Notre Musiqe, shown at the Cuale Cultural Center July 23 at 8:30 pm. FREE
Highly emotional, visually stunning and disturbing with an exquisite sound track. Not a good first-date movie. In French with Spanish subtitles.
Three parties headed respectively: hell, purgatory and paradise. Hell: Images of war, without order or historical cron’lógico. People fleeing, countries devastated. All black and white and silent color. Imagenes, four pieces of music. purgatory: the city of Sarajero today, martyred as many others. Characters real and imaginary. A visit to the bridge is being rebuilt to show that symbolizes the transition from guilt to forgiveness. Paradise: a young suicide finds peace in the water.
By MANOHLA DARGIS
Published, New York Times, October 2, 2004
In Jean-Luc Godard’s new film, “Notre Musique,” the history of human endeavor is a song of barbarism. A symphony in three movements or what the director calls three kingdoms, the film is an eschatological journey that, as with the one in Dante’s “Divine Comedy,” begins in hell. There, in a montage culled from fiction and nonfiction sources, in black-and-white and color so saturated it sometimes seems to bleed off the screen, Hollywood cowboys and Indians flicker alongside images of real violence: the dead and the dying, a severed head, starving children, a stack of withered corpses bulldozed into a mass grave.
This atrocity exhibit ends shortly after this blunt reminder of the Nazi war on the Jews, a portent of some of the story’s preoccupations. Thereafter, the film, which screens tomorrow and Monday as part of the New York Film Festival, shifts into its second movement, taking us into the purgatory known as the present, where Mr. Godard appears as himself, complete with growl and cigar. Invited to deliver a lecture at a conference in Sarajevo, the filmmaker will, during his brief visit, cross paths with two young women, Judith Lerner (Sarah Adler), a journalist from Tel Aviv, and Olga Brodsky (Nade Dieu), a Russian Jew. Judith has come to this wounded city because “I wanted to see a place where reconciliation is possible.” Olga, in turn, is poised to make a sensationalistic exit in Israel.
A meditation on our appetite for destruction and an unexpectedly mellow, if nevertheless provocative, view of the Israeli-Palestinian divide, “Notre Musique” sticks mostly to the narrative straight and narrow. The new film is generally easier to navigate than the director’s last feature, “In Praise of Love” (2001), and indeed many of his late-period works, in large part because after decades of turning narrative inside out and every which way, Mr. Godard has directed what may be his first three-act movie. Yet while its structure echoes the kingdoms of “The Divine Comedy” (paradise is just around the corner), in its pacing “Notre Musique” also resembles the three-part structure of a Romantic symphony with its quick-slow-quick movements.
The second chapter, purgatory, is therefore the most leisurely of the three kingdoms and for all the usual Godardian fillips – snatches of music and poetry, abrupt shifts in image and tone – also the most storylike. As Judith plays journalist and tourist, visiting the reconstructed Mostar Bridge and interviewing a Palestinian writer (who wryly says that his people are famous only because their enemies are Jews), the film repeatedly returns us to Olga. With melting sincerity, Olga confesses a desire for martyrdom so she can become, as another character obnoxiously puts it, the one Israeli willing to sacrifice her life for peace. Although Mr. Godard seems tenderly predisposed toward Judith and her search through the ruins, it’s worth noting that he films Olga so she resembles his former wife and muse, Anna Karina, at her most beatific.
A clue to what Mr. Godard wants Olga’s sacrifice to mean comes early in “Notre Musique” when the conferees first pass through Sarajevo. “A survivor is not only changed,” one of the visitors says, “he becomes someone else.” Somewhat later, Mr. Godard tells a group of students that in 1948, when the Jews “walked out of the water to the Holy Land – the Palestinians walked into the water, the Jews became the stuff of fiction, the Palestinians became a documentary.” Mr. Godard treads on dangerous ground by linking the historical suffering of Jews and Palestinians, but his sympathy for both people is so manifest, his sense of history so deep, that the film defies reductive readings. All that seems clear, finally, is that there can be no one right side amid so much wrong.
A master of ellipses, Mr. Godard coaxes meaning into the open bit by bit. Like a benevolent pedagogue, he draws dotted lines between his preoccupations, points in many directions, suggests various means of interpretation and delivers multiple references. But what he adamantly refuses to do, both in this film and elsewhere, is draw our conclusions for us, which may be the highest compliment a filmmaker can pay his audience. In a letter to a friend, Dante wrote of “The Divine Comedy”: “The meaning of this work is not simple for we obtain one meaning from the letter of it and another from that which the letter signifies; and the first is called the literal, but the other allegorical or mystical.” This is, I think, as good a way to approach “Notre Musique” as any other.