Alain Bergala

Beta D.: 137’. Col.

T. it.: Italian title. T. int.: International title. T. alt.: Alternative title. Sog.: Story. Scen.: Screenplay. F.: Cinematography. M.: Editing. Scgf.: Set Design. Mus.: Music. Int.: Cast. Prod.: Production Company. L.: Length. D.: Running Time. f/s: Frames per second. Bn.: Black e White. Col.: Color. Da: Print source

Film Notes

I will attempt to analyse – convinced that it is the right route to understanding Godard’s creative process – the workings of cinema memory in his films, most specifically in Pierrot le fou (1965). This is one of the most appealing movies from his early period: a film open to the four winds, where many scenes/memories of previous cinema pass by en masse. When it was released in 1965 it was already seen by its maker as well as the critics as a stock-taking film and as a double passage of cinema: passing through Godard’s own past – there are many references to his previous films – but also through the entire past of the cinema (…). In Pierrot le fou, Godard has time and again turned to his recollections as a film lover and to his cinema memories. He has delved into – certainly very often consciously – a store of reserve images. But already – and this is why this film interests me in relation to the Godard of today – something was beginning to shape Godard’s creation style, and it is of a different nature to quotation. I have decided here to name it ‘reminiscence’. To this belong the traces of a film that is both a little everywhere and nowhere in Pierrot le Fou: Sommaren med Monika (Summer with Monica). It should be noted, in passing, that Summer with Monica was already, in the eyes of its creator, the ‘resumption’ of a film made two years earlier, Sommarlek (Summerplay). I will take as my point of departure the fact that Summer with Monica is one of the films that most made a big impression – in all senses – on the young Godard in the 1950s, leaving exceptionally longlasting traces in his mind (they are also found in JLG/JLG). A few of the images from Bergman’s film took thirty years to reveal themselves in Godard’s movies, involving a process that is not quotation and one that I will attempt to analyse. Why this film, out of all those that Godard the young filmlover saw at the time? For various deep-rooted reasons. Summer with Monica brought into play, in 1953, everything that would later be the focus of Godard’s quest, especially regarding the topic of the present and reminiscence, taking to the set a situation that would become an obsession in his future work: insularity, the solitary couple surrounded, whether it be in an apartment or on an island; the temptation of a short limit-moment where the tale stops, where time changes rhythm, and where the film glides on its own.

In Godard I can identify four different planes regarding the question of cinema memory and film creation:

1. Cinema as the present. The formula could be: “There’s nothing to invent in cinema, everything has already been supplied”. The method for this first plane is the picture or the collage. Its tone is the pleasure of the offered creation.

2. Cinema as a novel, as a legend. The formula could be: “The present never exists alone in a film”. The method is instead music or the story, while the tone is nostalgia.

3. Cinema as reminiscence. Its definition could be: “What returns in another form once it has passed through oblivion”. The method is sudden emergence or apparition and the tone is melancholy.

4. The fourth plane is very similar to the third. This is the point Godard finds himself at today: cinema as resurrection or as redemption, because Godard has shifted, for some time now (between Nouvelle VagueNew Wave – and Hélas pour moiWoe is Me) from this first term to the second. The formula could be: “The past returns to the present after passing through suffering”. Here the method is ‘experimental’ images, which I caught the first hints of in Je vous salue, Marie (Hail Mary), when Godard filmed the Virgin in her small bedroom: how can you bring back, in a contemporary body, something of the Virgin Mary? Hence experimental images, images shot in purgatory, with suffering. Here the tone is clearly suffering. From pleasure to suffering, passing through nostalgia and melancholy, Godard has had to go through these layers one by one. But this passage has been long and gradual. Pierrot le fou, for instance, never reached the fourth plane, which Godard would find access to only in the mid 1980s. When he moves from one plane to another, Godard does not abandon the previous ones. Instead, we could say that these planes build up as layers over the years and during various periods, heading to create ever richer and more complex dialectics.

Alain Bergala, La réminiscence ou Pierrot avec Monika, from Pour un cinéma comparé (influences et répétitions), Cinémathèque française, Paris 1996