatory" is almost entirely red, white and blue. The French flag is prominent on Naville's desk and the connective cutaways of Sarajevo trams and traffic invariably limit the vehicles to these three colors. Do they represent the U.S.? The French? Kieslowski's "Trois Couleurs" trilogy? (Oddly, the trilogy Kieslowski was writing upon his death was "Heaven, "Hell" and "Purgatory," but these must be coincidences...)
As "Purgatory" unfolds, the color green becomes more and more prominent. At the famous Mostar Bridge, which is being rebuilt, a character notes of the river it traverses 'The bravest of us would dive into it - the greenest water in the world.' Green is the corporate color of the Holiday Inn sign where Lerner meets Darwich. Is green compromise? "Heaven" is lushly green...
"Notre Musique" is a dense work of art, yet not a difficult film. Inquisitive minds will enjoy its philosophies and lovers of cinema can indulge in its exquisite craft.
Robin gives "Notre Musique" an A-.
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