Thinking Cinema with Greenaway, Resnais, and Godard (part 2)

Godard’s Passion is another example of exploding cinema from within. Like Marienbad, the film doesn’t have a traditional plot. Loosely, the film centres on the efforts of enigmatic director, Michel, who is attempting to complete an increasingly expensive film. A secondary story is spliced into this one, featuring a young woman organising the workers of a factory.

Lets again consider Greenaway’s tyrannies, though without the convenience of a neat schema like Vincendeau’s. First, there is the tyranny of the text. In case you miss Godard’s rejection of traditional narrative, Michel frequently has conversations about plot. Potential financial backers ask for a summary of the story and he erupts; there is no need for a plot, why do they always ask for the plot, etc. The film consists of recreations of paintings, so the scenes on set often involve motionless figures caught in dramatic lighting. In the other story line, there is a scene during a meeting of the workers, where one of the women, Hannah, is reading lines from socialist literature. Whilst the text makes sense in the context of a workers’ meeting, its mechanical presentation can be taken as a rejection of texts determinative presence.

Second, and perhaps most effectively, is Godard’s rejection of the frame. A good deal of the film takes place on the set of the film being directed by Michel. Often the scene transitions from one framed world to another; that is, from the frame of the camera in the film to the frame of the camera filming the camera in the film. The characters of the scene sometimes shatter this border. The film is constantly reminding us that there is something occurring outside, before, and after the frame that presently restricts the gaze.

Third, is Godard’s rejection of character. It is an ensemble cast and the viewer’s identification is left shifting from character to character. In terms of Greenaway’s schema, this point is the weakest in the film.

Finally, Godard effectively rejects the tyranny of the camera. Even in the film, the director views the film one of his two lovers, Isabelle, who is in the film. As they watch the film on a screen surrounded by audio-visual equipment, we are exposed to the malleable nature of the celluloid medium.

All in all, I find Godard’s effort, in this instance, less effective. Granted, Godard did not start out to address Greenaway’s criteria, but he did want to transgress cinematic convention and, in my opinion, this effort is thwarted by his heavy-handed approach to the rejection of plot. In relation to the ‘thin line between brilliance and intellectual pretension’, I think Godard falls on the side of pretension. The film lacks the geometric sophistication and deft touch of Resnais in Marienbad.

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