Scen., M.: Jean-Luc Godard. F.: Adrien Porchet. Int.: Jean-Luc Godard (voce narrante). Prod.: Actua Films. DCP. Bn.
Suddenly, in spring, the treetops began to speak.
Let’s be honest: if it hadn’t been proven that this documentary was Jean-Luc Godard’s first film, it would still be lying in a box somewhere – nobody would have taken the trouble to single it out. It is, without a doubt, Godard’s only ‘genre film’ in which he respected the defining characteristics of the genre in question. It’s all there – there isn’t the slightest distance or distortion where the future Godard could make his presence felt. The lyrical, pompous voiceover that glorifies the monumental scale of this “national” site of construction; the almost perpetual classical music in the background in the style of MJG montage. The visuals are ‘dressed up’: despite the academicism of the genre, Godard seems much more fascinated by the agency of the machines than by their male operators. More often than not, the workers are filmed as if they were ants, with the exception of a few low-angle shots where Godard clearly recalls the Russian films that he had seen at the Cinémathèque, and frames the Swiss workers as proletarian heroes. The educational approach is central here: Godard goes to great lengths to show and explain in detail the logic responsible for turning the cogs of this enormous construction site. Opération Béton was without a doubt the first and last film where Godard stuck faithfully to his brief. Perhaps this was because he didn’t actually have one, and it was only after the film was finished that he created a brief, so that he could break even!
Alain Bergala, Spécial Godard 30 ans depuis, “Cahiers du cinéma”, horssérie, November 1990