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Notre Musique (Jean-Luc Godard, 2004)

   

    Notre Musique, the latest meditative narrative essay from Godard, is much in step with his other late-period works, although it is more approachable than his usual output, thanks to an easy-to-follow narrative structure. That structure, which divides the picture into three distinct segments (Hell, Purgatory, and Paradise), helps to organize things thematically, but it also requires that the audience essentially reboot any investment in the film at the start of the second segment. The first fifteen minutes are a brilliant piece of war-torn montage (actual atrocity rubs elbows with Hollywood hokum), but theyíre so stylistically different from what follows that they almost donít relate to what follows in the next two segments. The characters in ďPurgatoryĒ clearly have been through a world where ďHellĒ existed (specifically, the hell of the Bosnian war, though the current invasion of Iraq, the Israeli/Palestine conflict, WWII, and the razing of the American Indian are all subjects of consideration), but thereís too much of a distance for its awful vision to feel immediate. Though Godard has often mixed avant-garde technique with conventional narrative in the past, here thereís a firm line dividing the two modes from one another, and it makes the film much more cohesive, but a bit less intoxicating.

   

    It would be an exaggeration to call Notre Musique a disappointment, but itís also clearly not on the level of In Praise of Love or Nouvelle Vague. It lacks the melodramatic grandeur that marked each of those filmís concepts of thought, love, and cinema, instead focusing more intently on reconciliation. In a lot of ways, however, my prime letdown here was how darned approachable the thing was. The narrative, which is set in modern day Sarajevo, is so clearly delineated that itís tough to think that it will have a lot to offer viewers on repeat viewings. Seeing this entirely comprehensible movie brought a more unsettling realization as well: when you arenít overwhelmed by Godardís style and barrage of content, the philosophical non-sequiturs his characters utter (conventional dialog is the exception to the rule here) donít have the same impact. Instead of being threads in a mildly quixotic, totally cinematic tapestry, they are here rather isolated and lonely little asides that add little to the prevailing tone. Godard still throws plenty of provocative ideas our way, though, and for that Iím thankful. The proposal that globalization unifies humanity (ďOURĒ music) in its sundry kinds of suffering is a fascinating one thatís developed well here. The lecture that Godardís character gives about our concepts of reality and imagination is a true, lucid highlight, that manages to be as playful as it is didactic. Ultimately, though, Notre Musique is a study of victimology. It feels reconciliation is a possibility (the last image speaks to this), but seems to be equally convinced that weíll soon afterwards find someone else to see as our victims. Though thatís about as resolved an ending as Godard can be expected to deliver these days, it feels almost quaint after the grand summation that is In Praise of Love.

 

65 

Jeremy Heilman 

09-27-04