In Praise of Love
Éloge de l'amour 
review by Carrie Gorringe, 21 September 2001

26th Toronto International Film Festival

Éloge de l'amour (Eulogy About/of Love), is the latest film from one of the now-elder statesmen of the New Wave, Jean-Luc Godard. The film's title suggest that this is a more mellow work than one might expect of the traditionally acerbic Godard, one of the most mordant observers of human values, especially American values. Actually, Éloge is both mellow and mordant, but also interlaced with a strong sense of disquiet. Ostensibly a film about personal relationships, it really Of course, Godard reserves his most ascerbic commentary for American capitalism and the means by which it has served up the American way of life in a seemingly endless supply of goods for world-wide consumption -- or, as he has always believed, for forced-feeding. Godard stated his opposition to this Coca-Cola capitalism most unequivocally -- and snidely -- in his 1967 film, Two or Three Things I Know About Her; in the course of this film, two title cards appear in almost immediate sequence: the first, "Pax Americana," and the second, "Economy-Sized Brain Washing." Now, Godard emphasizes how the American media does exactly the same thing with human tragedy: in Godard's mind, they grind up the subtle elements involved in human tragedy and serves them up as easily-digestible entertainment (a relevant point to anyone who sat endlessly watching the coverage of the atrocities heaped upon America on 11 September, and waited for hours to receive any snippet of real news from the constant blathering of on-air journalists who were ready with snazzy graphics, but who were desperately groping around for any substantive information in order to fill an unending demand for 24-7 news coverage. In a recent interview in The New York Times Magazine, Godard confirmed that a fear of losing "cultural memory" is the central theme running through Éloge, through, among other things, willful indifference or the remixing of history to turn it into something more entertaining. Godard's uses one of the worst examples of brutality in the twentieth century -- the Holocaust -- and makes it the central metaphor in Éloge. His attitude toward those who are now "reshaping" the Holocaust as a means of storytelling has all of the trademark Godardian irreverence. One scene in particular is an apt illustration. It involves a discussion between a World War II Jewish resistance fighter and her agent. Apparently, Steven Spielberg wants to purchase the rights to her memoirs, and their overall attitude toward his overtures is less than flattering (so much so that, after this obvious jab at Spielberg's cinematic treatment of the Holocaust, it might be doubtful as to whether or not Mr. Spielberg will be including Godard on his list of the Top Ten directors in cinema history within the time frame of anyone's memory). 

But Godard, as is typical, uses that irreverence for more than the sake of doing so. He (rightfully) disapproves of the capacity of entertainment to concentrate upon a so-called "bigger picture," sentimentalizing and simplifying the monstrous, ignoring the small but significant details in the name of narrative efficiency, regardless of the perpetrator. Godard concentrates upon those small details, how everyday places and people were also incorporated, in an almost undetectable way, into the machinery of murder, making the killing easier for people to tolerate. For example, Godard uses lingering still shots to capture the train station at Drancy (probably one of the many transit points for Jews headed for the death camps), accompanied by a voice-over who utters the still-unsettled and unsettling question concerning French collaboration, "Why did we [the French] allow ourselves to be led like sheep?" The use of black-and-white film to shoot these images -- and also the majority of the film-- conveys the sense of losing an immediate link to historical events. The experience is not dissimilar to the one generated by looking at photos of Auschwitz over fifty years later; without historical context, the site could pass for a factory that could have turned out plates rather than corpses; without historical context, much of the film's thematic richness goes unappreciated). Intimate knowledge creates and sustains memory, and those who have experienced the hell first hand, or those who have the ability to "read" and translate the information for mass consumption while keeping it vital are either a rapidly-dying or very small group of individuals. Godard seems to be suggesting that once the last of the eyewitnesses have disappeared, memory and horror will have passed into dusty archival documents in an immutable, lifeless, form; we will be dependent upon the translators, and in a world in which the majority seemingly prefers minimal information and immediate gratification, cultural history lies in a state of peril. One could, in fact, come to the same conclusions about Éloge; without historical context, much of the film's rich subtext isn't always recognizable and, thus, in danger, perhaps, of becoming irrelevant. Even allowing for Godard's disdain for mass acceptance, the thought of a filmmaker's work not surviving him in a thematic sense must inspire some sort of dread in him or her.

The film is filled with rueful nostalgia for both lost personal and global opportunities, whether in terms of making irreparable mistakes in a relationship or in preventing the destruction of millions of people, because both contain the uncomfortable issue of personal pleasure versus responsibility and potential culpability. Éloge is a characteristically Godardian work, an acquired taste for many, and, on many occasions -- including this one -- both provocative and thoughtful, instead of merely provocative.

Click on the titles below to read the reviews.

Written and
Directed by:

Jean-Luc Godard

Bruno Putzulu
Cecile Camp
Jean Davy
Françoise Verny
Audrey Klebaner
Philippe Lyrette
Jeremy Lippmann
Claude Baignières
Rémo Forlani
Jean Lacouture
Mark Hunter
Bruno Mesrine
Djéloul Beghoura
Violeta Ferrer
Valérie Ortlieb
Serge Spira
Stéphanie Jaubert
Lemmy Constantine
William Doherty
Jean-Henri Roger

NR - Not Rated.
This film has not 
yet been rated.




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