Judge Gordon Sullivan is planning to enter an aesthetic phase next Tuesday.
"A rumination on the need to create order and beauty."
The nineties were a strange decade for Jean-Luc Godard. He emerged as the darling of the sixties, became a militant in the seventies, and "returned" to film in the 1980s. By the new millennium, he found himself something of an elder statesmen, but the nineties stand out. Part of the reason is that Godard had dedicated himself to non-theatrical projects, especially the monumental Histoire(s) du Cinema(s), finished in 1998. His final theatrical feature of the decade, however, came in 1996. At the time, it was hailed as classic Godard, a return to form from a master of cinema. In the ensuing years it has been gradually diminished in the master's canon, now a curiosity more than a masterpiece. Still, the film will please Godard's faithful, and the For Ever Mozart (Blu-ray) release is better than fans could have hoped for.
Facts of the Case
For Ever Mozart finds a stage troupe travelling to war-torn Sarajevo to perform a play. Told in four segments, the film also documents the story of an aging director attempting to complete his final film.
For Ever Mozart is a strange bilingual pun, for in French it sounds like Dreaming Mozart. So, the title has at least two meanings, and I would add another in that severing the "for" in "forever" suggests the "four" segments which comprise the film. If that kind of thinking—bilingual puns and stretching for meaning—is alien to you, then For Ever Mozart is probably not worth your time. There's very little plot or characterization on offer, and the usual pleasures of film are not to be found here.
Instead, we're firmly in what we might call Godard's "aesthetic phase." This has two meanings. The first is that we're in the era of Godard's increasing obsession with the beauty of nature. For Ever Mozart gives us some lovely images to look at. Godard is a master of framing, and the theatrical plot gives him every excuse to provide us with striking tableaux. The other important meaning behind "aesthetic" in this case is a reference to philosophy, which also increasingly occupies Godard throughout the eighties and nineties. From his dialogue—which often sounds like a philosophical text—to his allusions to philosophy, For Ever Mozart draws on and explicitly references a host of other cultural artifacts to fuel Godard's reflection on cinema and Sarajevo. Godard demands that we follow him, catching what allusions we can, forming the pieces with our ability to take in the beautiful imagery, and ultimately piecing together a film that is as much our film as Godard's.
Looking back, I think critics have dismissed For Ever Mozart for being Godard-by-numbers. It has all the things we expect from Godard except something surprising. When the entirety of Histoire(s) du Cinema(s) was completed two years later, and then the half-digital/half-film In Praise of Love (his next feature) appeared three years after that, For Ever Mozart was abandoned in the face of much more novel works.
For Ever Mozart (Blu-ray) from Cohen aims to help viewers re-evaluate Godard's film. Presented on the back of a theatrical re-release, this Blu-ray situates the film in Godard's oeuvre and offers support for both its beauty and importance. The 1.66:1/1080p AVC-encoded transfer is pretty great. The source print is in great shape, with no serious damage or wear to be found. The photography has a slightly drab look to it (like much of Godard's work, to be honest), but the transfer seems true to this photographic intention. Colors are a bit muted, but detail is good where it's not hampered by the softness of the photography. It's not an awe-inducing presentation, but it suits the film. The LPCM 2.0 French track is similarly impressive. Dialogue is clean and clear, with a bit of separation. My French isn't that great, but I suspect that like other Godard releases, the subtitle track for this release doesn't translate every single word. That works for the film, since Godard is often trying to overwhelm us, and it's often unlikely even native speakers can catch everything.
The extras, though, are where this release is going to convince most viewers. Four featurettes that haven't been available in America puts the movie in the context of Godard's world. First up is an interview with Jean-Claud Sussfeld, the assistant director of Godard's La Chinoise. He discusses his observations on Godard's working methods (including all the books he prepares with), as well as his experiences with Godard and his partner Anne Wiazemsky. We also hear from Wily Kurant, who was Godard's DP on Masculin/F éminine. We learn more about Godard's working methods here as well. These two interviews are not as focused on For Ever Mozart, but illuminate Godard's work generally. More to the point is an interview with François Musy, the sound mixer, who discusses Godard's almost-singular use of sound and image. Finally, we hear from Antoine de Baecque, author of a book on Godard (which hasn't been translated into English, apparently). He also discusses the qualities of For Ever Mozart, including the ways the contemporary Serbian situation affected the director. We also get a commentary by critic/TIFF programmer James Quandt. Though he sounds like he's reading from a prepared essay, Quandt shares numerous insights about the film, including thematic content and production info. It's sometimes a bit dull to listen to, but it's highly informative. It might even be worthwhile to watch the film first with the commentary. Finally, the film's re-release trailer is also included. In the case we also get a small booklet, featuring an appreciative essay by Fergus Daly and an interview between filmmaker Hal Hartley and Godard himself.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
Godard is a singular talent, which can make his films singularly repugnant. Everything great about them—their beauty, their allusiveness, their playfulness—can also be empty and irritating. What use is the beauty of a landscape when it's not populated by characters we care about? What's the point of allusions to works that 99% of your audience has not and will never read? How playful can it be when the audience has difficulty playing along? These are difficult questions, and even admirers of Godard will be unlikely to put For Ever Mozart on casually, on a whim.
Almost ten years on, For Ever Mozart is due some kind of re-evaluation. Though it's far from Godard's best picture, it does capture a particular time in his thinking that's worth examining for fans of the director. Thanks to this excellent Blu-ray release, fans can enjoy an excellent presentation of the film along with some informative extras.
Certainly Godard, but also not guilty.
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