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Comment ça va?(1978)
A film about politics and the media, in which two workers in a newspaper plant attempt to make a film.
For more about Comment ça va? and the Comment ça va? Blu-ray release, see Comment ça va? Blu-ray Review published by Jeffrey Kauffman on June 24, 2013 where this Blu-ray release scored 3.5 out of 5.
Starring: Michel Marot, Anne-Marie Miéville
Directors: Jean-Luc Godard, Anne-Marie Miéville
» See full cast & crew
Comment ça va? Blu-ray Review
Comme ci, comme ça.
Reviewed by Jeffrey Kauffman, June 24, 2013
Note: Olive Films is embarking on a branded effort to release Godard films on Blu-ray. My introductory comments on these releases will remain the same, in order to provide context. For those interested in a discussion of the individual films, simply jump to the text below the first screenshot.
Jean-Luc Godard is one of the most legendary names of twentieth century film, and one with an astoundingly long and varied oeuvre, so it's perhaps a little shocking that so few of his directorial efforts have made it to Blu-ray. A cursory review of domestic releases reveals a relatively meager set of films (we're speaking number here, not quality): Breathless, Vivre Sa Vie, Contempt, Band of Outsiders, Pierrot le fou, Weekend and Film Socialisme. With the exception of Film Socialisme, one of Godard's more recent efforts, the bulk of the titles listed above come from Godard's heyday in the sixties, when the famed auteur was a leading force in the Nouvelle Vague movement, otherwise known as the New Wave, a deconstructionist faction of filmmakers who sought to defy conventional logic and accepted tropes in writing, directing and performance. This approach is probably nowhere better exemplified than in Godard's own Breathless, a film which continues to provoke heated debate more than a half century after its release. As bracing as Godard's sixties' opuses are, there are just as many pleasures—albeit awfully peculiar pleasures at times—to be had in this protean creator's output after that whirlwind decade.
Jean-Luc Godard's sixties' oeuvre might reasonably be suggested to focus on structure, as evidenced by his early masterpiece Breathless. By the seventies, Godard had moved on to a somewhat related but perhaps deeper rumination on how structure and meaning are intertwined. A lot of Godard's post-sixties pieces have an undeniably "meta" content, self-referential fare that twists back upon itself like a cinematic pretzel. Comment ça va? is like a deconstructionist fever dream, which means that it will either hypnotize or annoy, depending on your individual preferences. This is almost an anti-Breathless, in a way, as it is certainly one of Godard's most (intentionally) static films, one that plays out like an exercise in montage theory while a series of voice overs ostensibly pushes the narrative along while at the same time commenting, often ironically, on what is being shown.
Comment ça va? is therefore less about "something" (whatever that may be) than about Godard's inquiry into how film communicates meaning, or in fact lack of meaning. The ostensible main setup deals with a radical French newspaper and a supposed documentary being shot about how it has succeeded (this may strike some as particularly ironic, given the current state of affairs of print media, including newspapers—much like the daily in my hometown of Portland—regularly announcing they are decimating their staffs, reducing home delivery dates and moving to an online model). This particular vignette (for want of a better term) includes some sociopolitical (and socio-sexual) repartee between the paper's editor and his secretary. There are some piquant observations (always a Godard hallmark) of both gender roles as well as the stifling impact of mass media on niche efforts.
There's the now well worn joke about the debate over legalizing same sex marriage where a straight comedian asks, "Why shouldn't gays be as miserable as the rest of us?" One wonders perhaps if something slightly akin is at play in some of the films Godard did with his longtime companion Anne-Marie Miéville. It's almost as if the audience is being ushered into a multimedia presentation of dinner table debates about philosophy, epistemology and symbology that the two have shared. That makes Comment ça va? a rather cold and didactic enterprise at times, as if we're watching the kaleidoscopic ruminations of someone giving a doctoral thesis on some of these subjects. The film attempts to provide glimpses of human interaction, but even those are cloaked in dissociative shadows (a lot of this film is very dark, obviously intentionally so, with whole sequences lit so that no faces can be easily seen, including most importantly Miéville herself, who portrays the secretary in the film).
The film in fact often plays like a marital squabble, with the (metaphorically speaking) harridan secretary nagging the ostensibly simpleminded editor, poking at his every decision vis a vis the documentary they're making as if the entire fate of the world rested on it. This is obviously a none too subtle allusion to choices filmmakers make and also how final products are perceived. Godard has long championed the idea that (as I mentioned in the Keep Your Right Up Blu-ray review) meaning is in the "eye" (or mind) of the beholder. Here that thesis is slightly amended to allow that how things are presented can obviously influence how they're received. Whether or not that intrinsically alters some objective "meaning" is never concretely addressed, for it seems to be Godard and Miéville's belief that there is no such thing as objective meaning.
A lot of French film aficionados are notably cool when it comes to this period of Godard's work, and frankly it's not hard to understand why. Godard's early films were bracing experiments that offered brilliant innovations in structure, technique and storytelling, and they often featured incredibly charismatic performances from top flight actors. Godard in the seventies and beyond is a completely different artist. He's less interested in "entertaining" (if indeed that were ever a goal of his) than in provoking serious thought about how exactly film (or perhaps any mass media) reaches its audience. Comment ça va? is not an easy film to unpack, but it presents some challenging things to think about. It's ample evidence that Godard continued to be an unabashed provocateur, albeit in ever changing ways.
Comment ça va? Blu-ray, Video Quality
Comment ça va? is presented on Blu-ray courtesy of Olive Films with an AVC encoded 1080p transfer in 1.33:1 (as I mentioned in my review of Keep Your Right Up, even Godard's aspect ratios are unusual). This is not a pretty film by any stretch of the imagination. A lot of the film plays out in dim or almost completely dark environs, as if Godard intentionally wants to thwart one of the main reasons people go to the movies—to see something. There are both film and video elements at play here, and frankly neither looks fantastic, which one must assume was Godard's intention. The film elements are often awash in crush and low contrast, while the video elements are lit in a ghastly blue (fluorescent?) light that deprives the image of much fine detail. I admittedly never saw Comment ça va? theatrically and so can't adequately address how accurate this is to the original look of the film, other than to state that Olive's longstanding tradition has been to simply offer masters taken from usually very reliable source elements and then not altering them in any way.
Comment ça va? Blu-ray, Audio Quality
Comment ça va?'s lossless DTS-HD Master Audio Mono mix is as fascinating in its own way as the film itself. While there's rather constant voice over, there is also a sort of aural montage theory at work, with various sounds (including electronic) permeating the track, often to seemingly deliberately anachronistic effect. Fidelity is excellent on the track, with even what appears to be "live" recordings (as in the opening scene in a car, shot from the back seat) sounding vibrant and very realistic.
Comment ça va? Blu-ray, Special Features and Extras
No supplements are offered on this Blu-ray disc.
Comment ça va? Blu-ray, Overall Score and Recommendation
Comment ça va? isn't enjoyable on any traditional level, and yet it's an unforgettable experience. Did you ever have a college professor whose unctuous tones drove you crazy to the point of distraction, only to realize some time later that he (or she) had imparted really thought provoking information to you, perhaps almost against your will? That's kind of how I felt about this film. It's inchoate, deliberately off putting and both lethargic and manic almost at the same time. It's easily one of Godard's most opaque pieces, and thus it's not going to be for everyone. Even longtime Godard fans may have a problem penetrating this film's thorny approach to meaning and the vocabularly of film. But I'm absolutely certain there is some "there" there—although what that might be is going to be different for every viewer, which is exactly the point Godard is making. Recommended.
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