by Therese Giraud
After May '68, Godard gets down to a problem: how to make political films politically? How to integrate consistently within the film the question of where the images come from? And, step by step, to combat the effects of the dominant ideology in cinema as in politics.
This was a philosophical reflection, too abstract, too theoretical. An overly intellectual working method, too Parisian. Godard journeyed back to the provinces: away from the head and towards the body.
For Godard comes up against a problem. Beyond the issue of political commitment such as it was being expressed - both by himself and more generally - are other issues, unexplored and forgotten; issues that had created their fair share of disillusionment in post-'68 militant circles: interior issues - the family, the body, sexuality - neglected and left in enemy hands, those of television, sentimental drama, porn cinema.
A change of direction: to start no longer from theory but from the man.
Sex and politics
Take one: Tout va bien. A woman's hand on a man's penis. An image not from a porn movie but from a photograph. The photograph as an object of discussion and argument, a nucleus (one of several?) of the contradiction between the man and the woman who are otherwise addressing the problems of their own political commitment.
A photograph of an erect penis grasped by a woman's hand; the photograph and the sex as an exhibit: this is.
But a photograph within a film, alongside a film - another place, another time.
Take two: Numero deux. The issue of political commitment is no longer addressed alongside that of sexuality; it is a commitment starting from and about sex. Addressing the issue of sexuality in political terms takes centre stage. Being neither a sex movie nor a political film but a shattering of the divisions imposed by media imagery; within the place where these images speak - the family.
Speaking politically about the issue of sex; resituating sex in its social cell, the family.
Starting from an imprisonment ...
The family, as the product of sex, of sexual relationships (non-relationships), of conjugal love, a product which reproduces itself and is obliged endlessly to reproduce itself. Production and the relations of production.
The family: where the children are taught that what happens when mother and father are alone in bed is the two sexes kissing, that this is love, this is how they learn to speak.
This is what it is all about.
But the children, despite this rote-learning, see only buggery, rape and deaf, dumb, blind violence. They see one who, from the outside, ejaculates and fills the other who receives within, absorbs and swells.
It goes in from all sides and does not come out. Forced in, blocked. Blocked up as in buggered. Buggered by the sex, up the arse, in the mouth (the rote-learning), by the ears (the headphones). Starting from this imprisonment, therefore showing it as that of the family, of a woman.
Starting from this imprisonment, therefore showing it as that of the family, of a woman. With the man's sex designated as the guilty party. Lacerating bourgeois forms of representation to talk about sex: didactic images, imposed by an absence of fiction, music, and drama. Images which are imprisoned by darkness and off-screen sound. Sublimation, escape, projection into a fictional elsewhere - all these are denied the spectator, who is forced to see things for real. In place of the love that is sublimated as much through pornography as through sentimental drama, to show instead bodies side-by-side, bodies that don't connect, that collide, that do each other harm.
The reality of things in imposed, imposing images, but images without the possibility of transformation. An enclosed, hermetic, blocked up film.
Here are images, a chain of images, just images. Locked up in the dark. Is this the darkness of ideology?And where do these images come from? This is the question to which Godard has always forced himself to respond and which finds a response here in the shots at the beginning and the end of the film, two shots that bracket the film, that are no longer just images, where the ideological darkness has vanished and they fill the screen.They are the relations of production: it's me, what's-his-name, master of my work, my equipment, my celluloid, who has made all this, who has organized it in space and time.
It is I who manipulate the sounds and images.
His image: of man.
His image: of a woman.
Placed at the center of the film. The dynamic of the contradiction between man and woman.
It appears that a woman participated in making this film, in the construction of these images. It's a film by two people. This 'number two', who we see neither at the beginning nor the end of the film, is reduced to the status of raw material, like celluloid, like something to talk about.
I'm speaking in her place, because she cannot speak yet, for lack of the means of production, of knowledge of the language of cinema.
I'm speaking in her place, still ... Making speech for her; taking power for her, the power of cinema and its images.
For the machine that allows him to speak, which he speaks from, is noc solely the one that we see, that he shows us (controlling the means of production), but is also the one that we don't see, being hidden by the other.
His sex, concealed, unacknowledged, shameful.
The film's centre, recalling Tout va bien, except that here all is far from well, the sex here is never erect, never wants to be erect. A refusal to function, a state of retention, a voluntary castration but one for which it seeks to revenge itself.
Because it functions, all the same, it ejaculates elsewhere, in the images, in his speaking. It functions as the phallus.
Castration and vengeance.
A hermetic film, full, blocked, like the woman and his image of the woman. In the same way as the only sex worthy of the name is that of the man.
A film congested with sex, just as Godard is congested by his own sex, like a man who discovers how it works but doesn't know what to do with it, either with his sex or with its discovery.
So he shows it.
He shows it and shoves it into us all over the place - in the mouth, up the arse, in the ears - redoubling reality, its reality.
I say what I see.
It is a film about phallocracy.
He imposes it upon us again ... in sadistic impositions and initiatory rites, just as the worldly grandfather imposes on the little girl the headphones and Ferre's melancholy, just as the parencs impose their initiatory discourse on love, as Godard number one imposes the recital of A bout de souffle on the children of number two.
For the man has the sex, a privilege which starts to weigh heavily on some, such as Godard (a consciousness whose origin is concealed, just as his partner is concealed, as finally is the origin of these images: is not the ideological darkness to be filled by the words of the woman, by her images, and would one thus see less sex?), but he has only this. But not only; he also has all that is permitted by his sex, all that resembles him - the desire for power, the problematic of power and impotence which he cannot get away from, the desire to possess, to crush, to enclose the other in a film, in a succession of words and images.
The other: what, in the woman, he glimpses as different, as inaccessible to the law of his sex/phallus.
This other which he reduces to his same.
He mutilates the sex on the sole condition of mutilating the woman's body, of rigging it out in the same desires, the same functions: veneration of the penis, violence of the penis.
Woman alone: congested (with sex), lamenting, or masturbatory violence, the search for liberating ejaculation, only the sex uncovered, its body absent, veiled.
The woman's word - filled with his sex or around his sex, in masturbating it.
The mutilated body of the woman. transformed into a penis, an extension of his that engorges no longer. Return of the same.
We never speak of the violence on the banks that enclose the river. Me, I speak of it and it makes me understand your violence. Your violence, my violence: the phallus sees only itself.
Perhaps women will never know how much men hate them. No doubt it was for this reason that Godard made his film (and not their film). To enclose them once again within the objectivity of his discourse on sex, in another image of woman, but one marked by a troubled male conscience, an image of death. To exclude the other, the unsexed other. the other words that for him don't exist, to which he refuses existence and life. His image of woman: bloated, congested by the sex, the eternal victim. Or the woman-penis.
Because men hate women to such an extent that they would like them to hate them as much in return, in the same way, with the same weapons. This would perhaps be the war in which male violence could explode without shame or guilty conscience ... Is this sex war that men dream of more than women perhaps lying somewhere behind this film?
But this would again be a form of sublimation, and that is excluded: the images are stopped before anything - the slightest element of fiction, of projection - can occur.
Closing off any such opening; imprisoning it; a sealed, hermetic film. And facing it, facing his images, Godard imagines himself as the grandfather (as Ferre?) who, under the table, can no longer get it up, and above it no longer has the words with which to speak of his life and its struggles.
Life, its struggles left behind him.
The desire for solitude, for death.
War or withdrawal; death, anyway.
The impotency of the phallus facing life, the struggle for life.
The dichotomy of the retention of sex but its discharge nonetheless through the words and images.
The dichotomy of the retention of music (sublimation), but its oozing through all the cracks in the film, bursting in liberation over the final image.
The music of Ferre: glancing towards solitude. glancing towards death. A glance towards cinema. Withdrawal?
The final image: hands, sick and hesitant, on the levers.
Sick of these sounds and images, too unbearable, without hope of transformation.
Hermetic images, sealed and closed; fine as a way of speaking about others, of speaking theoretically about theory and practice.
But it's simply too much torture to speak of oneself, of one's melancholy and one's anguish.
There is here the question of a limit; the limit of a cinema, the limit of a man's talking about himself, of truly saying I, of giving up just a little bit of power.
Translated by Chris Darke
CAHIERS DU CINEMA
Volume Four: 1973-1978: History, Ideology, Cultural Struggle
Edited by David Wilson
Introduction by Berenice Reynaud