by Allan Fish
this begins an infrequent series of films about childhood criminally neglected in the US to coincide with Sam’s childhood poll
(France-TV 1977 312m) not on DVD
Girl, boy, girl, boy…
p Jean-Luc Godard, Anne-Marie Miéville d/w Jean-Luc Godard, Anne-Marie Miéville ph Pierre Binggeli, William Lubtchansky, Dominique Chapuis, Philippe Rony
Albert Dray, Betty Berr, Camille Virolleaud, Arnaud Martin,
If one was to ask a selection of serious film buffs, critics and writers to name the single-most influential director in late 20th century culture, I’d be surprised if Jean-Luc Godard didn’t top the poll. He’s come to be seen as much as personification of the zeitgeist as a director, indeed often setting the tempo for what would become the daily zeitgeist. One would think then that his work was easily accessible, preserved on DVD and now Blu Ray in the way that the work of, say, Hitchcock, Scorsese or Bergman is. Yet this is only partly true; the canonical Godard has always existed, but it generally covers his work up to 1967-68; the experimental films that followed in the subsequent decades have always been somewhat harder to track down. There are still a few I have been unable to see, and until recently one of them was France/Tour/Detour/Deux/Enfants. It only became so when an old Channel 4 TV recording surfaced.
Was there ever a more Godardian title, at once meaning everything and nothing? Appropriate given that the film is about everything and nothing. One can, however, take the last two words of the title to find the bonemarrow running through its spine. Two children then, one girl and one boy; the girl still in what we’d call primary school, the boy a bit older, a throwback to Truffaut’s Antoine Doinel. Over twelve episodes, the focus changes and the opening credits with it; sometimes the girl is sat on a stool as the subject, the boy behind the camera. The rest of the time it’s reversed. At first it alternates, one then the other, then it becomes less ordered.
At its heart is a series of interviews in which the two kids are asked questions – about everything and nothing – about subjects they cannot hope to fully comprehend. Was Godard seeking the fresh viewpoint of an untrained child or making a sociological or intellectual point? Either way, the interviews are very unnerving as the kids, especially the girl, are asked questions that would trouble many adults in today’s society. The interviewer, who is heard but not seen, comes off like a prosecuting lawyer trying to trip up a witness rather than a confidante seeking truth.
It’s not all about the kids, though, as the title suggests. It’s a tour, a detour, and a stethoscope searching for the heartbeat of tomorrow’s France in today’s youth. He’s stripping bare childhood attitudes, but goes further. It begins with a shot of the girl undressing for bed; the interviewer even mentions how the girl didn’t want to show her bottom. If to Godard her preparing for bed is the uncovering of a secret, then covering it up again; to us, it’s just her getting into her pyjamas; no wonder it’s little seen.
The kids are asked about geography, religion, the difference betwixt space and time, biology, cinema, television, reality and fantasy and, perhaps most crucially, music. Most crucially as music lies at the heart of the work’s sense of inherent and at times torturous repetition. The twelve portions are not called episodes but movements, and like a musical symphony, its rhythms and themes return, fade away and come back again. It’s a structure simultaneously freeform and rigid, in which the ruminations are at times as maudlin as the juxtaposition. A shot of two sheep looking at the camera wouldn’t be out of place in a Bruce Conner experimental work. Would-be professors spout utter garbage (“when a cow watches girls from a passing train, its gaze more human than that of a human being reading a book…”) and other interviews and vignettes exist as in a bad dream. So that a secretary sits doing her work stark naked in one scene, while when in another a girl tells her lover “my bum is clean, my sorrow is infinite”, it could sum up the entire mind-bending series. A series that may be seen as Godard’s 7 Up, but retitled 7 Up, Down, Right, Left and Back.