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More on Jean-Luc Godard [01] [02] [03] [04] [05]
NEW! See rare interview footage with Jean-Luc Godard in our Film Archive

Godard - Eloge de l'amour
An interview
by Michele Halberstadt on

Jean-Luc Godard had a fortunate upbringing and a superb education consisting of studies in Switzerland and then in ethnology at the Sorbonne in Paris. He'd spend his free time (and most of his lecture time) on the Left Bank watching movies and attending underground film meetings. At twenty he met André Bazin at a cinema club. Bazin introduced him to Francois Truffaut, Jacques Rivette, Claude Chabrol and Eric Rohmer.

Between them they conceived a spontaneous, impulsive, vibrant and totally original style of cinema - French New Wave.

71 next week, Godard has just released his latest film, the first in competition at Cannes for over 10 years, Eloge de L'amour In Praise of Love), you may have caught it at London recently.
Michèle Halberstadt is the lucky one that got to quiz one of cinema's greats about his life, his work and why putting his name on the front of a paper hurts his films.

How do you come to deal with the present in black-and-white and the past in colour?
I didn't want to treat it chronologically. In view of my age, I was leaning more toward a narrative film, one that happens through Eglantine and others. I had to give this feeling. So I thought it would be more appropriate to work against the generally accepted idea of showing the present in colour and the past in black-and-white, as in newsreels. On the contrary, I wanted to find a way of intensifying the past.

Is that what gives the impression that the past sheds light on the present?
No, I think that colour is closer to us because it's the present tense of film projection, emotionally speaking. I've always loved Proust's novel. When he speaks of Albertine in the imperfect tense, the reader experiences it in the present. Especially as an adolescent.

Eloge de l'amour is very structured, more than usual.
That's because it took a lot of time. It's strange, but there's always been a blank in my films, about an hour into the screening. I find that lots of films slump around this point and since the script is a life buoy, the director pulls out of it by filming the script, but in the process he loses the cinema. Here, there was a blank an hour in. The first part ends at exactly an hour into the film, the blank is there, but this time it's accepted as such and what goes with it is accepted as such, too. That's because of age, and time, too, the time you've spent making the film. The problem was that it was a long, disjointed shoot, in several sections, and the mixing was difficult. It was something of a strain.

Why did the film take so long?
Because I was a bit lost, but I kept trying to do it anyway. In fact, you have to just do it and then you have to cut later. It's harder in film because it's a very social world, with problems of time, money, people and psychology.

So it's much more difficult than, say, with a painter or a novelist, to go: "We'll shoot this, but we know we're shooting to move on to something else; still, you have to go through this, it's practice. You shoot to practice, not to come up with a good shot. You practice because the game is coming up in two weeks." It's hard to do that, besides you're not aware of it, but later, during editing, you suddenly say: "All this goes and this is all that's left in the end." And this time I said: "It's a miracle!"

So the film was shot in several sections. In February, then in September. Then in Brittany. At that point, I didn't know what I wanted to do. It was a bit frantic. I didn't really know, but I must have heard something. My vacation in Brittany was with family. There were too many personal things. I couldn't tell the difference between what was personal and what was the film.

I remember that JLG on JLG was a film I shot very quickly because one day I read in the contract: "Delivery in a month." But the film was about me, it answered to me. Whereas with Eloge de l'amour I had to answer to the film, but I realised that I was asking the film to answer to me, and that wasn't clear. So Brittany wasn't easy to get in the can, as they say. Then I acted in Anne-Marie Miéville's film, which did me a lot of good, but we had to put everything off for four months, so the production turned out disjointed.
The film deals with several kinds of resistance. The Resistance of our grandparents, the resistance to America, and, of course, your filmmaking which resists...
Yes, the artistic act is an act of resistance against something. I wouldn't call it an act of freedom, but an act of resistance. The birth of a child is an act of resistance. He must stand on his own two feet very quickly. Animals, too, have to stand on their own even more quickly than humans.

The Resistance of World War II is something we have difficulty finding out about. It comes back again roughly a half-century later, just long enough to skip the generation of the parents. Later, it goes down in textbooks and people's memories. I've always been absorbed by the mid-century, by the Second World War, which were the years of my innocent adolescence, and which I felt guilty about later.

Emmanuel Astier once said that there was a brief moment early in the Resistance in which money wasn't an end but a means. I can understand that. If, when you make a film, you manage to create something, and money is a means and not an end, then that's production, if it's genuine. Then come the other sectors, which in France all deserve their names. Language clearly describes the three terms: production, distribution and exhibition. In Hollywood, there's no more production, all that's left is distribution, which is under the thumb of exhibition and television broadcasting. In television, there's no more production, except a few pockets from time to time, certain sporting events or interviews. Besides, we say wildlife programs, not wildlife film production. We talk of a TV network like we do a food distribution network. When producers like Darryl Zanuck and Louis B Meyer made 40 films a year, they weren’t making films on an assembly line. Today it's very difficult. Renault car ads tell it like it is. In the past, they used to say automobile manufacturers. Today we say automobile creators.

At what point do you know what works and what doesn't?
If you write, 'she arrived one moonlit night', it's hard to realise immediately that it's bad. You have to shoot it to understand that it's bad. It happens sometimes. You shoot something, the crew is there, you know it's bad but you can't say, no, we won't shoot this, it's far too bad. You have a certain feeling, and you can't express it, you're not quite sure. The cinema is also a copy of the real world.

Sometimes, a take do eight takes of a scene, you don't sense that doing eight takes, for whatever reason, is a clinical sign, a symptom. If the film is good, the symptom is correct.

Sometimes images return several times, like waves breaking on the shore. Is it to slow down the course of things?
Yes, it's to remain in the time frame. Cinema is an art of space and time, but not the narrative time of an average novel. In films, you have to give, but first of all you have to receive. Audiences no longer give because with television you stop giving. There's only the receiving end.

In some shots you use the freeze frame, like the start of a shot where you think you're seeing a painting.
When we did the transfer to 35mm, I liked this fixed image, so we used it a bit. But I use it without being able to say what I'm doing. If I think, this looks like a painting, I don't keep it. If I think, that looks purposeful, then it's no good. But the moment you feel before you can put something into words, the moment when you come up with the idea, you feel happy.

You say that putting Godard on the front page of a newspaper hurts your film.
That's what I believe. I don't see how that can help the film. I don't understand why they put Zidane's photo on the cover of a soccer magazine instead of putting the ball. For me, when they talk about Godard, I think about my father. Godard was his name, not even, it was his father's name.