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His music
Jean-Luc Godard at Cannes

Filmmaker Jean-Luc Godard, 74, came to Cannes last May to discuss his latest cinema essay, and one of the best films of 2004, Notre musique/Our Music, which is at the MFA though January 16. But before his press conference could get going, Godard, a man of the militant left since the mid í60s, gave over the event to Franceís National Coordination of Entertainment Workers. The union of freelance film and television actors and performers was picketing outside of the Cannes festival.

As Godard puffed a long cigar, a spokesman painted for the international press a dreadful picture of life for his Gallic union members: "You do manual work in the daytime, at night a show, you are taken on with no papers, you clean up polluted beaches, you do porno, etc." He held up the new issue of Cahiers du Cinéma, the once-avant-garde magazine associated with Godard, Truffaut, and the French New Wave. Oh, the capitalist rag! The latest Cahiers sported a sleek cover with a female model pushing a yuppie cologne.

Exit the Entertainment Workers, and Godardís Notre musique cast was introduced. The members included young Jewish women from Russia and France, a Native American actress, a Palestinian poet, a French journalist. In Notre musique, they are among the participants, along with Godard himself, at a literary conference in post-war Sarajevo. "Since there were lots of different languages," Godard said, "the film should be subtitled into the American English of a Pakistani cab driver." Then he backtracked: "Iím for dubbed versions, because subtitles allow you to think you are watching a film in your own language. If youíve seen a film with subtitles, youíve read it, you havenít watched it. You arenít thinking, for instance, ĎArabic Spanish.í Youíve only seen six percent of the film. With this six percent, I hope you can write something about it."

With that, Godard went off on an attack on Viviana Redding, European Commissioner of Culture: "Although sheís blonde, sheís my Ďbête noire.í She said we should create ĎEuropean filmmaking,í a rather crazy notion. It reminds me of when I read books about creating a Superman. If youíre going to create ĎEuropean filmmaking,í why not call on [Dr.] Frankenstein? Sheís stupid, that woman. . . . Globalization is a form of totalitarianism. Television is the same, whether in North America or Palestine."

Are the people on screen in Notre musique playing themselves or should they be viewed as fictional creations? "Iím not trying to create a difference between actors and Ďdocumentary actors,í Godard answered. "They are there to speak texts, but there should be something of their own lives, too, like Rony Kramer, who was born in Egypt, lived in France, served in the Israeli army, which are interesting contradictions. So they are not actors, they are chosen people. But Notre musique was unlike certain documentaries, where the subjects arenít paid."

Translation: the performers are themselves, though they read lines supplied by Godard, and they were paid for appearing in Notre musique.

Jean-Christophe Bouvet, the French journalist: "As actors, we played little musical notes, but maybe they were false notes, wrong notes. Maybe Godard was filming our DNA."

Nade Dieu, the Russian Jew: "Heíd chosen me on the basis of what I didnít understand. In playing the text, trusting the text, I learned something."

Sarah Adler, the French Jew: "Itís a collaboration, but itís Jean-Lucís collaboration. It was a journey to Sarajevo, but not a holiday. There are buildings which are empty shells from the war, and that makes an impression."

Leticia Gutiérrez, the Native American: "Not many people take an interest in us, because Iím a Mexican half-breed. Sarajevo made an impression on me. Weíre always looking for our roots, and I came back more and more to my ancestors."

Why did Godard decide to film in Sarajevo?

"Itís a long story, both personal and impersonal. Iím in favor of frontiers but against customs officers. By my nature, Iím not particularly brave, but I do like to see things: people who are sick, wounded, maybe I got that from my father, the doctor. I like to go when a war is over, when interest is lost, thatís when purgatory begins. Itís a metaphor for life. I tried to go to Sarajevo in another film, Forever Mozart, but it didnít succeed. I was invited once or twice to take part in literary meetings. I didnít really choose Sarajevo. As Tolstoy said, ĎI didnít choose Anna Karenina, it chose me.í "

Issue Date: December 31, 2004 - January 6, 2005
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