Godard in All Gis Glory

Rating: NNNNELOGE DE L'AMOUR written and directed by Jean-Luc Godard, with Bruno Putzulu, Cecile Camp, Audrey Klebaner and Jeremy Lippmann..

Rating: NNNN

ELOGE DE L’AMOUR written and directed by Jean-Luc Godard, with Bruno Putzulu, Cecile Camp, Audrey Klebaner and Jeremy Lippmann. 98 minutes. A Studio Canal +/Les Films Alain Sarde production. Opens Friday (January 18) at Cinematheque Ontario, and screens January 19, 20, 22 and 24 at various times. (See Rep Cinema listings, page 80). Rating: NNNN

even now that so much else isavailable on video, Jean-Luc Godard, who benefits, even demands, repeat viewings, is a ghost in the video revolution. None of his post-1968 films is available on DVD, even in France. The mind-warping profusion of his four-and-a-half-hour long Histoire(s) Du Cinma (1994), which needs the digital medium’s capacity to offer multiple soundtracks and subtitle options, remains impossible to see. It’s not even on tape. Part II of Cinematheque’s Godard retrospective spreads Histoire(s) over three nights (February 14, 16 and 19 at 6:30 pm). Put it this way: I’m delaying my vacation and staying in town for this screening.

A film professor once told me that her students hate Godard. This puzzled me until she said she’d shown them Tout Va Bien, his 1972 film with Jane Fonda and Yves Montand, which epitomizes the theoretical style of filmmaking Godard has pursued since 1968.

These films aren’t easy to love. The early Godard, on the other hand, from Breathless to Weekend, has romance, humour, guns and Anna Karina as the director’s muse, and a restless energy throughout. When we think of Godard, we think of these 60s films — which is rather like thinking of Beethoven in terms of the first 10 piano sonatas, the first and second symphonies and the Opus 18 string quartets. That decade constitutes only a quarter of Godard’s 40- year career.

Cinematheque’s multi-part retrospective, which is showing Godard’s films in chronological order, has now moved on to the directly political period of the late 60s and early 70s, works like A Film Like The Others (Tuesday, January 22, 6:30 pm), Vent D’Est (January 26, 6:30 pm) and Tout Va Bien (February 1, 8:15 pm), which alternately assault and bore the audience.

Later in the 70s, Godard retreated to Switzerland and made films for television. Then there was the “return” to cinema in the 80s and a series of maddening, fascinating, bizarre films ranging from the relatively straightforward (and when it comes to Godard, straightforward is an extremely relative term) Prnom: Carmen (February 7, 8:30 pm) and Sauve Qui Peut (La Vie) (February 5, 6:30 pm) to the comic peculiarity of his King Lear — with Molly Ringwald as Cordelia (February 12, 8:45 pm).

In the 90s, Godard became the oracle of Geneva, issuing a dizzying assortment of cinematic essays that jam so much into such compact running times that they’re exhausting to watch.

Cinematheque Ontario has all of it, in one two-month package, screening in chronological order.

Late Godard will make you crazy. He veers between exquisite shots of the light on Lake Geneva and tracking shots across Seurat-like groupings of characters on a dock to blunt rhetorical sloganeering (“Europe has memories. America has T-shirts.”) and eruptions of noise on the soundtrack that are specifically designed to hurl the spectator out of any possible complicity with the work at hand.

One occasionally suspects that the scenarios for films like Detective (February 9, 6:30 pm) and Hlas Pour Moi (February 23, 6:30 pm) were cobbled together by an out-of-work sitcom writer and four really drunk philosophy professors from the Sorbonne.

Cinematheque is also offering a limited run of Godard’s latest, Eloge De L’Amour, which comes festooned with quotes from several critics, including “The most beautiful film in the Cannes Competition this year” — John Harkness.

Well, yes, but let’s put that quote back into its context. What I said at the time was that Eloge De L’Amour purports to be a film about the stages of love, but it’s really about the difficulties faced by a young director who’s trying to make a film about the stages of love. Thirty years after Tout Va Bien, Godard is still chewing over the same problems and similar atrocities, though in Tout Va Bien he was worried about Vietnam and in Eloge De L’Amour he worries about Kosovo and the homeless.

Having said that, I still think Eloge was the single most beautiful film in the Cannes Competition this year. Its plangent black-and-white images of Paris are almost shocking in an era when young filmmakers seem addicted to the rawness of the hand-held.johnh@nowtoronto.com

GODARD FOR EVER (II): A JEAN-LUC GODARD RETROSPECTIVE Cinematheque Ontario (Jackman Hall, Art Gallery of Ontario, 317 Dundas West), running Friday (January 18) to March 10. $8, stu/srs $4.25. For this week’s schedule, see Rep Cinema listings, page 80.

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