2 or 3 Things I Know About Her (2 ou 3 choses que je sais d’elle) [DVD]
Director : Jean-Luc Godard
Screenplay : Jean-Luc Godard
MPAA Rating : NR
Year of Release : 1967
Stars : Joseph Gehrard (Monsieur Gérard), Marina Vlady (Juliette Jeanson), Anny Duperey (Marianne), Roger Montsoret (Robert Jeanson), Raoul Lévy (John Bogus, the American), Jean Narboni (Roger), Jean-Luc Godard (Narrator)
Following in the wake of Masculin féminin (1966), 2 or 3 Things I Know About Her (2 ou 3 choses que je sais d’elle) continued and in many ways solidified Jean-Luc Godard’s trajectory from playful deconstructionist of Hollywood genres to radical political essayist. Nearly 10 years into his career as a polarizing director-icon of the French New Wave, Godard was steadily moving toward a more disjunctive and highly politicized form of cinema that stood in sharp contrast to his earlier films, including Breathless (1959), Band of Outsiders (1964), and Alphaville (1965), which largely reworked familiar Hollywood genres via discontinuity aesthetics and loose narrative structures. 2 or 3 Things completed the shift begun in Masculin féminin toward films as cinematic essays, with even less focus on narrative coherence and more emphasis on political and ideological critique.
This shift can be seen in the source of Godard’s inspiration for the film. Rather than coming from old Hollywood movies or an obscure novel, 2 or 3 Things emerged from an anonymous letter that was published in Le Nouvel observateur in response to an article titled “Shooting Stars,” which alleged that nearly one in two housewives living in the newly constructed high-rise suburbs just outside of Paris were engaging in prostitution in order to pay the bills. The letter was written by a woman who claimed to have been prostituting herself for the past seven years to make ends meet, and because prostitution as metaphor is rife throughout Godard’s films (and numerous others of the era), it isn’t surprising that he was immediately drawn to this letter and saw its political possibilities (for Godard, prostitution is the normal state of affairs in a consumer culture). The idea of respectable, middle-class, “normal” women having to sell their bodies to fund their consumerist lifestyles gives the film its thematic core and allows Godard to spin off various critiques of the advertising-suffused industrial society that was coming to dominate contemporary French culture.
The “her” of the title refers to the film’s central character, a housewife named Juliette Jeanson (Marina Vlady) whose life we follow over a 24-hour period, but it also refers to the city of Paris itself, which in the mid-1960s was in a period of massive transformation under the guidance of Paul Delouvrier, the recently appointed prefect of the Paris region. Delouvrier’s policies under President Charles de Gaulle led to an overhaul of the Parisian suburbs with gleaming glass and concrete high-rise apartments that were models of modern efficiency, but for many were also icons of alienation (Jacques Tati perhaps best encapsulated this duality in Playtime, his financially disastrous masterpiece that was not incidentally released the same year as 2 or 3 Things). For Godard, Paris and Juliette (not to mention Marina Vlady, the actress who plays her) are one in the same, both being slowly crushed beneath capitalism, consumerism, and “progress.”
Organized around close-ups of various book titles that suggest issues of vital importance (e.g., 18 Lessons on Industrial Society, Introduction to Ethnography, The Sociology of the Novel), 2 or 3 Things I Know About Her largely abandons traditional narrative in favor of an organization around ideas. The film’s narration, which is spoken by Godard himself, is done in a whisper, which immediately draws us in and suggests that he is telling us something so secretive and/or dangerous that it can’t be spoken aloud. The moments we remember from the film are not so much the interactions between the various characters, which also include Juliette’s clueless husband Robert (Roger Montsoret) and her fellow prostitute and friend Marianne (Anny Duperey), but the images Godard uses to give concrete form to his abstract ideas. The most famous of these is the increasing close-ups of a swirling cup of espresso, which Godard uses as a means of conveying the infinite in the physical--a cup of coffee as the universe. He also ends the film with a strikingly simple image of various consumers goods comfortably housed in their cardboard boxes (including Ajax detergent and Hollywood chewing gum) laid out in the grass to resemble the assortment of buildings in which the story has taken place. Consumer goods are no longer objects, but the very stuff of modern existence.
Godard in no way restricts himself to a critique of consumerism, though, which makes 2 or 3 Things a wide-ranging cinematic essay that may seem scattershot and abstract on first viewing, but rewards more and more with each repeated experience. Godard has carefully orchestrated his scenes to reflect both ideas and the textures of lived experience in then-contemporary France. Characters don’t speak like we would expect them to, that is, according to the tenets of classical film narrative in which the primary object is to constantly move the plot forward. Rather, they ramble about ideas, quote from literature, debate politics, and otherwise act as the mouthpieces for various ideologies, sometimes breaking character and speaking directly to the camera.
Yet, while 2 or 3 Things is a self-consciously direct deconstruction of ideas, it is also a striking portrait of life in Paris in the mid-1960s, a bifurcated philosophical/ethnographic approach to cinema that Godard first explicitly test-drove in Masculin féminin. Thus, the spaces in which the characters move and interact--hotel rooms, apartments, cafes with rattling pinball machines--provide a crucial background for the film’s intellectual endeavors, which only grow richer and more profound and maddening each time you see it. Even after several viewings I don’t pretend to understand everything Godard is pursuing in this film; rather, I hold very much to Pauline Kael’s spot-on assessment of his greatest works: “It’s possible to hate half or two-thirds of what Godard does--or find it incomprehensible--and still be shattered by his brilliance.” In this regard, 2 or 3 Things is quite shattering.
|2 or 3 Things I Know About Her Criterion Collection DVD|
|Distributor||The Criterion Collection|
|Release Date||July 21, 2009|
|VIDEO & AUDIO|
|Making its Region 1 debut on DVD, 2 or 3 Things I Know About Her is presented in a gorgeous anamorphic widescreen transfer taken from the original 2-perf Techniscope interpositive struck from the original camera negative. The brightly colored image is sharp and well-detailed, with just enough grain to give the appearance of celluloid and avoid an overly digital appearance despite restoration work via the MTI Digital Restoration System, Pixel Farm’s PFClean system, and Digital Vision’s DVNR system. The restoration has ensured an almost perfectly clean image, with virtually no traces of dirt or damage. The monaural soundtrack, transferred at 24-bit from a 35mm optical soundtrack print and digitally restored using Pro Tools HD and AudioCube, sounds excellent, with no ambient hiss and clear dialogue and sound effects that still maintain a slightly rough, documentary-like edge.|
|Given the complex nature of 2 or 3 Things I Know About Her, Criterion has put together an excellent set of supplements to help viewers make sense of the film. The screen-specific audio commentary by film scholar Adrian Martin (co-editor of Movie Mutations: The Changing Face of World Cinephilia), which originally appeared on the 2006 Australian DVD, is a godsend, with Martin offering a wealth of background information about the film’s many sources and allusions, as well as his own interpretations of the film and its signficance. For those who want a brisk recounting of the film’s inspirations, there is a 10-minute visual essay that hits the high points of its numerous references to literature, politics, and contemporary French society. Criterion has also dug up a pair of archival television interviews: the first, which was broadcast in 1966 on the program Cinéma, features actress Marina Vlady being interviewed on the set of the film, while the second, which was broadcast in 1966 on the program Zoom, features Jean-Luc Godard debating with a governmental economist on the subject of prostitution. There is also a new 15-minute video interview with theater director Antoine Bourseiller, , who discusses his turbulent five-year relationship with Godard in the ’60s. Finally, the disc includes a rerelease theatrical trailer and an insert booklet with an excellent essay by film critic Amy Taubin and a reprint of the letter from Le Nouvel observateur that inspired Godard to make the film.|
Copyright ©2009 James Kendrick
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