At age 83, Jean-Luc Godard has gone and reinvented film language once more in the ironically titled Goodbye to Language, a philosophical essay about life, love, art and politics done in the way only he can.
Fractured editing and seemingly random sound bites give path to the central love story between Josette (Héloise Godet) and Gédéon (Kamel Abdeli), a couple who fight, make love, then fight again, befriend a dog, have some more sex, then fight again. If Godard is trying to represent the monotonous cyclical nature of life we’ll never know, as this is just as cryptic as any movie he’s ever made before. Oh and did we mention it’s in 3D?
However in the shape of the breathtaking Godet, we see Godard fixating on the kind of doe-eyed, brunette that once populated all of his notable works. If there is something we know for sure about Godard is that there is nothing accidental about his films and that whatever he saw in Godet when he first saw her picture in a website, has now become part of one of the greatest films of 2014. We spoke to Godard’s new muse when she was in town for the New York Film Festival. All dressed in gorgeous Dior, she talked joyously about her experience during the shoot, some of her favorite actresses and why she thinks Godard is a romantic.
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I find it funny that even if Jean-Luc often stays away from mass media and telecommunications, he found you through the internet …
Absolutely, he is into mass communications though, he’s not into networking on Twitter or Facebook, or anything, but he still has an iPhone, an iPad, an iMac … he’s very much into computers and geeky things. The fact that he did a 3D movie shows that he’s into technology. He doesn’t want to be left out, he wants to be into what’s happening.
Some scenes in the film he shot with phones, right?
Right! And on GoPros, he had lots of way of filming.
Going back to when you first realized you wanted to become an actress. Did you ever think that one day you’d get a call from Godard?
I would have never expected that. When my agent told me that I was going to meet Godard’s assistant and maybe be in his movie, I thought it was an April Fool’s joke, I didn’t believe him. And then it also took ages before we finally did the movie, I was waiting and waiting and they kept pushing it away and I didn’t know if it would ever happen, especially after someone told me Godard wasn’t feeling well, and then I also heard that he wanted to work with a Swiss actress and I was no longer to be in the project, and then he wanted to meet me again … so if I wanted to be in the project I had to remain available all the time. So I kept saying no to theater projects, which was really hard…
His films aren’t particularly known as being showcases for actors, so were you at all worried that he’d make you do something insane onscreen
I know. I was ready for everything, especially because growing up in France, he is so famous, that he’s part of the landscape of cinema, his movies are always on TV, his ’90s movies are less available, and I never got to see them until before making this film. So then when I met his assistant and we were talking he just asked me “Would you mind being naked?” because there’s a lot of “naked, back to the roots” going ons in this movie. I said “It’s Jean-Luc Godard, so that’s OK,” I trust him, I trust his work and I know I’m not going to be in danger. And in fact I felt very protected by him, I knew it would be a non-actor focused, non-narrative movie, because I saw the script and it was an amount of mixed subjects, mostly images from social, historical and political stills. I love his recent movies too, so I thought “if I’m just saying lines in a Godard movie about love or the situation of animals in the world, that would be OK,” but then there was more than that …
And also, Godard isn’t for everyone …
I know all his work and I honestly have to say that this is only his second film I’ve really loved …
Yeah? What was the first one?
Contempt, which incidentally has a lot of common with Goodbye to Language …
Oh yeah! I can see that. Because both of them talk about love a lot, which isn’t something he does in all his movies, except in the early ones. He’s a really romantic person, you can see it in his movies, in his relationship with Anna Karina, that’s why he’s melancholic, because melancholy is linked to romance. Also, about the comparison, it makes sense because there is a lot of contempt in the relationship in the film too.
Did you go and specifically study all of Godard’s leading ladies to prepare for your role?
I watched all the movies with Anna Karina thinking that he was madly in love with her, so she must’ve had something and you don’t have to be Godard to fall in love with her either. In her early movies she’s fantastic, so she’s really an inspiration. I also was inspired by many other great French actresses like Isabelle Huppert, Emmanuelle Devos, Fanny Ardant … so many actresses with such charismatic presences which are great to watch as an audience but also as an actress, because they seem like goddesses. For example Huppert is as small as me, about 5’2 I think, and she’s so big on-screen! A monster goddess onstage and on-screen!
Were you at all intimidated by the idea that you’d become one of these Godardian goddesses too?
No, I wasn’t thinking about it. I just saw it as the most amazing experience I’d ever had professionally. I knew I was really lucky and I know in a way I’m entering the history of cinema because this is Godard, but again, this is his movie, it’s not about actors. There’s Roxy the dog, a few actors and I’m mostly here to represent the movie, but he should be talking instead of me and everybody expects him to enlighten people about his movies, but he won’t do it, because he’s already working on his next project.
What kind of direction do you get from him?
I met Kamel just once to go through the whole text, because we thought we needed to know it by heart, but all we really need to do on the set was be available and not prepare too much. Everything I wanted to propose on the set he would erase it, he would destroy it, because he wanted me to be present, in the here, to lower my voice and be as normal as I could, if I tried to give some psychological background to my character he would destroy it. And we knew about it already, he told us from the beginning to just know our text.
Was this frustrating? How do you prepare for most of your projects?
I saw his recent movies and I knew I shouldn’t expect to construct anything, because he’s all about deconstructing everything, so I could bring my own continuity and ask him about why I wasn’t wearing a jacket I’d been wearing in the previous scene, he’d say “OK, if you want some continuity you have to work with someone else.”
Movies are a big part of his movies, and in this one we see clips from many classic films like The Snows of Kilimanjaro, did he ask you to go see these movies in advance?
No, I discovered them until we were on set, I’d ask him what movie he’d play in the background and he told us, but we had no idea. There was no preparation, we arrived, we went through our lines and he’d become an orchestra conductor and direct based on the music that was playing in the background, because he knew exactly what would go where. It felt really magical on set because it felt like we were doing a musical. Most of the time I was acting and thinking at the same time “How fucking lucky I am, I’m enjoying what I’m doing! I love what he’s doing, we are doing something special!” [laughs]