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Godard’s Ulysses

Posted on Thursday October 19, 2017
Two or Three Things I Know About Her (1967)
Warning: Spoilers may follow for Two or Three Things I Know About Her.

Even without considering the fact of the simultaneous production of two films, along with Made in U.S.A. (1966), Two or Three Things I Know About Her (1967) might be Jean Luc Godard’s most ambitious Nouvelle Vague-era film. A day in the life of (yet again) a prostitute, is also a day in the life of an actress, is a stream of consciousness of a film director, is the metropole as an organism, is the future lurking in the shadows of the present, and so on. One might call it Godard’s Bloomsday, an attempt to comprise the comprehension of existence through an insignificant day of a Parisian. An attempt that could only succeed, just like James Joyce’s Ulysses, by applying a radical, personal style.

This style, of course, did not pop up suddenly. Ever since Breathless (1960) Godard made a point of going against the expectations of the viewer, by disordering the film grammar. The themes of Two or Three Things are not new either. Art (the image as a reproduction of reality), politics (the war in Vietnam, capitalism versus socialism), sociologies (the position of the feminine in society) and linguistics (‘language is the house man lives in’) are some of Godard’s favourite topics in reprise.

One of the most striking things of Two or Three Things is the rather detached, more contemplative mood. This is partly the result of abandoning plot and the minor importance of characters. Instead, their environment is made more prominent. We are keenly aware of the noise of the continuous building projects in the city, the overload of stimulants by numerous advertisements, the longing for consumer goods. ‘Objects are more real than human beings’, says Godard, ‘because we pay them more attention.’ The comparative insignificance of characters is illustrated in shots where they seem to drown in their environment:

Juliette Jeanson (Marina Vlady) in Two or Three Things I Know About Her (1967).

And how can you deny the truth in Godard’s bold statement, when you find yourself looking upside down at the poster on the right side of this shot:

Juliette Jeanson (Marina Vlady) in Two or Three Things I Know About Her (1967).

Consumer goods often have a political significance in this film. A woman who sells her body, in order to buy a dress. And it is almost a political act to buy a pair of American shoes. Sometimes it tends to get absurd, for example when a customer of two prostitutes demands a special headgear:

Two or Three Things I Know About Her (1967).

A very literal depiction of human beings shaping up to the objects their environment exists of. It summarizes the theme: How does man relate to an ever-changing environment, while unable to influence those changes?

A second important theme of the film is how one is able to comprehend reality. Whether as a citizen of a metropole, as a human being, or as an artist. Especially as an artist. Language is at least as important as images. Godard researches the interaction between both. As a narrator, he frequently whispers what we are also seeing. Maybe a bit bland, but it shows both the impossibility of a complete description with words and the incompleteness of only a visual reproduction of reality. In one of the best scenes of the film, he describes the philosophical problems encountered by the construction of a straightforward scene at a garage. In this soliloquy, Godard makes a statement about his aspirations as an artist.

Godard points out that he would like to create an environment where man and objects are in harmony. Both in the poetic and a political sense. In the last shot of the film, a poetic image illustrates the state of mind of the main character. Harmony: Chaos and order. Suddenly we notice that image and sound, human being and object, are throughout the film at some moments in harmony, while at other moments in discordance. The images of work in progress usually exists of two parts. One shot with the strident noise of machines accompanied by a silenced shot with the same images. One is repelling, the other poetic. In another scene, we hear a woman playing pinball, during a constantly shifting dialogue. In a way harmonic as well. Sometimes Godard achieves harmony by making unusual combinations. Such as seen in the most famous shot of the film, where a soliloquy about infiniteness is accompanied by the image of a cup of coffee:

Two or Three Things I Know About Her (1967).
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