The Sarajevo of For Ever Mozart isn’t what you’d expect, and it’s not just because the bucolic rural areas and small towns outside of Geneva, where the film was shot, couldn’t look less like the war-torn capital of Bosnia. Unlike most movies about the Bosnian War, and wars in general, Jean-Luc Godard’s film presents characters who don’t encapsulate for audiences the history and ideologies behind the conflict into compact blocks of dialogue. Rather than a hammered-home plea for international sympathy and action, there’s a view of war as inherently senseless and chaotic, with car bombs going off randomly and deadpan executions (not unlike those in Weekend), all ruled over by a piggish dictator type. When two hostages, Camille and Jerome (Madeleine Assas and Frédéric Pierrot), intending to put on a production of Marivaux’s The Game of Love and Chance amid the Bosnian war, are rodered to pull down their pants, bend over, and sardonically wonder what might be put up their asses this time, you can sense Godard snickering to himself somewhere.
For Ever Mozart could be seen as a war film with no heroes and a surplus of fools, but clearly Godard is more concerned with notions of depiction and “realism” in filmmaking. Indeed, it’s no small coincidence that John Ford’s She Wore a Yellow Ribbon, a blatantly theatrical film that finds its dramatic pulse in the dispute over ownership of American territories, is name-checked by a filmmaker (Vicky Messica) in Godard’s fractious black comedy. The loose framework of the story follows the production of the director’s new film, The Fatal Bolero, while Camille and Jerome—his daughter and nephew—find their way to Sarajevo and get captured by ruthless paramilitary forces. And though the film’s depiction of war is unwieldy and imaginative, there’s a brutality to the actions of the soldiers (rape, murder, car bombs, etc.) and an assaultive sound design (elongated clips of loud, chugging gunfire) that reveal angry underpinnings.
Godard’s inventive aesthetic, which is constantly being expanded or undermined by his familiar auditory trickery, is exhilaratingly experiential and ruefully abstracted. The sound design is in a constant, alluring state of disarray, switching registers and textures of dialogue, wild sound, and sound effects. As such, the film can feel fragmentary at times, pieced together into a perplexing and fascinating assemblage. In reality, For Ever Mozart brandishes a rather straightforward narrative, though not without its exceptional fantastical elements and wild symbolism. When Messica’s filmmaker preps principal photography for The Fatal Bolero, his colleague picks out two bodies in a room full of corpses (the same one where Camille and Jerome were tossed into) and inexplicably revives and casts them in the film.
As always, Godard’s fury and frustration are viscerally palpable. In this case, his ire turns toward a culture of filmmakers that would rather softly recreate history through simplistic morals rather than engaging with the history and political philosophies that were stirred by and, in many cases, spurred the events. On a whim, Godard cuts to grainy photos of dead children and mass graves in Sarajevo, as if to suddenly scream that cinema is simply incapable of recreating the true horror and emptiness of wartime. And yet the director finds himself able to evoke the senselessness and savagery of such events, while also offering stern but empathetic criticism of the foolishness of moralistic art.
The transfer doesn’t do much to sharpen the dull overall pallor of Jean-Luc Godard’s color scheme, but this is otherwise an excellent video transfer. Clarity has improved hugely from the New Yorker DVD release, with skin tones and textures coming out much more vibrantly. And when there are sharp colors, they do look perfectly saturated and bold. Similarly, the rare dark scene shows off lovely and inky black levels. The audio has a lot to juggle, as Godard’s sound design is expectedly erratic, and it all comes out sounding impressively immersive. The dialogue is out front (when Godard wants it to be) and clean sounding, with various classical pieces, sound effects, and wild sound great in the back end.
James Quandt’s commentary track here is utterly invaluable in getting a sense of the context of the film and Godard’s ideas of depiction and politics in the film. There’s a cumbersome amount of information to unpack here, but Quandt is an engaging and humble commentator, and he makes all the information feel more warm and conversational than most programmers or critics tasked with talking in depth about for an entire film’s runtime. The handful of video interviews are interesting and humorous to varying degrees, from passable to genuinely entertaining; François Musy and Willy Kurant’s featurettes are the most memorable. A trailer is also included.
Jean-Luc Godard’s lively screed against cinema’s power to recreate time gets a solid, attentive A/V transfer from Cohen Media Group, with ample contextual supplements.