Monday, September 19, 2022

Jean-Luc Godard's Jean-Jacques Rousseau

Here’s an exam question for your grad film students? Compare The Confessions of Jean-Jacques Rousseau to Godard’s Breathless, Contempt and Goodbye to Language. To begin with both Godard who who died at age 91 ("Jean-Luc Godard, 91, Is Dead: Bold Director Shaped French New Wave") by way of assisted suicide and Rousseau  came from wealthy French-Swiss families with Protestant origins. Rousseau, of course, was one of the great figures of the Enlightenment whose notion of the “social contract” influenced Locke and Hobbes, particularly with respect to democracy. Godard  who went through a Maoist period in which he gave up the bourgeois notion of the filmmaker in favor of a collective entity modeled on the Russia's post-revolutionary Dziga-Vertov group out of which the cinema verite Man With a Movie Camera emerged, might be looked at as an anti-humanist. The Belmondo character in Breathless is a small time crook and Jean Seberg, his mole. Michel Piccoli, the playwright trying to produce a version of the Odysseus myth for Fritz Lang in Contempt, is a self-centered failure obsessed with a wife (Bridget Bardot) who no longer loves him. In reality Godard was not so much an anti as disaffected humanist. He was like a person whose romantic hopes are disappointed. Weekend is a murderous idyll, with an almost wistful nostalgia for nature in its depiction of sclerotic highways (aka arteries) clogged with crashed cars?  Godard's Le Gai Savoir ("The Joy of Learning") is, in fact, based on Rousseau's Emile, On Education. Grace is one of the tenets of Protestant theology. There are the saved and the damned. Max Weber famously wrote the the Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism. Is it fair to say that both Rousseau and Godard drew the ethos of their upbringing in the creation of characters whose “work” flirted with redemption?

read "Goodbye to Language" by Francis Levy, HuffPost

and listen to "Sympathy For the Devil" by The Rolling Stones

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