[3 February 2014]
The Cohen Collection continues with its superb work of bringing little known or obscure world films to home media, this time around concentrating on two efforts by iconoclastic director Jean-Luc Godard, which hadn’t been available in the United States for quite some time.
Both Hail Mary and For Ever Mozart present us with Godard at the peak of his powers as a provocateur and a master of the medium, as he creates two films that, during their original release, shocked and moved audiences and which now, for better or for worse, aren’t as highly regarded as some of his classics like Alphaville and www.popmatters.com/item/a-woman-is-a-woman/”>A Woman is a Woman.
In Hail Mary, Godard presents us with a retelling of the Virgin Mary’s story by showing us how a young girl with the same name (played by the sensuously beautiful Myriem Roussel) is deeply proud of her chastity until one day she receives news that she will become pregnant even if she remains a virgin. When her pregnancy becomes a reality, Mary is convinced that she is in fact carrying the child of God, yet instead of succumbing to despair and uncertainty—like one would assume a modern retelling of anything Biblical would suggest—we see the young woman become empowered as she explores her sexuality in ways she’d never imagined before.
Upon its release, Hail Mary was accused by the Vatican of carrying an anti-Catholic message, Pope John Paull II condemned it and said it was a film meant to wound the feelings of believers. Audiences didn’t react to the film ecstatically, either. It was one of his lowest grossing features (not that he ever was George Lucas or anything) and most infamously of all, this was the film that earned him a pie in the face at the Cannes Film Festival. Perhaps the reason why people kept being shocked by this movie was because Godard insisted his film had nothing to do with the Virgin Mary, even if in the movie, the news of the pregnancy are delivered by a man named Gabriel (Phillippe Lacoste) and Marie’s boyfriend’s name is Joseph (Thierry Rode). Godard attributed these elements to coincidence and urged people to examine the film for what it was by removing it from the Biblical context.
Modern audiences will most likely find Hail Mary to be tame and will instead marvel at Godard’s use of aesthetic elements to convey a modern message of spirituality. It features some of Godard’s most inventive editing, especially as he links Mary’s sexual awakening to natural elements like the heavens and water, perhaps inviting us to see that if we choose to believe in God, we can only find Him in this world, through the things he’s already created. For those who remain skeptical, his uses of natural elements works as a reminder of the power of randomness and how nothing in any holy scriptures will ever compare to the majesty of the world we live in. If anything, due to its multiple readings, this might actually be one of Godard’s most approachable movies.
Still from For Ever Mozart (1996)
The same can not be said of For Ever Mozart, which grabs the Bosnian War and tries to explain it by dissecting it into four stories, the most significant of them one in which a troupe of actors try to make a film based on a novel by Alfred de Musset. Going from philosophical musing to musing, few of Godard’s films are as impossible and impenetrable as this one, which seems to have been made with the intention of alienating as many viewers as possible.
Despite his past as a film critic, Godard was never interested in establishing dialogue between his films and his viewers and any meaning attributed to For Ever Mozart is simply found by proxy. Is he trying to say that war is awful by making a terrible movie? Is he trying to encompass the meaninglessness of war by creating four stories without any connections or aim? We can detect that somehow in this assortment of characters and “plots” lies a lesson about how the power to create can be the only thing keeping one sane in the midst of chaos, but one would assume that once again Godard just let his stream of consciousness-filmmaking transpose itself without any mediation or restrain.
Ironically, despite how frustrating it is to watch this film, especially after the petite marvels of Hail Mary, it’s impossible to accuse Godard’s cinema of being uninteresting. He might not care what we think of him, but he’s certainly making us think in the process.
Both film are presented in new high definition transfers, and feature an array of wonderful bonus features. For Ever Mozart includes audio commentary with film critic James Quandt, as well as a booklet featuring an interview with the director, while Hail Mary includes the short film The Book of Mary (which accompanied it in theaters during its original run), also included are theatrical trailers for both feature films.