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Case Number 10451

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Hail Mary

New Yorker Films // 1985 // 75 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Joel Pearce (Retired) // December 8th, 2006

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All Rise...

4th down. Two seconds on the clock. 10 yards from the goal line. Down by a touchdown. What play do you call? Not this arthouse flick, says Judge Joel Pearce.

Editor's Note

Our review of Hail Mary (1985) (Blu-ray), published January 22nd, 2014, is also available.

The Charge

One of the most controversial films of all time!

Opening Statement

When it was first released, Hail Mary was denounced by the Catholic Church on its release, picketed outside the theaters, and is still frequently added to lists of religiously shocking films. In retrospect, their time probably would have been better spent fighting something more significant.

Facts of the Case

In narrative terms, Hail Mary is the simple retelling of the coming of Christ, except placed in contemporary France. Marie (Myriem Roussel, Passion) is a normal teenage girl who plays basketball. She is visited by a gruff taxi driver who tells her she is going to have a baby. Her boyfriend, Joseph (Thierry Rode, The Original), struggles to believe that she has not cheated on him, even after she goes to her doctor for gynecological verification. As Marie's pregnancy elapses, she struggles with the experience, connotations, and implications of the pregnancy.

The Evidence

Allegory is a funny thing. No matter how creatively the story is reinvented, how far it is distanced from the original tale, or how uniquely the story is filmed, it's impossible for the audience to escape the allegorical connotations. That's precisely why Hail Mary has been both hailed as one of the most sensitive religious portrayals in film history and condemned as a blasphemous assault on religion. For some, it's impossible to associate the story of the virgin Mary with a film containing nudity and postmodern philosophical musings. That notion itself makes the film unbearable. For others, this film allows us to see the part of the story that the Bible doesn't offer: the personal struggle of Mary to accept this pregnancy and the impact that the divine conception had on her body.

I think, however, Godard has fashioned a film here that has the power to do far less than offend or enlighten. While I've admittedly never been much for art films, the next paragraph will attempt to replicated the experience of watching Hail Mary. For this activity, you will need some loud, bombastic classical music, and several photographs of nature. Whenever you see {NATURE}, put one of the pictures in front of this review for a few moments. Whenever you see {MUSIC}, play a random interval between two and ten seconds of the music. Ready? here we go.

IN THIS REVIEW The experience of watching Jean-Luc Godard's {MUSIC} Hail Mary is both frustrating and alienating. {NATURE} Cut into the scenes and conversations are brief {NATURE} clips of {MUSIC} short aural and visual breaks, which I'm sure were supposed to {NATURE} signify something deep and thought {MUSIC} provoking. There is an odd side story dropped into the center of Hail Mary involving the affair IN THIS REVIEW of a professor and student that doesn't connect to the rest of the film. The music is loud, and isn't at {NATURE} all appropriate for the scenes in which it is placed. Sometimes it's only a few notes of one of Bach's piano concertos, or it {NATURE} may be several bars of an organ fugue. The images of nature work in IN THIS REVIEW much {MUSIC} the same way.

Is it all part of Godard's attempt to break away from the allegory he has created? Is he trying to mask the fact that he has created a highly straightforward film? Is there some brilliant significance hiding just below the surface? All I can say for certain is that these stylistic choices didn't have the desired effect. At times I found myself giggling at the illogical insertions of musical ditties. The nature images broke up the already incomprehensible dialogue, which I found frustrating and annoying. Certainly, some of his cinematography is well created, and the premise of the film is fascinating. Most of the performance from Myriem Roussel is quite sensitive as Marie, but there are a few sequences that destroy even her attempts with bizarre technical decisions. The subplot with a girl named Eva and her affair with a nonsense-spouting philosophy professor just makers things worse.

In the end, I really just found the whole affair surprisingly dull. The audio/visual twitches made it impossible to doze off, but there wasn't enough in the cinematography, characters, dialogue, or ideas to keep me engaged for over an hour. When I sit down to a highly controversial film, I expect to see something challenging and potentially explosive. American audiences could have problems with the extensive nudity in the film, but it is never gratuitous or sexual. Aside from a few bizarre internal monologues from Marie, I see few ways that religious groups would be upset with the ideas of the film, either. It's a pretty simple retelling of the story. Ultimately, I think that is Hail Mary's downfall. The controversy surrounding the film has made it far more important than it should have been. In the end, it's a dull and lesser work in a master filmmaker's canon. Had the Catholic Church left well enough alone, the people who will now check out what all the fuss is about would probably never had heard about it in the first place.

To their credit, the people at New Yorker Video have treated Hail Mary like a controversial classic, rather than a bland art film. The film is shown in its original full screen aspect ratio, and has been cleaned up pretty well. There are a few interlacing artifacts, but it looks excellent for a small film this age. The sound is clear, and I don't think the jarring shift from quiet dialogue to loud music has anything to do with the DVD production. Included on the disc is a short film entitled The Book of Mary, filmed a year earlier by long-time Godard collaborator Anne-Marie Mieville, which explores family troubles through the eyes of a preteen girl. There is also a featurette containing interview footage with Godard, which doesn't shed any light on the film.

Closing Statement

When you get right down to it, I'm not really a fan of art films. I can usually appreciate what they are trying to accomplish, though. In the case of Hail Mary, I'm simply left wondering why this dull, aggravating, annoying film would be the target of so much controversy. The next time I review a controversial classic, I hope there's more to talk about at the end.

The Verdict

Hail Mary isn't guilty as charged, but it guilty nonetheless.

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Scales of Justice

Video: 87
Audio: 80
Extras: 85
Acting: 75
Story: 60
Judgment: 70

Perp Profile

Studio: New Yorker Films
Video Formats:
• Full Frame
Audio Formats:
• Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (French)
Subtitles:
• English
Running Time: 75 Minutes
Release Year: 1985
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
Genres:
• Drama
• Foreign

Distinguishing Marks

• Featurette
• The Book of Mary

Accomplices

• IMDb








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