Visions of the feminine in Jean-Luc Godard

Jean Seberg in Harassed by Jean-Luc Godard / YouTube Reproduction


Women in Godard are still a gold mine for feminist curiosity today

In the text published in Cahiers du Cinema, “Defense and illustration of the classical construction in cinema”, Jean-Luc Godard associates female beauty with cinema, almost ontologically: “A beautiful face, as La Bruyère wrote, is the most beautiful of visions. There is a famous legend that says that Griffith, moved by the beauty of his leading actress, invented the close up just to capture that face in more detail. Consequently, paradoxically, the simplest of close ups It's also the most exciting. In it our art reveals its transcendence in a stronger way, causing the beauty of the signified object to explode towards the sign. The huge, half-open eyes, denoting discretion and desire; the fugitive lips; all we see in this anguish is the dark design they imply, and in this recognition we see only the illustrations they hide. […] Cinema does not question the beauty of a woman, but doubts her heart, registers her perfidy (it is an art, says La Bruyère, of every person putting a word or action in order to bring about change), seeing only their movements.”[I]

Reading these words it is impossible not to stop thinking about the profoundly cinematic beauty of Godard's actresses, of Jean Seberg's carefree betrayal in harassed (1960) and, strongest of all, Anna Karina with her languid look at the camera in The Eleven Hour Demon (Pierrot, le Fou, 1965). The dichotomy between surface and secret, artifice and truth, is paradoxical. The artificial surface of feminine beauty can disguise an interior that can be unveiled only to reveal the danger of the femme fatale. But the artificial surface of cinematic illusion can disguise an interior, which, in turn, can be unveiled to reveal the real beauty of its materiality and its potential for analyzing political reality.

Jean-Luc Godard's shift toward a materialist aesthetic in the militant period of the late 1960s was accompanied by a shift toward Marxism. During his Marxist period, Godard reformulated the oppositions surface/secret, beauty/deception, which characterized his representations of women, in coherence with the fight against a capitalist, commodified society. It is from this struggle that he developed his other cinema, politically radical and aesthetically avant-garde. In place of a femininity of mystery, a femininity of enigma emerged, whose artifice and illusion could be emptied, together with the artifice and illusion of cinema and consumer society.

In a later, post-Marxist phase, Godard's cinema of the 1980s abandoned enigma and returned to mystery, away from curiosity and investigation, towards a new form of reverence. Such political changes affected both her cinema and the representation of women. The changes can be charted through his painful yet dogged engagement with sex, sexual difference, and femininity zigzagging through his cinema and his politics. Why does Godard teach us to question these sounds and images?

Em Ave Maria (1982), Maria visits the family doctor. Before examining her and confirming her virginal pregnancy, the doctor goes behind a screen to wash his hands, commenting something that she can't hear clearly. The camera is in a long shot, framing Maria sitting on the examination table, in underwear. She asks him to repeat his comment and the camera is repositioned on the doctor, in a medium shot, who then states, apparently more focused on the viewer than on Maria: “I have always wondered about what you can know about a woman and then I discovered that all you can know is what men already know: there is a mystery there.”

Before the Virgin Mary, naturally Mystery. It's as if Jean-Luc Godard fought for so long to break the surface that, in this film, he ends up stepping back to examine it reverently, albeit with a certain irony. However, in doing so, he installs a fetishistic concept of beauty, soft and complete, in cinema, in the woman's body, and a concept of nature that includes what cannot be known.

Cinema, the woman's body, “nature”. The aesthetics that emerge from this triad are very different from the aesthetics found in the political phases of Jean-Luc Godard. In the mid-1960s, in what can be defined as the Guy Debord phase,[ii] especially A Married Woman (Une Femme Mariée, 1964) e Two or Three Things I Know About Her (Deux Ou Trois Choses Que Je Sais D'elle, 1966) the triad was, on the contrary, cinema, the female body, consumer society. In its Marxist phase (e.g. british sounds, 1969, e Tout Va Vien, 1972), Godard tried to go beyond consumerism by investigating the process of producing goods itself. Cinema, the body, the factory.

Although such triads are necessarily reductive from a conceptual point of view, they draw attention to an important aspect of Godard's aesthetics, in which women continue to play a central role, despite changes and alterations in Godard's political agendas. In the 1980s, the significant relationship between the first two terms alternated in a way that allowed the appearance of those elements that had contributed to Godard's enormous theoretical influence in the 1960s and 1970s, now in a different mix with Passion (1981) First name: Carmen (1982) and Ave Maria. Passion It is a watershed, a moment in which Godard's aesthetic changes and political priorities take shape. Carmen is a transition film, a crisis film, which establishes the distance between Passion e Ave Maria.

Two different topographies highlight the network of connections between ideas, lapses in meaning, displacements and condensations that are exchanged in the triads. For example, both cinema and the eroticized female body and merchandise share the attribute of spectacle. They reinforce and overlap each other in a series of analogies. On the other hand, it can create a network of interconnections, especially along the lines of metonymy, so that the relationship between women and merchandise is more of a social alignment than an analogy or metaphor. On the other hand, in the form of the prostitute, the woman's relationship with the merchandise is analogous. Both are offered for sale on the market; both must produce a desirable surface; both must circulate devoid of any history beyond the moment of exchange.

Em Two or Three Things I Know About Her, Juliette/Marina Vlady is a blue-collar housewife who becomes a prostitute in order to buy consumer goods for herself and her family. In this way, it condenses, in a single figure, the metaphorical analogy of the commodity and the metonymy, the act of buying. Obviously, she also consumes to produce the desirable surface, the “look” that emerges through clothes and makeup, which, in turn, implies the seductive power of an eroticized surface, which implies something hidden, a secret, a mystery. By drawing attention to the commodification of women, both in consumer capitalism advertisements and, literally, in prostitution, Godard also draws attention to the eroticization of merchandise.

Again, a seductive surface implies something hidden. The two share a similarity of structure, which can also be extended to cinema and its investment in the fascinating surface that hides its own mechanisms. And cinema is itself, a commodity that circulates successfully through its power of seduction, generally contained in the presence of the eroticized female body on the screen. The similarity of structure creates a channel through which processes of displacement can circulate and, in this sense, metaphorical or metonymic relations are structured by a phantasmal homology.

Homology reinforces movements of ideas and establishes deep and subliminal connections between figurations that, on the surface, did not seem so intricately intertwined. The figuration of femininity is central and the feminine enigma allows Godard to suggest other enigmas (aesthetic, cinematographic, socioeconomic) of the commodity. The homologation of the surface, and its suggestion of the phantasmal “depth” projected behind, channels ideas and images into a network of intersecting displacements and condensations.

The issue of visibility arises here. Juliette's opaque, placid and passive exterior as a sexual object is juxtaposed with her inner thoughts in the soundtrack, transmitted only to the audience and not to the characters, while Godard's whispering voice mediates and comments on the action on screen, questioning its spontaneity. and autonomy. In the introduction of Two or Three Things I Know About Her, made by Marina Vlady, she, or perhaps (probably) Godard, quotes Bertold Brecht. The quote also creates a bridge between Brecht's dismantling of the “plenitude” of the spectacle, of the function of cinema as a commodity to be consumed, and the structure and function of market fetishism in advanced capitalist society. Although mediation is made possible by the figure of the prostitute (herself also a film star, spectacle and commodity), Godard's primary concern is with the fetishistic aspects of cinema.

If the fascination with the shiny, satiny surface of the screen could be unmasked to reveal the production process hidden there, cinema would be stripped of its fetishistic aspects. In Jean-Luc Godard, this desire to liberate cinema toward the spatiotemporal complexity of intertextual reference, direct interpellation, self-reflexivity, material specificity, and so on, parallels the Marxist desire to defetishize the commodity, making visible, through a political analysis, the specificity of its production process. The materialism of a modernist aesthetic meets Marxist materialism in Brecht and, through him, in Godard.

In its radical phase, Jean-Luc Godard's cinema aimed to reformulate cinematographic enjoyment, trying to create and challenge an audience that would be excited by the image, its cinematic specificity and the decoding of its meaning. I have already argued that the impulse of curiosity can be a critical response to the lure of voyeurism. The critic tries to turn fascinating images into enigmatic ones and decipher their meaning. A counter cinema tries to create images that fascinate because they arouse curiosity and challenge the audience to decipher meanings.

In this sense, the curiosity generated by a secret, something hidden and forbidden, expands to the curiosity generated by a puzzle, by something that needs to be unraveled. Images of women, long associated with fascination and enigma, occupy the center of the screen. They act like signs that, like a puzzle, can be deciphered to reveal something that was previously incomprehensible, a source of mystery. In the image of the prostitute, Godard subjected the mystery to the materiality of sexuality, capitalist production and, implicitly, cinema.

In two complementary scenes, Godard uses the figure of the prostitute to forge other chains of references between two contrasting aspects of capitalism and sexuality. In Two or Three Things, the two prostitutes are called to an American businessman's hotel suite. The client asks them to walk in front of him, one with the Pan Am flight bag and the other with the TWA flight bag on their heads, while he photographs them. The American's erotic investment in his expensive and powerful camera, as well as the women covered by the two huge logos, transform the prostitute/client relationship into a ritual that celebrates, in a grotesque way, the dependence of American capitalism on the representation of its phallic power as fetish of sexual pleasure, and merges merchandise with sexuality.

In the second scene of Save Yourself (1979), the prostitute and other subordinate employees create a “Heath Robinson sex machine” made of cold, impersonal, “Taylorized” erotic gestures, under the direction of the boss, for his benefit and satisfaction. While the first scene revolves around images of consumption, the second imitates the assembly line; while the first explores commodity fetishism, the second is a caricature of the production relations that fetishism hides.

However, the sex machine is itself, at the same time, deeply fetishistic. It employs the synchronized mechanical movements of the robot through which the production process – which would otherwise be very close to the exposition of the labor theory of value – can mask its secrets. Robert Stam describes the scene as follows: “Like a movie director (the boss) demands precise movements from his actors […] The orgy participants, like workers on the assembly line, are reduced to movements, spasms, moans and tremors well defined".[iii]

Raymond Bellour and Pascal Bonitzer likewise drew attention to the analogy. Bellour pointed out that the still frames of Save Yourself privilege particular moments of the film and “made impossible the imaginary pause that the image needs to satisfy its false plenitude”, and that they generate “the rebirth of the image, an impulse towards a painting-writing liberated from the illusory imaginary plenitude prescribed by the movement of advance of the machine”.[iv] There is also a sense of terminal loss, suggesting that Godard, this time, is not so much involved in the deconstruction of the cinema machine, or in its liberation, but, on the contrary, in recording the blocking of these processes. The imbrication of cinema, the factory and the body is there, visibly in movement, but it means nothing more than that.

Factory-body-cinema. The last traces of an analytical, politically radical Godard, especially personified in the character of Isabelle Huppert, in both films, fade somewhere between Save Yourself e Passion. In Passion these three great themes that preoccupied Godard for so long, occupy three distinct spaces that flood into each other through the intertwined threads of the narrative. Work-sex-sound/image. The sphere of the factory is represented by Isabelle Hupert as a worker, and Michel Piccoli as a boss. Piccoli's character is reminiscent of the boss/client in the sex machine scene in Save Yourself.

Isabelle's character is only linked to that scene due to the presence of the actress and the fact that her character is, at the beginning of the film, within the “sphere” of the factory/machine and subject to the power of the boss. The “sphere” of cinema is represented by the director, his cast, crew and studio (“the most expensive in Europe”), where they shoot a film, called Passion. The factory/cinema analogy continues, and there are several overlaps between the two spheres. Piccoli's presence, although here on the factory side, brings with it a spectral trace of his role as screenwriter in: The Contempt (Contempt, 1963), rewriting the Odyssey, more or less like, in this film, the director tries to recreate paintings by the great masters. In both behavior and social gestures, dramatic personae of the film crew echo the factory hierarchy and division of labor. Jerzy, the director is authoritarian and peremptory on the film set. Sophie, the production assistant, behaves much more like factory supervisors; she insists on rules, the importance of productivity and the place of narrative in cinema.

Patrick, assistant director, behaves much more like a section chief; he threatens and admonishes the extras to “work,” rounding them up and supervising the administration of the set, literally “hunting” the women. The “sphere” of sex/body is represented by Hanna Schygulla, Piccoli’s wife and owner of the hotel, where the cast and crew stay, and the world of cinema overlaps with that of the neighboring factory. Jerzy spends time with Hanna instead of directing the film, forcing her to watch a video of her face in close up, recorded under intense emotion, when he tries to persuade her to enter the world of cinema and play a role in “Rubens”.

Isabelle, the factory worker, is fired at the beginning of Passion. His narrative focuses primarily on the struggle he wages for readmission or compensation, and thus apparently is in tune with Godard's earlier commitment to class struggle. His character is physically and emotionally vulnerable. Her slight stutter conveys a lack of mastery of the language and cultural discourses that isolate her from the world of cinema and art. Towards the end of the film, Piccoli capitulates and pays her, exhausted by the excruciating cough that prevents her from continuing the fight.

Suddenly, from a worker, Isabelle is transformed into a free agent, a potential businesswoman, able to decide her future, as if the narrative had decided to abandon the signifier of the working class and its struggle, in a gesture towards another type of production ꟷ the artistic, rather than economic or political. Cinema, however, remains a central point of investigation and questioning, but the “how” now turns more towards questions of creativity, although the economic and technical aspects remain present.

The relationship between Jerzy and Isabelle points to parallels between the latter's struggle with the factory boss and the former's struggle to reconcile the industrial demands of production and distribution with creative autonomy. On another level, there is a parallel between Isabelle's stutter (her struggle for articulate speech) and the director's loss of control over the film project. Both try to find a fluent form of expression, but find themselves blocked.

The director must look for a way out of the film without having to resort to a plot, as required by investors, Sophie and general expectations. He is obsessed with his inability to master the lighting on set. Want to recreate paintings to then film some of the most famous paintings in Western art in three dimensions. Created by the painter on a flat surface, with the illusion of depth and movement frozen for a second, these images have to move from trompe-l'oleil from the surface of the frame to the trompe-l'oeil of the screen surface. In this process, the director, like Michelange in Wartime (Les Carabiniers, 1963), attempts to penetrate the implicit space of these famous paintings, transforming them into volumes for the camera's exploration and participation.

beautiful paintings they are recreated in large settings like labyrinths, which channel and thus block the fluidity of the camera movement. A technician with a video camera can break through this trompe-l'oeil magical by showing your production processes on screen. While the metaphor of “undressing” evokes the surface/secret dichotomy suggested by the fetish, the more appropriate metaphor here would be “penetration,” not behind but within the surface. The surface now has its own channel behind it, disconnected from any mode of production or anything that overlaps it, in a celebration of the fetishization of the surface as such. The escape from the dilemma of fetishism, from the radical need to defetishize cultural production, is a sign of the end of the machine age, the end of the problematic of modernism and the politics that characterized both.

The mutual recognition between Isabelle and Jerzy is like a last remaining trace of the theoretical condensation of production processes, in capitalism and in art, that characterized Godard's previous deconstructive and Brechtian aesthetic. In passion, Godard's priorities seem to change course. As if he describes the shift in emphasis in his work, away from materialistic modernism toward an exploration of art's own problems of creativity.

From this perspective, Isabelle would represent (until her victory) the past in relation to Godard's own shift in political trajectory and the general change in the political climate of the 1980s, when, in the words of André Gorz, “goodbye to the working class” was proclaimed. . Jerzy describes himself as someone who seeks a solution to his problems with cinema between two women “as different as day and night”. The problem of cinema is imbricated in the female body, in a strange reversal of those concerns of the 1960s with the demystification of the spectacle society and its investment in sexuality.

Em Passion, Jean-Luc Godard begins to reconstitute the female body as a scenographic accessory in cinema. At the end of the film, in a gesture that marks his departure from the daily life of political struggle, Jean-Luc Godard abandons everyday life towards a “real” world of fiction and fantasy. A young dancer and acrobat, who works as a maid at the hotel, gives the film an ending. Jerzy is her “prince” and she, “princess”, who accepts a ride in her car when he informs her that it is not a simple car, but a magic carpet that will take them back to Poland. The film ends with the escape from the cinema and factory space, while the space of the body, signified by the feminine, is incorporated into the escapist fantasy typical of a fairy tale.

After Passion, Jean-Luc Godard made two consecutive films that deal directly with the myths of feminine mystery and the enigma of the woman's body. These also form a diptych through which Godard returns to his old pre-Marxist obsession with the duality of cinema: magic versus the reality. The two mythologies of the feminine are, therefore, diametrically opposed to each other.

One, First name: Carmen, reworks in its main guiding thread Prosper Mérimée's 1845 novel, whose heroine, thanks to the success of Bizet's 1875 opera, quickly became an icon of female seduction and infidelity, as well as an exuberant sexuality. The other, Ave Maria, in a bold way, retells the myth of the Annunciation and Birth, and the story of Mary, an icon of Christian culture regarding female chastity, submission to God and spirituality. The problem of cinema once again finds an analogy or a metaphorical representation in the mystery of the woman. The two types of cinema, the cinema of magic/desire (Carmen) and the cinema of spirituality/truth (Maria), are reworked through metonymies related to the place occupied by the female body in Godard's previous works and represent a moment of crisis. There is a sudden understanding that creativity depends on desire, but that desire distracts from creativity.

Em Ave Maria, Godard finds a seemingly paradoxical way of restoring the spiritual (the unnatural nature of the Virgin Birth) to cinema. It's not quite a new path, but rather a return to a spiritual tradition of cinematic realism and to some mentors who preceded Godard: Dreyer, Rossellini, Bresson. Godard subordinates magic, implicit in the belief in the Virgin Birth, to mystery and returns his cinema to nature by the hands of God. The cinematic representation of nature becomes mysterious, cynically deprived of its previous realistic aspiration. Only Jean-Luc Godard's instinctive knowledge of the contradictions inherent in cinema, his deep involvement with debates regarding the nature of this medium, could pose such a paradox so precisely. And only a desperate obsession with the enigma of the feminine could invoke Virgin Mary as a paradox in itself. Thus, as the two films polarize the feminine into a binary opposition, the carnal and the spiritual, ghosts of previous polarizations also return.

Jean-Luc Godard's dualistic, almost Manichaean attitudes have been present since the beginning of his career as a director, or even before, as a critic, when articulating his conception of cinema. As a critic, Jean-Luc Godard conveyed his ideas through names (“criticism taught us to love both Rouch and Eisenstein”), constantly reiterating an opposition between research and documentary (Lumière) and spectacle or fiction (Méliès); on one side Rossellini, on the other Nicholas Ray.

Through these oppositions, Jean-Luc Godard tried to negotiate the problem of truth and aesthetics in cinema. From the beginning, that is, from Patrícia's betrayal of Michel Poiccard in harassed, the divide between a woman's seductive appearance and her deceptive, or mysteriously unknown, essence, was a recurring theme in Godard's work. Not just another dramatic figure, but a metaphor for the deeper philosophical problem of the divide between essence and appearance. This is a registration issue. Ave Maria it is a return to this problem, but in a strange way mapped by/through the question of truth as the presence of the invisible and the spiritual manifested by/through the woman's body.

The homology that Godard makes between female sexuality, artifice and deception naturally has a rich history in Western culture; and there are countless fatal women who could represent the myth that he realized with the story of Carmen, while only one woman, the Virgin Mary herself, could represent the other side of this antinomy. In the myth of the Mother of God, the enigmatic and dangerous mystery of female sexuality is exorcised, but only through another mystery, the power of God. And, paradoxically, the mystery can be understood only through blind subservience to irrational belief. Belief in God depends on belief in woman's impossible virginity, which represents her "wholeness," an evisceration of her psychologically threatening and physically repugnant "inside." It is only as a “whole” that the woman can remove the mask of artifice with which she both deceives the man and hides the truth of her body.

Simple polarization, however, will always comprise union, as well as opposition, and the attributes that separate Carmen and Maria only superficially hide the underlying “fit” between them. Both myths revolve around the mysteries of the female body and its definitive status as the unknowable. Both myths symbolize ground zero for Godard, in which the mystery of the feminine, profoundly destructible on one level, becomes the threshold for and the signifier of other, deeper mysteries. There is a complete fusion between the enigmatic properties of femininity and the mysteries of origins, particularly the origins of creativity whether the creation of life or the creative processes of art.

In both films, the forces of nature have an unprecedented presence in Godard's cinema. Although landscape has always played its role in his cinema, alongside quotes and works of art (the journey through France in The Eleven O'Clock Demon, the Mediterranean in The Contempt, Denise's bike ride in Save Yourself, the sky in Passion), in these two films the landscape evolved into nature, and in both, it is associated with the feminine.

On the other hand, femininity cannot be separated from performance, Nietzsche ends “On the Problem of the Actor” in The Gay Science with the following words: “Finally, women. Think of the whole history of women: doesn't she have to be first and foremost an actress? Listen to the doctors who hypnotized women; finally, love them – let yourself be mesmerized by them! What is always the end result? They 'put something on' even when completely undressed. Women are so artistic.”[v]

It's easy to see the phrase “women are so artistic” in Jean-Luc Godard's mind's eye. At what point does art transform into artifice and artifice into art? The aesthetic problem posed by the deterrent nature of the actor worried Godard in the spirit of Nietzsche's comment: “Falsehood with a good conscience; the pleasure in simulation exploding like a power that sets aside one's so-called 'character', flooding it and sometimes extinguishing it; the inner longing for a role and a mask, for appearance.”[vi]

Em A Married Woman, Charlotte interrogates her actor/lover showing the same doubts about how to read his inner being through appearance, which is usually projected by men onto women. It was this distrust in performance which pushed Godard towards the distanced and visible separation between actor and role, characteristic of his cinema in the late 1960s.[vii] Such distrust then extends to the simulation and fiction of cinema itself. The simulation of women, like that of cinema, is spectacle, and what can only be seen as a surface still hides its secrets.

When watching First name: Carmen, many critics were surprised by Myriem Roussel's resemblance to Anna Karina. As Virgin Mary in Ave Maria, Roussel transforms perfidy into purity, transforming Marianne (The Eleven O'Clock Demon) in Nana (Live life), whose sexuality has been erased. The beauty of her body may still fascinate the camera, but she acts as a conduit for a new kind of cinema, one that can transcend materiality. Man and cinema can fantasize about liberation from the slavery of sexuality. While Carmen closes the theme of beauty and lack of faith in femme fatale and, by extension, in Hollywood cinema, the theme of the spiritual in nature, represented by Mary, resurrects the ghost of other cinema and the meaning of Rossellini for Godard during a certain era.

In an interview for Cahiers du Cinema, in 1962, he said: “Rossellini is something more. In it a plan is beautiful because it is correct: in most others a plan becomes correct because it is beautiful. They try to build something wonderful and if in fact it is achieved, it can be seen that there were reasons for doing so. Rossellini does something for which he initially had some reason to do so. It’s beautiful because it is.”[viii]

Cinema is the only art that, as Cocteau says (in Orpheus, I believe), shows “death at work”, a phrase reworked by Godard as “death twenty-four times a second”. This quote resurrects another, less obvious influence on Godard: André Bazin, devout Catholic, co-founder of Cahiers du Cinema and its editor from 1951 until his death in 1958. Bazin argues, in “The Ontology of the Photographic Image”, that the origins of art lie in the human desire to overcome death, mummify the body and conquer time: “the preservation of life through a representation of life”. In the history of art, this “creation of an ideal world in the likeness of the real” was adulterated by the need for illusion, the “propensity of the mind towards the magical dimension”, and it was only Niépce and Lumière who redeemed art from this sin. Bazin wrote: “For the first time only the instrumentality of a non-living agent intervenes between the object of origin and its reproduction. […] Photography affects us like a phenomenon in nature, like a flower or a snowflake whose vegetal or terrestrial origins are an inseparable part of their beauty.”[ix] It compares the shared nature between object and its photo with the fingerprint.

In Charles Peirce's semiotic categories, the fingerprint is an index, the sign in which the object leaves its unmediated vestige purpose, just as light in photography transports the image to celluloid. Peter Wollen associates Bazin's index aesthetic with his interest in the spiritual: “It was the existential link between fact and image, world and film, that counted most for Bazin's aesthetic, and not any quality of similarity or resemblance. Hence the possibility – or even the need – of an art that could reveal spiritual states. There was, for Bazin, a double movement of printing, of molding and pressing: the first – the inner spiritual suffering – was stamped on the outer physiognomy, then, the outer physiognomy was stamped and printed on the sensitive film” [X].

Here, the problem of the relationship between interior and exterior, between an appearance and what it can hide, is erased as the presence of the divine is inscribed in the world, in nature and in the soul, inscribed on the face of man. Cinema, in turn, finds an integration between its mechanical nature and its recording ability. The division between cinema as a surface illusion and the mechanics of illusion that produces it is erased. For Jean-Luc Godard, however, there is a difficult tension between cinema's imbrication of women's beauty, and therefore its perfidy, and the realization of Bazin's aesthetics. While on Live life (1962), Anna Karina, as Nana, cries when she sees Falconetti's face in The Passion of Joan of Arc (1927), by Dreyer, Godard is paying tribute to Dreyer's image, in which the spirituality of the soul is indistinguishable from the spirituality of cinema.

The Mary played by Myriem Roussel could have been born from the gap between Karina/Nana, innocent but a prostitute, irrevocably subordinated to the body and the sexual, and Falconetti's Joan, uncontaminated by the sexual in the spiritual power of God. Peter Wollen noted that Bazin saw in Bresson's films 'the revelation of an inner destiny' and, in Rossellini's films, 'the presence of the spiritual' is expressed with 'a surprising obviousness'. The exterior, through the transparency of images stripped of everything that is not essential, reveals the interior. Bazin emphasized the importance of physiognomy, upon which – as in Dreyer's films – the inner spiritual life was carved and imprinted.”[xi]

Raymond Bellour shows that the index is, at the same time, the most material and the most spiritual of signs. In his Marxist period, Jean-Luc Godard sought reality through materialism, rather than through a cinema that was established on the cusp of illusion and spirituality. From a materialist point of view, the truth lies in the revelation of production relations, whether those of capitalist society or cinema itself. In this sense, the beauty of the filmic image does not come from the registration of something mystically inherent to the pro-filmic, but from the inscription of the normally erased presence of cinematographic production processes.

The presence of the camera, its inscription in the scene, illuminates the now of the filmic moment in its indexicality and, when Godard's characters spoke directly to the camera, not only did the documentary become fiction, but that moment was then brought to the camera. true projection of the finished film, and the screen would speak, with each projection and at that exact moment, to the spectator of the future. It would be as if, with the recognition of the presence of the cinema apparatus, everything that is usually hidden and polished in the film-making process could reveal the secret space of cinematic truth. Direct reference to the camera, therefore, would reveal the obscured space of the audience. Brecht's realistic aesthetics are not the same as Bazin's. Furthermore, while Godard was able to defetishize cinema and shed light on the fetishistic imbrication between women as appearance and the dissimulated nature of the commodity in late capitalism, his iconography of the feminine on screen was never freed from fetishistic polish.

Above I described Passion as a watershed in the work of Jean-Luc Godard. Spheres of narrative space, separated into thematic bands, replaced the chapter structure that Godard used in Save Yourself, it is often in previous films as well. In Passion, Godard's new search for purity, previously transmuted into materialism, takes the form of a division of the different constitutive narrative parts of the film into distinct, almost autonomous spheres. The divisions are even more significant in First name: Carmen. Carmen and eroticism are a function of image, while Claire and purity materialize through music. It is as if the elements of the film, normally presented together in a certain hierarchical organization, had been unfolded in such a way that the sound takes over the image and this comes to generate the soundtrack.

First name: Carmen it is divided into different spaces according to formal “threads”, rather than narrative or thematic ones. The music is taken from Beethoven's late string quartets. A quartet of musicians is used with the intention of showing a performance informal and the “chamber”, a space in which the quartet’s components rehearse, materializes throughout the space of the story in order to give an image to the music on the soundtrack[xii]. Jean-Luc Godard, in an interview, defined the sound in this film as a “sculpture”.

Em First name: Carmen, the only character from the musical sphere who has contact with the narrative is Claire (Myriem Roussel, who would appear as Maria in the next film), although the quartet is present, as is indeed the rest of the cast, in the final hotel scene. While the sky and countryside create a soundtrack of sound and image, establishing a counterpoint to Beethoven (and Claire), and acting as a metaphorical extension of Carmen. In the same way, the narration track – or the passion for cinema – is personified in the presence of the director on screen. It exists in a kind of limbo, occasionally overlapping the space of the story itself, dominated by “Carmen.” The narrator's participation in the narrative already existed in Mérimée's original story, but Jean-Luc Godard's presence also appears through the materialization of his whispered voice, so familiar from previous soundtracks, and, once again, as a reverse of his appearances. previous deconstructivists, as part of the production process.

Em First name: Carmen, Jean-Luc Godard appears as the film's director, who takes refuge in a clinic (for the physically and mentally ill) because he cannot make films. He's not exactly sick. On the contrary, the fever he needs to be hospitalized appears to be the same fever he needs to make films. For the director, it is understood, cinema is a necessary object, without which the world would be unbearable. Although his special camera is with him, like a fetishized object, there in the hospital room he is unable to invoke cinema alone. When the nurse comes to check his temperature, gently encouraging his desire for a fever, he replies: “If I stick my finger in your ass and count to thirty-three, will I be able to get a fever?”

In the next scene, Carmen appears, so to speak as if she were called. Unlike the nurse, who seems to function more as a channel for desire, Carmen represents the feminine as “to be looked at”. And such investment, in its seduction, creates the sense of surface, of resplendence and shine, which theorists of the sixties and seventies associated with the fetishism of both merchandise and cinema, and which feminist theorists associated with the specularization of the female body. Carmen is the director's niece, whom he has wanted since she was a girl. She asks Uncle Jean for help with a film she is making with friends, and thus marks the beginning of desire, fiction, adventure and fantasy.

Like the tower that begins to collapse at the beginning of The Poet's Blood (1930) and collapses at the end, placing parentheses on all intermediate action as subjective, outside of time and space, the nurse seems to place the narrative action in Pronoun: Carmen also in parentheses. When Uncle Jean's coat needs to be mended during a production meeting, the nurse reappears as a member of the wardrobe team and remains a constant and inseparable companion, acting (in the sense of having a role, with appropriate gestures and phrases) as production assistant – a residue of Sophie's role in Passion. At the end of the film, Uncle Jean tells him, "That was a long thirty-three seconds."

Jean-Luc Godard's situation is ironic, sad and harshly self-parodic, as if to deflate the accusations that his more recent cinema would probably receive, say, from feminist or political sectors. He portrays the dilemma of the film director as incorrigibly dependent, masochistic, exploitative. Cinema and sexuality merge in a shamelessly masculine condensation, at the same time apologetically powerless. The director's fever rises with and through the female body, as if, in the zero moment of creativity, Jean-Luc Godard confronted foundations and found nothing except desire for desire's sake. Cinema that materializes slowly, like a genie masturbating out of its bottle, is therefore a distillation, almost an abstraction or a daydream within the very limits of the filmmaker's fantasy. And the genius appears in the form of the femme fatale, Carmen, also invoking, in a generic way, Jean-Luc Godard's first great passion: the film noir.

When there First name: Carmen, for the first time, I was thrilled. Not because of the movie. It was the director's story or problem that moved me. It was probably the situation of the film in Jean-Luc Godard's own story, the leap from self-referentiality to nostalgia. The final titleIn memoriam of small films” brought to mind the dedication to Monogram Pictures from harassed. There is then a double palimpsest, a layer revealing his first works and, deeper, the traces of Hollywood cinema, which was his original starting point. The bridge connecting the past to the present still inscribes the presence of the subjects that crossed paths. Just as Jean-Luc Godard represents the apogee of radical cinema in the sixties, his work also raises the question of what happens after innovation.

The political filmmaker, working within the ethos of a particular historical conjuncture, it has to work directly with time – its passage and propensity – like a sea sweeping away a radical movement, an avant-garde, leaving its members stranded above the tide line. The theme and images of “being stranded” are central in First name: Carmen. Appears in repeated planes of the sea. And the director's feeling of having been abandoned by cinema is dramatically reenacted when José is definitively abandoned by Carmen. The cinema itself or, more precisely, the video camera is used only by the young people, synthetically, as if to mask their attempted kidnapping.

Se Pronoun: Carmen marks a moment of crisis in the history of Jean-Luc Godard, it also reveals the essential constituent elements of his most recent cinema, that which remains when everything else is removed. In the early eighties, with First name: Carmen, Jean-Luc Godard's return to cinema "as such" takes the form of a desperate return to zero, ironically inverting the excitement of the 1968 return to zero. The return to zero is a return to the origins of the director's own primal desire through cinema, and not to point zero that investigates the circulation and social significance of images as, for example, in Le Gai Savoir (1968). His struggle is now to represent what makes cinematic creation possible: his obsessive, romantic, illusory control over the director, and not a Brechtian, modernist struggle to represent the process of cinematographic production and the process of meaning production.

Although there is a dogged courage in Jean-Luc Godard's “self-portrait,” as the director who sees cinema slipping through his fingers, and a poetic heroism in his ability to transform even this allusion of loss into new “sounds and images,” the question remains: why, in a moment of crisis, should he return to such specific sounds and images? And, above all, what is the significance of the juxtaposition of Carmen over Claire/Marie as two polarized icons of the feminine?

My rush of nostalgia when watching First name: Carmen focused mainly The Eleven O'Clock Demon. This film was already a version of Carmen's story. That is, a story of crazy Love, in which an essentially respectable and law-abiding hero is led by an irresistible, unfaithful woman to descend into the underworld and a life of crime, escaping from the police. The end is death. Ferdinand kills Marianne and commits suicide; Dom José kills Carmen, who prefers death to losing her freedom, and, in Mérimée's original, as in First name: Carmen, Dom José/José hands himself over to the police. Carmen's story revolves around the separation of the hero's everyday, adjusted life from another hell of passion, violence and adventure. The bridge that unites the two sides of this gap is the spell cast over Ferdinand by Marianne, over José/Dom José by Carmen, over Michel O'Hara by Else Bannister in The Lady of Shanghai (1948). In all these cases the hero's passion for the heroine is ambivalent.

“Carmen” returns to “Pierrot” not just through almost subliminal references, like the whistled phrase of “Au clair de la lune” or José's repeated refusal to be called Joe (“Je m'appelle Ferdinand/José”) , but through a return to the type of cinema defined at the beginning of Demon of the Eleven O'Clock by Sam Fuller, who appears as himself: “A movie is a battlefield. Love. Hatred. Action. Violence. Death. In a word: emotion.” The bank robbery staged by Carmen moves Joe – from the side of the law to the side of crime – just as the confrontation between Marianne and the firearms smugglers moves Ferdinand from the position of a respectable member of the bourgeoisie to the underworld.

Displacement is an effect of Hollywood cinema, which greatly impacted film critics. Notebooks. Ferdinand had forgotten that he was expected at a party with his wife and had sent the maid to watch Johnny Guitar (1954). In the absence of the maid, Marianne appears as a nanny. Just as Sterling Hayden and Joan Crawford meet again after five years of separation, Marianne and Ferdinand meet again and go back in time five years. In both, The Demon and Carmen: crazy Love leads to violence and the path of crime, persecution and death (“Une saison en enfer”). “Emotion” is also movement, moving images, movement of the narrative, the adventure that takes over the hero, and the fascination exercised by the heroine, which brings together all the other levels of movement. Both Joe and Ferdinand are abandoned in the story when they are no longer wanted by the heroine. Ferdinand is exploited in the final robbery, and his sexual impotence is compounded by his narrative impotence.

For both Josés (the Dom and the Saint) sexual desire is like an emasculated slave of the feminine, leading to debasement, whether with reconciled exaltation, in Maria, or with antagonistic aggression, in Carmen. The two men are objects of the irrational and the unknowable in the woman, and the two women are described as “taboo.” The reference in First name: Carmen is derived from the words of Carmen jones (1954) by Preminger: “You look for me and I'm taboo – but if you're difficult – I'm the one who looks for you, if I do that – you're finished – because if I love you it's the end of you!” In Ave Maria the angel explains to Joseph that “taboo overcomes sacrifice”. Both men have to endure extremes of jealousy.

Carmen wants to discover “what a woman can do with a man”, Maria has to teach a man how to relate to her body without sexuality. In each film, the iconography of the central female character contrasts with the iconography of a secondary female character. While Claire, in First name: Carmen foreshadows Mary, and is distanced from the carnal world of Carmen by the spiritual abstraction of music, Eve, in Ave Maria, is the presence of sexuality. She is a student taking classes on the origins of the universe from an exiled Czech professor, with whom she falls in love. Eva is first shown sitting in the sun trying to solve the Rubik's Cube puzzle. It represents the curiosity of its namesake, but at the same time, the puzzle reflects the overall theme of mystery and enigma that runs through the film.

In juxtaposition to the greater enigma, Mary's pregnancy and giving birth, the mystery of the origins of life is discussed by the students. The professor maintains the view that the beginning of life was “organized and willed by a resolute intelligence” that interacted with chance at a given moment to overdetermine the course of nature. To prove the master's point, Eva stands up behind Pascal, covering his eyes, and guides him, step by step, through the Rubik's Cube puzzle. Her instructions: “yes… no… no… yes… yes… yes”, are repeated by Mary as she guides Joseph’s hand across her belly, teaching him to deal with her body without touching it and to accept the mystery that the involves.

While Carmen is associated with the incessant movement of the sea, the waves on the beach and the tide. Maria is associated with the moon and the serene surfaces of water, sometimes disturbed by ripples. The moon and water are ancient symptoms of the feminine (opposed to the sun and earth), and the moon and the tide coexist in a cyclical time of repetition and return, which radically breaks with the linear time of history, for example, and its utopian aspiration towards progress. Godard associates the cyclic with the sacred and the feminine. The round shape of the moon is reduplicated in Mary's iconographic attribute, the ball that she carries with her for the team to train and that José takes from her hand whenever he challenges her chastity. The ball is round and complete, the feminine circle again, impenetrable, without any holes. In this sense, the ball functions as an object of rejection, not in the classic script of fetishism, which denies and finds a substitute for the lack of the mother's penis, but, instead, a denial of the wound, the open vagina, the hole .

In one of the most complex and beautifully orchestrated planes of Passion, the camera moves between the space of the film crew and the space of the set, contrasting the work involved in producing the image consisting of a beautiful naked girl, who, at the director's request, floats spread out in the shape of a star, in an eastern lake. As the camera slowly moves across the surface of the water, it appears opaque due to the reflection of small points of light like the wavering stars reflected in the opening of Ave Maria.

As the camera approaches the director, his friend asks him where he is looking. He responds, “to the wound of the world,” and then goes out and tries to improve the lighting on the set. The theme returns in First name: Carmen, when, after having sex with Carmen for the first time, José says: “Now I understand why prison is called 'the hole'”. Mary's virginal body, on the other hand, is perfect. At one point in their aggressive, tempestuous relationship, the angel asks Joseph: “What is the common denominator between zero and Mary?” And he himself responds: “Mary’s body, idiot.”

Zero, as a magical point of return to a new departure, the perfect circle, the space of the uterus, the interior of the female body that is not the hole/vulva/wound. When the dresser sews the hole in Godard's jacket in First name: Carmen, he seems to suggest an affinity between the function of suture in cinema (the element considered most responsible, during the deconstruction of the seventies, for the false cohesion of conventional cinema and the result it produced) and the fear of the empty hole, of wound. The fetishism of the smooth cinematic surface – and the perfect surface of the woman’s body – revives, but only to the extent that “I know despite everything…”

Maria separates female sexuality, the female genitalia that represents the wound, from reproduction, from the uterus space. The most frequently reproduced still from the film acquired by itself something like a status fetish. José's hand goes to Maria's belly, stretched out in a curve and framed precisely at the height of her groin and shoulders. José accepts the mystery, in relation to and through Maria's body, so that the enigmas of femininity and female sexuality are resolved and sanitized in a polarized opposition in relation to Carmen's sexualized body, which must remain basically imprecise and unknown.

Em Save Yourself, prostitute Isabelle has sex with customer Paul while her inner monologue is heard on the soundtrack. Constance Penley asks: “The moment she is presented precisely as the inevitable icon of the pornographic love scene, through the close up of her face moaning as a guarantee of pleasure, Isabelle is heard thinking about the tasks that lie ahead.”[xiii]. Jean-Luc Godard illustrates the void between the visible and the invisible, an external artifice that combines belief with an interiority that demands recognition. This blind spot in men's knowledge of women's sexual pleasure reinforces the castration anxiety caused by the female genitalia, separated, as it is, from the female reproductive organs, lacking any “sign” of pleasure.

Gayatri Spivak discusses the problem that female sexuality presents to men, as that which cannot be known. She quotes Nietzsche as saying that women are “so artistic”: women personify themselves as having orgasms even at the time of orgasm. Within the historical perception that women are incapable of orgasm, Nietzsche argues that embodiment is women's only sexual pleasure. At the moment of greatest 'self-possession plus ecstasy', the woman possesses herself to organize a self-(re)presentation without a real presence to (re)present sexual pleasure.”[xiv]. It’s easy to see, as I said above, the phrase “women are so artistic” in Godard’s mind’s eye. At what point does art transform into artifice and vice versa? The simulation of women, like that of cinema, is spectacle, and what can only be seen as a surface still hides its secrets; whatever the viewer wants to see, they may still suspect…

Right at the end of Ave Maria, Maria sits alone in a car; her face in close-up. She takes her lipstick out of her purse and puts it on her lips. The camera zooms in until it fills the frame with the shape of her mouth, which becomes dark and cavernous, surrounded by her shiny, freshly painted lips. She lights a cigarette. The cycle closes: the Virgin turns into a prostitute, the hole again breaks perfection from zero. The representation of women is simultaneously associated with sexuality, cosmetic appearance; and even returns it to its place among the set of objects defined by an inside/outside, apparent/hidden topography.

I have tried here to show how a common topographic structure facilitates the construction of analogies that, although they change with the context, are central to the structure of Jean-Luc Godard's ideas. It is as if analogy was perhaps made possible by homology. The image of an enclosure protecting an interior space or contents from view usually implies that, if the exterior ruptures, the interior contents may be unsightly and possibly damaged. From a psychoanalytic point of view, the protective surface is a defense constructed by the ego through the fetish. He denies the interior, but because he knows that the exterior is an exterior that recognizes the interior. Feminine beauty, in a sense, fulfills this function by fixing the gaze on something that pleases and prevents the psyche from bringing unpleasant aspects of the feminine to mind.

Therefore, even if Carmen brings death and destruction, the female figure who embodies her brings to the screen an image of youthful perfection. This image on the screen is a projected photo, a shadow, eviscerated from the bodily fluids associated with the maternal body. However, the cinema also has interiors that are less visible and less fascinating than the screen. It is a machine that works only with money, and that produces a commodity for circulation in the market, which needs to disguise the labor that created it, as well as its own uncontrollable and noisy mechanism while it waits to be fully surpassed by electronics.

Although Jean-Luc Godard's cinema becomes increasingly concentrated on the surface, the author does not return to a cinema of plenitude and cohesion. He rigorously breaks down the elements of sound, image and narrative. His films still reveal the process, especially through the relationship between the soundtrack and the image. However, the effort to articulate social contradiction with the struggle for change no longer exists. In Ave Maria, the old political concern with work and the relationship of production in contemporary capitalist society is replaced by concern with creativity and the relationship of the spiritual with the origins of being. Such mysteries, in particular nature and women, are penetrated only by God.

The myths, clichés and fantasies that circulate around Carmen and Maria constitute not a mystery, but a “rebus” for feminist criticism of Godard. But by telling these stories again, Jean-Luc Godard shows not only that they have the features of Janus, but in particular, how revealing they are for culture. Although trying to decode a deep-rooted but interesting misogyny, I think that Jean-Luc Godard's cinema knows its own constraints and is still trying, striving to give sound and image to mythologies that haunt our culture, although no longer able to challenge it. . For feminist curiosity it is still a gold mine.

*Laura Mulvey She is a film director and critic. Author, among other books of Citizen Kane (Rocco).

Translation: Luiz Antonio Coelho e Joao Luiz Vieira.


[I] Jean-Luc Godard, “Defense and Illustration of the Cinema’s Classical Construction.” In: Tom Milne (org.) Godard on Godard. London: BFI, Secker & Werburg, 1972, p. 28 (

[ii] The relationship between the spectacle and commodity fetishism was established by Guy Debord in his small book The Society of the Spectacle, which had great influence in the late sixties, culminating in May 1968. He wrote: “the spectacle is the moment in which the commodity achieved full occupation in social life”. In A Married Woman e Two or Three Things I Know About Her Godard shows the female body as the signifier of commodity fetishism, relating to the society of the spectacle through the discourse of sexuality in advertising.

[iii] Robert Stam, “Jean-Luc Godard's Sauve Qui Peut (la Vie)”, Millennium Film Journal, 10-11, Fall/Winter, 1981-2.

[iv] Raymond Bellour, “I am an image”, Camera Obscura, 3-10, 1989, p. 120-1.

[v] F. Nietzsche, The Gay Science. New York Vintage Books, 1974, p. 317 (

[vi] Ibid. P. 316.

[vii] See P. Woollen, “Godard and Counter Cinema: Vent d’Est.” In: Readings and Writings. London: Verso, 1982, p. 59-90.

[viii] T Milne, Godard on Godard, P. 150-1.

[ix] André Bazin, What is Cinema? Berkeley. University of California Press, 1967, p.12 (

[X] Peter Wollen, Signs and Meaning in the Cinema. London: BFI, Secker & Warburg, 1969, p. 134 (

[xi] Ibid. p.132.

[xii] I would like to thank Michael Chanan for confirming and developing this question for me.

[xiii] Constance Penley, “Pornographic eroticism.” In: Raymond Bellour and Mary Lea Bandy (org.). Jean-Luc Godard: Son-Image 1974-1991. New York: Museum of Modern Art, 1992, p.47 (

[xiv] Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak, “Displacement and the Discourse of Woman.” In: Mark Krupnick (org.). Displacement, Derrida and After. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1953 (

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