Jean-Luc Godard: Image and Word

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By Fernão Pessoa Ramos*

The brutality of the image in the destruction exercised by Western civilization and consumerist capitalism

Among the great film directors of the XNUMXth century, the Franco-Swiss Jean-Luc Godard deserves mention. He started out as a critic in the Cahiers du cinema, still under André Bazin, and later, from 1958, he joined the group of “young Turks” of the Nouvelle Vague.

The French movement was the first properly cinematographic modern avant-garde, if we except those of the 1920s with roots in literature and visual arts. In the late 1960s, Godard evolved to the left of what was initially a movement with roots more to the right of the political spectrum, seeking inspiration in Hollywood classicism through the so-called “authors' politics”.

In the Nouvelle Vague, Godard composed with François Truffaut, Éric Rohmer and Jacques Rivette the so-called “rive droite” – as opposed to the “rive gauche” of Agnès Varda, Chris Marker, Alain Resnais and others. He arrived at the extreme left with the founding, in 1968, of the Maoist documentary group “Dziga Vertov”. Between 1968 and 1972, the “Dziga Vertov” group produced films with a radical critique of the social structures of capitalism (such as “Luttes en Italie”, “Vladimir et Rosa”, “Le Vent d”Est”, “Letter to Jane”, “ British Sounds”), following on from previous works such as “La Chinoise”/1967 or “Weekeend”/1967.

In the 1980s and 1990s Godard turned to formal experimentalism, making a series of works in fictional mode, using actors and stars, but deconstructing the traditional narrative form with plot and characters. These films explore different themes, such as the dimension of humanity in the face of divine power (“Hélas pour moi”/1993); the colors and lights of classical painting as a narrative theme (“Passion”/1982); the eternal motif of female seduction recycled and thought out (“Prénom Carmen”/1983); the dogma of Mary's virginity with its updated dilemmas (“Je Vous Salue, Marie”/1985); the horrors of the war in Bosnia, mixed with Fernando Pessoa (“For Ever Mozart”/1996); Shakespeare, now in Chernobyl (“King Lear”/1987); cinema, its music and its lines, as seen by the “nouvelle vague” (“Nouvelle Vague”/1990); the centennial history of cinema art itself (“Histore(s) du Cinéma”/1988-98), etc.

Godard continues at full speed, showing that he maintains his creative verve. He is one of those artists whose work is consistent beyond maturity – when they get older and, naturally, enter the more retrospective phase of life. They then begin to revolve around the large formats and themes in which they flourished. Godard progresses well into old age, with remarkable productivity for his nearly 90 years (this is 1930).

In the second decade of the 2010st century, in addition to several short films and more homemade productions, he signed three features: “Filme Socialismo”/2014, “Adeus à Linguagem”/2018 and “Imagem e Palavra”/2018. His last film, “Imagem e Palavra”, received a Special Palme d’Or at the XNUMX Cannes Film Festival and recently, in the first half, was shown in a few Brazilian cinemas.

His penultimate feature, also from the 2010s, “Adeus à Linguagem”/2014, retakes “Two or Three Things I Know About It”, a film from 1966-67. They are two philosophical films, by a filmmaker who, in his filmography, focused his thoughts on sound-image, twisting the concept into the filmic-narrative format that takes place.

“Adeus à Linguagem” had a stronger fictional plot than “Image and Word” and a sensibility steeped more decisively in contemporary philosophy, with beautiful concerns about the status of being that take us back to the thought and sensations that seem to be said by a old French post-structuralist philosopher of the second half of the 3th century. In addition, “Adeus à Linguagem” is a XNUMXD film, having been shown in Brazil in this format. Those who had the opportunity to see it in the cinema, “comme il faut”, with its singular plastic beauty, do not forget the dance of volumes and colors in Godardian forms.

“Imagem e Palavra”/2018, however, abandons the most dazzling “frisson” of post-structuralist metaphysics to turn, in the form of a documentary essay, to reflection on the exercise of politics and power. It is under the domain of praxis, so to speak. It is in tune with the more brutal pragmatism trend of our time, in which writing, or more primitive icons like “emojis”, progressively replace the small daily doses of communion that we had in the nuanced communication of speech. They are syntagmatic blocks that, with their small obtuse bricks, detonate the affects of anger, indignation, resentment like gunpowder.

In “Image and Word”, Godard traces this intersection between words, now multiplied, and, at the same time, absent in speech. It is dedicated to reflecting on the exaltations of our time in six breaths – in fact five essay segments, clearly indicated, plus a final fiction. In statements about the work and in the film, Godard tells us that the five segments are equivalent to the five fingers of the hand. His voice explains, right at the opening, that “the true condition of man is to think with his hands”, in a quote taken from Denis de Rougemont: “There are the five fingers, the five senses, the five parts of the world, yes, the five fingers of the fairy. But all together they make up the hand and the true condition of man is to think with his hands.”

Accompanying this speech in “off”, out of field, appears, in the foreground, the image of two elderly hands manipulating the film of a film on an editing table. The foreground of the film is that of a hand with the index finger raised, photographed with a strong shadow that cuts it out of a black background. She points up, half groping, half asking for interruption and attention to the expression. A sign follows praising the speechless silence of Bécassine (a classic character from a French comic strip). Afterwards, the hands groping bodies, and alone, are followed by the iconic image of the blade cutting the eyes in Um Cão Andaluz/Buñuel, as a release of the gaze.

The film's five parts are followed by a sixth, unnumbered, which takes advantage of the previous five to extend a tenuous plot and a fictional universe. The language ("language will never be language" says the film referring to the dilemmas of structuralist semiology) of "Image and Word" is that of the audiovisual essay, asserting through figurations that outline a thought for, soon after, in what it tries to be prior to thinking, making disappear.

The rehearsal is a film modality that is rooted in the documentary tradition and today has strong cinematographic production. “Image and Word” clearly fits into this field. As a form, in philosophy and in the human sciences, the essay has already been thematized by great thinkers of our time. By landing with intensity in the film production of the 2000s, coming from an earlier moment, the essayistic narrative brought space for expression to great directors such as Chris Marker, Agnès Varda, Harun Farocki, Alexandre Kluge, Straub/Huillet, Vérena Paravel/Lucien Castaing- Taylor, Chantal Akerman, Péter Forgács, Pedro Costa and others.

The path of the figures we find in “Imagem e Palavra” is initially that of the history of cinema. “Remake” is the title of the first segment. It has already crystallized images/sounds as load, loaded with a past enunciation in filmic image. The figures do not properly constitute a “representation” of the world, nor are they delineated in propositional assertions. They appear like a constellation of clouds that outlines itself in peaks and then dissolves. The peaks, however, are there and sometimes loom like great Himalayas for all to see.

To assert, or to represent, Godard has his own background as an artist formed in the French cinephilia that he even helped to build as a pantheon, since his days as a critic at “Cahiers” in the 1950s. “Image and Word” formats a narrative that he enunciates with this material the language of his art, following cinema in what crystallized in style and authorship in its history. It is certainly not a minor reproduction of the great (266 minutes) and epic “Histoire(s) du Cinéma”/1988-98, the greatest project of Godardian filmography and which seemed to crown, at the end of the XNUMXth century, his work of maturity.

“Imagem e Palavra” shows the agility, and the memory, that Godard once had to travel like a lynx (or would it be a hare?) through the history of films. These, now in their old age, serve as a propeller to propel the audiovisual verve that keeps it sharp. The purpose seems to be to show how oppression and unreason made us abandon the simplicity of life and feel attraction again in the exaltation of excessive and barbaric power.

In Godard's speech, the artist is felt to be in tune with the recent traumas of the attacks in France. Godard has always been a political artist, who thinks in images/sound and intervenes through the film form, through statements directed at the institutional structures that concentrate power. The construction of the sound in several tracks is highlighted here.

The film was designed, according to Godard, to be shown in small rooms, with speakers distributed on the surface, around the screen, above and below it. Music, noises and words pop up through the space, with clear alterations that imply meanings in their construction, especially when the voices overlap the off-screen narration, going back and forth, standing out from the periphery to the center of the emission.

The dialogue with the Arab culture is strong in “Image and Word” and returns obsessively in the filmic flow. Perhaps the central axis of this political Godard is thinking about Europe and its new social configurations, seen through the historical bias of hatred, violence and war. Images of radical Islam and the black flag of ISIS emerge, in opposition to the screaming colors, digitally burst, of the sun, the sea, friendship, peaceful life and beautiful Arab faces with sweet expressions.

The essayistic mosaic of “Image and Word” is, therefore, composed of five parts that lead to a brief narration of a plot, making it pass like a book. The French title of “Image and Word” is “Le Livre d'Image” with subtitle “Image et Parole”. Unfortunately, in Portuguese, it lost the main part of the name, “O Livro de Imagem”, and changed “fala”, a more faithful translation of “parole”, to “palavra”.

The first segment, titled “Remake”, appears right after the initial figures of this “Book of the Image” (and not “of the images”), which introduce the question of thought as an image, through touch. “Remake” is basically composed of film quotations and has in the title an indication of an operation that, par excellence, constitutes the cinematographic art: the “remake”.

The first chapter of “Image and Word” is set on the constructions of filmic repetition in the work. The segment has its north in the dialectic of repetition, which everything returns (re-make), following the evolution of the great spirit in the Hegelian-Marxist vision of history: that of tragedy and farce, of the slave and the master. It is a “remake”, because we are returning to what was once an image, a film of us, condemned to return by negation, from which the dialectic cannot free itself.

In our case, the return is to the image that was once an image and is printed, literally, on the film (or digital support) by the varnish of a style. Thinking with your hands, in the way the film explicitly proposes, does not mean abandoning thought for bodily expression, but thinking in the image and through the image, or denying that which, in thought, is chained to matter to make the subjective entity. If in history everything is copied, “remake” is the first finger of the five on the hand: it is the direction of the flow of the image that one wants to be in history, but manages only to return.

As a great witness of its strength, there is the brief effort of wanting to be parallel to the exterior set, but ending up being occupied by meaning and memory, fading away in the “refarm”. The “Remake”, in the Godardian book of the filmic image, is what happens in the turning of the “forward” engine of the great film that “Image and Word” finds through the quotations in this first segment: Laurence Olivier/”Hamlet”; Aldrich/”Kiss Me Deadly”; Murnau/”The Last Man”; Ray/”Johnny Guitar”; Rozier/”Blue Jeans”; Spielberg/”Jaws”; Franju/”Le Sang des Bêtes”; Rossellini/”Paisá”; Pasolini/”Salô”; Hitchcock/”Vertigo”; Vigo/”Atalante”; Eisentein/”Ivan” and “Nevsky”; and, himself, Godard, for “Allemagne 90 Neuf Zero”, “Les Carabiniers”, “Le Petit Soldad”, “Hélas pour Moi”, “Histoire(s) du Cinéma”.

They are all filmic images that cascade in this segment (and also in the others), serving as a propeller for the great “remake” of the story that the film will feature in the world of politics, brutality and power. In them, films, “Image and Word” take the opportunity to make the affections of compassion and cruelty that are inherent to them speak.

And so he composes the relationship between film, reality and the thought of the hands. The first finger of the hand, of the five that the film covers, would be that of thought composed of the touch that touches and thus makes itself felt as an image, before speech becomes a word – or in the infinite multiplication of this “parole” when it tends to zero , way of unfolding on itself.

The second finger of thought with the hands (“true human condition” according to Godard, and which singles it out), forms the second segment of “Image and Word” entitled “The Nights of Saint Petersburg”. It's the war and horror segment. We left behind the method discourse in the essay (the “re-make”) and now we are in the engine of the image, in the figuration of death and violence by power through the centuries.

“Les Soirées de Saint-Petersburg” is the title of a book by French diplomat Joseph de Maistre, a conservative thinker who, as a counterrevolutionary, lived through the French Revolution – for him an expression of Terror. Godard quotes him a few times in this segment. He describes Maistre's experience in the expression that war, in its horror, is divine. Philippe Sollers, at some point, tried to recover Maistre's rhetoric in an essay as a kind of “Sade blanc”, but this is not the path that Godard takes.

The citation of long excerpts from his book in an “off” voice is featured in the image of “Image and Word” and shows surprising relevance in the exaltation of the exercise of violence: “War is then divine in itself because it is a law of the world. Who can doubt that death in combat is a great privilege and who could think that the victims - terrible judgment - would have shed their blood in vain? War is divine in the mysterious glory that surrounds it and in the attraction, no less inexplicable, that it exerts on us”. The image and the statements that follow have the aberrant horizon of brutality as a reference.

The horror segment in “Saint Petersburg” also takes us back to the long winter of the siege of Leningrad (name of this city in the Soviet period) by the Nazis, when more than a million civilians, and as many Russian and German soldiers, died in a battle harrowing of World War II.

The cinematic references/quotations continue to run throughout the film, with the image of Lang's frantic “Mabuse” in a hell of a car race; Lang's proto-fascist idealization of the “Nibelungs”; the “Napoleon” of Gance; and, even more, the tragic death of the rabbit in a hunt – in one of the most striking scenes of “The Rules of the Game”/Renoir (1939), cinematic pre-figuration par excellence of the rise of Nazi barbarism.

This second segment begins with a beautiful passage of “The Russian Ark” by Alexandr Sokurov, a film that wants to tell 300 years of Russian history in a long 96-minute long sequence shot through the Winter Palace of Saint Petersburg, strolling through the paintings of the Hermitage Museum . Following the Joseph de Maistre quote, there is the still image of the tombstone of the Rose of Luxembourg (digitally rendered in her colors), ISIS flags on her pickup truck, American flags in front of limousines, sharp expressions in paintings by Hieronymus Bosch. Omnipresent, the image of horror is accompanied by the noises of war. Sound work seems to be particularly strong at this point.

The third segment of “Image and Word” is loaded with trips and film images (narratives) with trains. It is a kind of exit door, a parenthesis to the representation of the wind of history trying to rise, constantly harassed, beaten by horror. The trains, the departures, are a breath of fresh air, but they also bring a bloody image to the rails. This is also the Flowers segment. Although they appear at other times, here there are explosions of flowers, planes with intense and artificial colors that surround the rails.

The title of the segment reproduces a verse by the metaphysical poet Rainer Maria Rilke: “ces fleurs perdues entre les rails, dans le vents confus du voyage” (“these flowers lost between the rails, in the confused wind of the journey”). On the tracks, on the trains, a privileged moment is that of Buster Keaton grappling with the syncopated movement of himself in “A General”, trying to move from one car to another, without going anywhere, with the train in motion. In contrast, we have the sequence of a film by Jacques Tourneur (“Berlin Express”/1948), “noir” style, filmed in the immediate post-war period.  

The division of wagons follows according to the presentation of the characters in the plot, each part isolating the exposure of personalities in the space of successive wagons. Among them is a persecuted German resistance fighter who will be protected by the anonymous passengers. To the expository rational order of war, resistance and the “noir” world, Buster Keaton provides a poetic, half-comic variant, with his action without consequences, or with dubious consequences, where the purpose piled up in syncopated gestures reacts on itself in a closed circuit , to immobility.

Other images appear from a silent documentary, in which trains cross tunnels and abysses, with subjective shots of the cabin that give tension and movement to this sense of lyricism, lost between escape, travel, escapes, flowers, that we leave behind. It is Art that ties this movement together, as Godard's off-screen voice reassures us again, whispering through an image of boys around the magic lantern: “When one century slowly dissolves into the next, some individuals transform the ancient means into the new means. It is the latter that we call Art. The only thing that survives from an era is the art form it creates. No activity will become art before its age is over. Then this art disappears”.

The cascading departures and arrivals give way to the fourth segment of “Image and Word”, entitled, following Montesquieu, “The Spirit of the Laws”. It seems to complement the second segment, “The Nights of St. Petersburg”, as a remedy that does not cure the symptom. “The Spirit of the Laws” is a direct result of the elegy of war and violence in “The Nights of Saint Petersburg”. He makes an illuminist counter-mirror, the “spirit of the laws”. It is shown in the narrative by citations to Montesquieu and the “founding fathers” of North American civilization.

This segment, dedicated to laws, is based on the demand for justice and the difficulties of preventing its axis from turning in a vacuum. Abraham Lincoln has space personified by a young and idealistic Henry Fonda, quoted at length throughout the central work of John Ford's filmography, “Young Mr. Lincoln” (“The Youth of Lincoln”/1939). In it, director Ford, actor Fonda, character Lincoln, and the film seem to want to translate, as they believe, the best Yankee ideals that sustain the belief in their democracy to this day.

In a new moment of ideological rise, after the 1929 crisis, and just before the US entry into the Second World War, Ford manages to vibrate with the social organicity envisioned in these ideals of justice. But Montesquieu and the “founding fathers” of the North American civilizing project are carried in “Image and Word” by Godard's somber off-field voice, in out of tune modalities. The wind of irrationality, the weight of brutality and imperialism, seem to be a counterpoint to the Enlightenment “spirit of laws”. The strength of death drives bubbles up from below and boils, an image of blood, war and the holocaust (one of Godard's recurrent obsessions). It puts the Enlightenment spirit in the spotlight, distrustful, like a good Frenchman of the second half of the XNUMXth century, of its limits to be a purposeful guiding thread of history.

The references to Montesquieu's book are diverse and the frontispiece of the book itself appears as an image - but the sequence that begins this fourth segment was taken from the great documentary "La Commune, Paris 1871"/2000, the greatest work of director Peter Watkins, about the French revolt in XNUMXth century Paris. It is, therefore, through this tune, making a counterpoint between the Paris Commune and the “Spirit of the Laws”, that we advance in the fourth segment of “Image and Word”.

The passage of “Young Mr. Lincoln” is preceded by a brief flash of “The Man with the Camera”, by Dziga Vertov, a sort of reminiscence of Godard's Maoist past in 1968. The image of deformation in “Freaks” (1932, Tod Browning) appears shortly after “ Young Mr. Lincoln” and the pornographic parallel of the “lick the balls” image that follows gives the measure. After Lincoln, Godard finds the issue of faith and its affections pushing the boundaries of the law. “What does it matter, if everything is grace” tells us again the cavernous Godardian voice superimposed on the image of “Journal d”un Curé de Campagne” (Robert Bresson/1951) and Ingrid Bergman, as Joan of Arc (Victor Fleming /1948), burning in a bonfire with an expression more of joy than suffering.

The essayistic modality of “Image and Word”, at the level that writing is established, does not fit, nor should one seek, clear assertions to satiate a good conscience, be it demanding or indignant. Godard's critical view of Western civilization, and especially of North American cinema, is mixed with the contradictory admiration he has had for Hollywood since the days of “Cahiers”.

It is she who gives the center of gravity in “Histoire(s) du Cinéma” and clearly appears in her career in films such as “À Bout de Souffle”/1959, “Une Femme est um Femme”/1961, “Le Mépris”/ 1963, “Alphaville”/1965, “Made In USA”/1966, among others. In “Image and Word” we find ourselves in the clash between the rational-enlightenment ideal and the Godardian vision of politics and power. And politics/power have always been elements present in Godard's filmography, since the beginning of his dialogue with American cinema.

Following his time, the French director now feels himself in the lines of the current clash, showing how we can enunciate and confront the irrational forces of violence and fascism, as filmic figures. Cinema was part of the new technological demands that, like mass communication, crystallized in modes of expression in the last two centuries, bringing its specificity to the root of art and aesthetics.

In “Image and Word” the figures they assert always appear in the mode of citation and reflexivity. It's Godard reaching 90 years of age with a blurry cinema look. He works the brutality of the image in the destruction exerted by Western civilization and consumerist capitalism, as in the citation of “Weekend” (Godard, 1967); the unmistakable melancholy in the paradigmatic expression of Giulietta Masina in “La Strada” (Fellini, 1954); the profound agony of the end of the world that we breathe in the path of the suicidal boy in “Alemanha Ano Zero” (Rossellini, 1948) (in overprint with figures by Goya); in the heavy burden of Christian guilt that is shouldered in "Days of Wrath" (Dreyer, 1943); and also in the false guilt of “The Wrong Man” (Hitchcock, 1956 – with an aging Henry Fonda and lacking the confidence of 1939 “Young Mister Lincoln”); in the Columbine High School massacre seen through the eyes of Gus Van Sant in “Elephant”/2003 (example of “montage interdit”?, says the sign); in the aforementioned uprising of the little human monsters in “Freaks”/1932, incarnating through deformity the cry of insubordination; in the archetypal archival image of the Jewish, or gypsy, girl who briefly raises her eyes to the camera before being locked in a wagon to be shipped from Westerbrok to Auschwitz, where she would be killed (“Respite” by Harun Farocki / 2007).

At a certain point, still in this fourth segment, large letters occupy the screen with the phrase “montage interdit” (“forbidden montage”), an ethical commitment that sustains, at its core, the edifice of Bazin’s filmic aesthetics within which, one day, Godard took a breath – before questioning her (“Montage mon bon souci”, he published). They are figures, therefore, who, in the fourth segment, want to superimpose statements of the Enlightenment and fascist horror on the moral foundations of our time.

The screw is loose and the nut starts to turn falsely, Godard seems to tell us in the current dissonance. The spin has expanded so much that the coverage in the free movement is no longer natural and the friction is shown: “Il ya quelque chose qui cloche dans la loi”, tells us the voice off the field – something that turns false in law and in its "spirit".

After law, spirit and war comes the fifth part, the inhuman segment of “Image and Word”, entitled “La Région Centrale”. In it, the fifth finger of the hand that thinks of the body, according to the film's initial exposition, will now point to the beyond-body. It seems to show us what is expressed through the medium of the outside, in the “middle” of an entirely machinic mask, without humanity. The hand that, as a thought, groped and felt the matter of the image, now chooses the inhuman device because it is its source.

The machinic device of the camera-image is the possible parameter of positivity in the enunciation. The fifth segment of “Image and Word” is a kind of play with the raised index finger of the figure of Béssiane that crosses the film and makes up its poster. The raised finger recommends silence as a strategy of ignorance in this world that talks too much – and apparently means nothing.

“La Région Centrale”/1971 (thus, in French) is also the title of the main film by Michael Snow, director born in Anglo-Saxon Canada (Toronto), major character of North American experimental cinema of the 1960s/1970s. Despite the proximity, in the radical proposal and in the contemporaneity, the contacts between Godard and this avant-garde, with a more plastic cut and abstract figuration, were punctual, sporadically reverberating in his work. Perhaps it is an assumption that this direct homage to Snow wants to fill the gap, but it is a fact that the original work with the cinematographic device in the feature “La Région Centrale” (190 minutes) places a new enunciative layer on the essayistic intuitions of “Image and Word ”. It is Snow's film that provides the title anchor for the film's fifth segment.

Snow's avant-garde proposal in “La Région Centrale” is particular – and essentially inhuman. She wants to subtract the subjective dimension of the shot to the limit and places the camera on a robotic arm, designed as an immense machinic mechanism. Every film is taken from non-random initiatives of this mechanism. The mechanism was built to take shots with sudden movements, close to the ground or in a spiral (travellings forward and backward, horizontal, vertical, circular panoramas), without human participation, previously programmed and remotely controlled.

The most interesting thing is that this large filmic device that supports the camera in “La Région Centrale” was installed in isolated nature, in a deserted mountainous region, in northern Quebec. Michael Snow with his small team, and the immense robotic machinic device, were placed by a helicopter on the isolated mountain, which allowed the camera to make, by itself after being programmed, the free horizontal, vertical and curved movements that we see in the mounted shots of “La Région Centrale (there are 17 sequences that follow each other separated by the image of a large “x” that periodically occupies the screen). Filming took five days and the film's sound is made up of mechanical noises, without speech, originating from the electronic manipulation of the device.

It is this work, then, that lends its proposal to the fifth segment of “Image and Word”. The image of the machine filming around itself, and by itself (image of a machinic “in itself” without intention or memory) has an elaborate stylistic layer that is used by Godard. The pure machinic, transformed into the unit of film passing by, serves as a reference and contrast to the fat image of humanity and affections that, until this moment, has been figured in “Imagem e Palavra”.

Right at the beginning of the fifth segment, mention is made of the end of species, including the human species, and the different responsibility of those who have more or less resources in the process of extinction. Moving hands follow again as if they wanted to express human thought in the after all, through a digression, apparently by Blanchot, on time and its inherence in what sensation is. A large sign, “Hommage à la Catalogne”, makes reference to the extreme carnal experience, in the trenches of the Spanish Civil War (1936), of a young George Orwell. A voice tells us that, between the suffering that time brings, and the waiting that makes it excessive, “stories advance more slowly than actions are completed”. What opens time to the absence of time is perhaps its own way of referring to it beyond the experience of action.

Following the essayistic representation of emptiness, beyond negation, the broad peak of the finalist, sensorimotor filmic action-image is attacked. Human action, in the tradition of cinematographic classicism, is “fattened” by successive motives and emotions, which the spectator catches as in a game, but can be emptied by the deconstruction of affection in the film. mimesis.

This is what Godard tries to do: this motivational fishery of fiction is represented in a typical sequence of what Hitchcock calls “MacGuffin”. “MacGuffin” is a concept, invented by the English director, that brilliantly synthesizes the emptiness of intention in action. The explanation of the term is long, but it mainly refers to a fragile and implausible fictional “motif” that, despite its emptiness, manages to intensely anchor the tension of the plot, becoming the hypnotizing center of spectators.

The “MacGuffin”, mentioned by Godard in “Image and Word”, is known and analyzed in detail by Hitchcock, in the long interview he gave to the young François Truffaut (“Hitchcock/Truffaut: Interviews”): it is the rosy story of a bottle of wine with atomic material that, in “Notorius”/1944, takes Ingrid Bergman and Cary Grant to Rio de Janeiro. The shot that Godard reproduces in “Image and Word”, after the image of a beautiful and intense expression by Bergman, is the “close-up” on the key that opens the cellar where the fake “MacGuffin-motif” bottle is hidden.

There, too, the affections are many and loose, eagerly ready to stick, to hang, on the first hanger reason offered to them. Once again, the artist feels uncomfortable with the fat emotions of cinema, showing how they can be emptied, whether by the inhuman centrifugation that results from the motivational acceleration of the action-image in Hitchcockian cinema, or that of Michael Snow's experience of the machinic device. The brief citations, in “Image and Word”, of the machinic device of “La Region Centrale”, are rough: they travel through the desert and arid mountain soil, before advancing to the infinity of the sky. Perhaps they want to create an escape from the trap of humanism, a point dear to the dominant thought in French philosophy in the second half of the XNUMXth century.

The film “Image and Word” ends in a last segment, announcing the “Arabie Heureuse” (“Happy Arabia”). In this last part (a sort of sixth segment), Godard clearly slows down the pace of filmic quotations and engages the narrative in the plot of Albert Cossery's book, “Une Ambition dans le Déssert”. He highlights his philosophy of life. Happiness is now, it seems to tell us, and it is the delicacies of Arab civilization that sustain it. In the fiction that closes the film, an “over” voice, off-screen, narrates fragments of the book's plot. “Heurese Árabie” appears written on the canvas with the frontispiece of Alexandre Dumas’ book, “L”Árabie Heurese – souvenirs of voyages in Afrique et en Asia par Hadji-Abd-El-Hamid Bey”.

Dumas' “Arabie Heureuse” is also an expression to designate the south of the Arab region of the Gulf, more fertile than others and therefore “heureuse” (happy). The reference to the author of the plot, Albert Cossery, also mentions his personality. Cossery was considered a kind of convivial, appreciator of life in the present and without consequence. With this philosophy, Cossery, frequented the existentialist cream of the French intelligentsia in post-war Paris.

In reality, the “Arab” universe has always been very present for the French. Not only the “Berber” culture of North Africa, but also the Arabs of the Gulf, on whom the film dwells through the imaginary country “Doffa” of the novel. In recent years, the Arab presence has acquired somber colors in the European imagination as the attacks and the migratory crisis of the Syrian civil war intensify.

The issue of Europe and the European Union is a recurring theme in “Imagem e Palavra”, appearing at different moments in the film. The ISIS flag with a black background and its writing in white letters also appears here, although it does not compose the central horizon of the “Arabie Heureuse” part, inspired by Dumas and Albert Cossery. There is in the narrative a defense of the political option of the fictional caliphate of “Doffa” (through the character of Samanta) for a civilization without oil, something that would be unique and positive in the region.

Godard takes the opportunity to highlight the simple form, without the black gold, that nature involuntarily endowed the imaginary kingdom of “Doffa”, in the midst of other countries steeped in greed for wealth and power. Option that embodies the simplicity of life and escape from big capital, its brutality and its wars. It is an attempt at an ode, in the midst of horror, to the beauty of the light and colors of the sky, the sea and the Mediterranean sand, of faces and touch – beauties accentuated by the free work of digital coloring that manipulates the image on film. An excerpt from the novel “Salammbô” (1862), by Flaubert, read by the hoarse voice of Godard, gives us this idea when narrating an army of Barbarians, caravan in the desert, advancing over a Carthage in the mists and claiming the name of the heroine: “ Oh Salammbô”, “Oh Salammbô”.

In the “picture book”, therefore, two sides are placed by Godard's vigorous palette, between the farewell and the silence of horror. And, if we want to “read” the book – the “book of the film” as the title suggests – perhaps we should run it from the outside, as a great flow of image world. Perhaps we arrive, at this point of pure pulsation between silence and horror, close to an inspiration that makes the work disappear at the very moment it affirms it. Wouldn't that be where Godard lands, when he wants to be in the “book” of the Image, which brings itself as world and memory? A form that is written passing by, going towards an encounter, but which flows into a power of external horror of which it is the essence and cannot be said. The expression of the classic character of the heroine Bécassine, with her innocent Breton hillbilly manner and raised index finger, would be a paradigm.

This is how Godard's “picture book” ends: on the “heureuse” side, but closing in on itself as a formula, composed of “pages” that take us to a point of saturation and transcendence. Being the book of the “image”, it thus integrates the limits of the “book-film”, a metaphysical species also imagined by the poet Stéphane Mallarmé, when he thought of his mythical book: a “picture book”, only of the Image, beyond the borderline flow of the pages .

It is what designates the French title (“Le Livre d'Image”) of “Image and Word”. In Godard, the book-limit is carried by the weight of the world, carrying on its shoulders the burden of the present, of politics and of the representation of power. It ends in a dance sequence known from the history of cinema: in one of the episodes of the feature film “Le Plaisir”/1952, by Max Ophuls, it shows the moment in which what comes from life and pulsates in it, emerges with the intensity of dancing and suddenly stops. , in a sudden and absolute ending, in the midst of frantic movement. A body (Jean Galland) crashes to the ground with the violence of death. The beautiful counter-shot of Gaby Bruyère's gaze (the dancer who accompanied Galland forming the pair in the waltz), going towards the body that leaves the height of joy, is the last image, the one that ends, “Image and Word”.

The intensity and brutality of nothingness in death slip through the feel of the image in the recurrent finger of Bécassine, who, asking for silence, crosses the film. It is preceded, at this moment, by the initial image of “Citizen Kane” (Welles, 1941): “No Trespassing”, stamped in the foreground in the Wellesian plot. Godard’s “image book” is also unable to escape or penetrate, as it remains outside – and we would have to start there, in this blind spot of the film’s writing that ends in a black image and a voice without a field, speaking of its irremediable “mise en abyme”: “lorsque que je me parle à moi-même je parle la parole d”un autre que je me parle à moi-même” (“when I speak to myself I speak the speech of another that I speak to myself”).

*Fernao Pessoa Ramos is a professor at the Department of Cinema at Unicamp

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