Jean-Luc Godard’s latest feature, Moments Choisis des Histoire(s) du Cinema, is a thought-provoking and infuriating 35mm condensation-cum-summation of his multi-part video series Histoire(s) du Cinema. In an early, typically awe-inspiring montage the director likens his spectators to the brother and sister characters of Charles Laughton’s Night of the Hunter, cast adrift on a treacherous, mythopoetic river of dreams. This and one other sequence—a superb aural and visual deconstruction of Hitchcock, kicked off by a repeated dissolve between The Birds’ fleeing schoolchildren and stock-footage of wartime bombers attacking their targets—are reminders of why Godard remains a vital and important cinematic figure, namely for his youthful approach to editing. The director himself has suggested that every cut is a lie; Godard’s approach, then, is the continual juxtaposition and superimposition of “lies” in an ongoing search for truth. Thus, Moments mimics the workings of its creator’s mind: one thought, one reference leads inexorably to others, sight and sound mirroring the inherently questioning nature of the human soul.
Lost in Godard’s passionate, autodidactic torrent it becomes easy to overlook Moments’ superficiality. Sequence by sequence one can feel the director thinking through his suppositions, yet there’s something clearly lacking, perhaps a sense of emotional purpose that life experience and age appear to have permanently eroded. I don’t like to think of Godard succumbing to the curse of time, but where his fellow nouvelle vague compatriot Eric Rohmer (now past 80) reinvents himself with each new work, Godard is content to hammer home his self-same points ad nauseum. Through much of Moments there’s a rote sense of “been there, done that”: when speaking of television’s detrimental effects on cinema, Godard lives down to the disheveled old fuddy-duddy persona that he physically embodies on-screen. Making grand pronouncements from his back-alley soapbox, the director panders to the death-of-cinema acolytes, those faddish doomsday prophets who latched onto the kernel of a good idea (for television has certainly had its adverse effects) and perverted it into an infallible truth of Leviticus.
If cinema, as suggested, is becoming television, it must also be considered that television is becoming cinema, but Godard seems incapable of dealing in a wholly intelligent manner with the ever-evolving occurrences of the present moment. His work has become about histories past and potentially lost; for his efforts at remembering and reminding his audience of what has come before he should be dealt with and commended. Yet it’s sadly revealing when, at the climax of Moments, Godard (in the guise of confession) none-too-piously turns the discussion to himself, undercutting his insights for a last-ditch, De Sade-worthy display of cinematic onanism. Sympathy for the devil, indeed.