Film Reviews

2 or 3 Things I Know About Her Jean-Luc Godard

Rating - 7/10

While the loose narrative pretext for 2 or 3 Things I Know About Her was inspired by a series of articles in Nouvel observateur magazine, the actual catalyst to Jean-Luc Godard's 1967 experimental film came in the form of an anonymous letter sent to the French publication in May 1966.  The disquieting letter recounted the secret prostitution of young housewives who had recently located to the Northern suburbs, a burgeoning developmental center outside of Paris.  Based on the film's origins, then, it should come as no surprise that it embraces an emphasis on literary criticism, periodicals, modern art, existentialist philosophy (phenomenlogy), and essayism rather than a conventional and linear narrative structure.  As with many of Godard's brazen mid-late 1960s works, his radical ideologies and directing methods veer into the convoluted and paradoxical, yet they are as intriguing and sacred as they are impenetrable.

Godard's initial commentary on the illusion of progress (or industrialization) is constructed in the opening seconds with several longshots intercut with literal road and building construction, which markedly suggest civilization's vast and perpetual modernization.  In other words, these images prognosticate the representation of an irreversible mutation.  A beautiful young mother Juliette Jeanson (depicted by Marina Vlady) is abruptly juxtaposed with the mechanisms, posed on her high-rise apartment balcony, while Godard, as the narrator, whispers sweet nothings amidst her artistically-minded mannerisms.  The thematic variance of these two scenes will continue to permeate the remaining eighty minutes of free-form filmmaking.

As an omnipotent force, Godard's hushed whispers run the gamut from political denunciation of Paris' then newly appointed prime minister Charles de Gaulle, elucidation of Juliette's character and actions, rhetoric on the atrocities of war (notably Vietnam), and the unfathomable mysteries of the universe.  In these stream-of-consciousness passages, Godard simultaneously mystifies the role of the narrator by interacting with actresses on-screen, which prompt his own characterization, and effectively creates the genuine self-consciousness of his viewing audience as if he is a vicarious judger.  The narrator's self-interrogation is interestingly paradoxical considering Godard's directorial efforts to efficaciously address philosophical matters and negate feelings of alienation.  These seemingly extemporaneous remarks are drawn from the writings of sociologist Raymond Aron; in fact, the title of the text 18 Lectures on Industrialized Society is rather prominently captured in a still frame early within the film.  Both complementary and contradictory to Godard's utilization, Aron's teachings attempt to integrate the bludgeoning nature of industrialization, which brings issues of stagnation, alienation, and consumerism, yet possesses the necessary facilities to a higher standard of living.

Amongst the existential musings and obscure diversions, Juliette's literal prostitution acts as a metaphor for the pervasive prostitution in society.  Film commentator Adrian Martin actually quotes Godard as saying, "In order to live in society in Paris today, one is forced to prostitute one's self in one way or another."  While powerfully dense, his thesis is rather slippery, because its principal implication would not exclude Godard himself, as he is a well-revered director who must promote his film to maintain a certain reputation.  While unorthodox, his methods contain remnants that would in some ways consider him a prostitute.  For instance, dialogue in the café scene mentions Coca-Cola and Winston cigarettes.  Even if he is providing a scathing social critique on advertising or brand recognition, Godard is utilizing a specific example, which institutes his role as an inadvertent promoter.

In her essay, "The Whole and Its Parts," (included with the recent Criterion release of the film) essayist Amy Taubin discusses how industrialization parallels prostitution, because it is a fundamental violation.  As a woman like Juliette would willingly allow herself to become violated by a man, society willingly allows the invasion of advertising, kitsch, and other forms of degradation, and then amalgamates them as an illusion of betterment and progress.  The object of 2 or 3 Things is to showcase the inherent flaws within industrialized society, because a broadcasted step forward is surreptitiously two steps into recession.  To resort to extreme measures simply to maintain financial "independence," comfort and familiarity is actually a current sentiment that resonates strongly in Steven Soderbergh's latest film, The Girlfriend Experience, which Taubin also mentions in her essay.

In a film examining such broad themes and social behaviors, many characters begin to exhibit inhumane qualities as they are reduced to the superfluous.  Specifically, two Godarian-like figures named Bouvard and Pecuchet (after the Gustave Flanbert characters of the same name) continually regurgitate quotes from various French advertisements to literature to political figures in a café.  Much of the content of their expressions is completely irrelevant; what they are saying is less significant than the manner in which they are delivering it.  Instead of virtuously expanding the nature of the quotations, one is simply replaced with another, resulting in complete indifference.  Perhaps Godard felt it necessary to utilize these characters to enhance the extremism of the film, but instead they gradually come to function as a third dimension of himself within his own film, as director, narrator, and two disjointed intellectuals.

The near free-form of 2 or 3 Things and deliberate lack of dedication to its "main" character instill the film with a fleeting sense of the present moment.  Godard manages to reaffirm this quite well in the desensitization and modernization of French society, particularly within the concluding scene, which is a pertinent reminder of the cycle of suburban lull and the figurative prison of time.  Brusquely expressing the notion that our lives are squandered into ignorance and reduced to cogs within a greater machine, Godard urges society to rid itself of consumerism and luxury to adopt a new conscious and "return to zero."  If modern audiences are willing to embark on a journey into this cinematic essay, they should clearly not arrive without their French history, culture and media, literary and art criticism studies.  After an initial viewing, one may only absorb two or three things from 2 or 3 Things, but perhaps it will spur an investigation into Godard's other works and a "new wave" of political and social advocacy.