Last week I hated on Joy of Learning because I wanted to love that film so much. After watching that film, I seriously thought about letting go of Godard and moving on to someone else. I was angry and done with his obscure references and his pretension. He made me feel unloved by his cold and clinical way that he put together that film. However I knew that the next film that I could get my hands on (this one) was elevated to inclusion with the Criterion Collection and that Godard had a collaborator that might be able to reign in his obscure political actions that permeated the last film. So I decided to give Godard one more chance. I am glad that I did. This film will push me through the next few clunkers that I will inevitably discover (he lost his collaborator to the world of documentary.).
This film is about the French spring of 1968 and its aftermath. 1968 is related to the spring of this ear in the Arab countries because it was a time of uprising against the oppression many students, working class and intellectuals were feeling coming from the government. It sent a strong message and influenced politics in America just like the Arab spring influenced the Occupy Wall Street Movement of this year. The spring of 1968 woke up many people from their slumber and made them aware of the unjust circumstances that surrounded them. It had ramifications that extended beyond the spring and beyond 1968. This is the story of what happened.
A young American reporter (played by Jane Fonda) covers an occupation of a meat-packing plant. She brings along her husband who recently moved from making political films to making commercials in order to provide a life of comfort. They get into some trouble and are forced to stay in this plant for a day along with the horrible manager. During this time, the workers chant, paint and abuse the manager in ways that he abused them. One of the worst professions in the world, even today, meat-packing is made worse by the greed of the upper levels. They enforce long hours, fifteen minute breaks for bathroom usage, and dangerous conditions. These workers have a right to be mad and they have a right to form a union. However the manager does not see it like that and believes that they are just whiny bastards. Jane Fonda gains the trust of these workers and documents their stories. Her husband looks on and becomes quietly enraged.
Once the occupation is over and the people are reduced to their fate, Jane and her husband (played by Yves Montand who is in another great political film Z. Watch that after you watch this film. It is awesome) then go home completely changed. They awakened out of their slumber and they recount their interactions with the protests of 1968 and their resultant complacency afterwards. They fight each other and their want to do something bigger than just watching out for themselves. This part of the film is what really resonates with me. As much as I want to give up everything and join the Occupy Wall Street movement (even in its current state of non occupancy), I am still sitting here in my apartment just thinking of ways that I can get a better job that will give me more security. What is my place in the activist world? I can’t seem to find one and neither can Jane or Yves.
One scene that is particularly powerful is a group of people occupying a grocery store. Godard pans across what seems to be like a modern Wal-mart filled with rows of cheap products and sad workers. These sad workers check out equally sad customers as they buy bulk laundry detergent and other products that seem to be too big for what they are. A man also is trying to sell a mountain of Maoist books in the center of consumerism. Several radicals that you have seen throughout the film confront the seller of these books and engage in a war of words. They then take these sad customers and tell them that everything is free and they should just steal their products instead of paying the absurd sticker prices for them. They set several grocery carts on fire and end with clashing with the police. The whole time Jane is documenting these events with a calmness that is strange. There are several scenes that depict violent interruptions like this one all while contrasted with the calm reactions of Jane and Yves.
Godard’s tricks are still present in this film, but to a degree that enhances the viewing. One time during a heated argument between the couple instead of Jane telling Yves that he is being a dick, she holds up a picture of a dick in front of his face. Also during the occupation of the meat-packing plant, one man paints over a wall and eventually a picture the color of bright blue. He does it several times, but then late you see the same wall and picture unharmed with this garish blue. It reflects the mood of Jane and the picture. How can a human being stay ideological? How can a human being stay a radical? You can not always be confrontational and be expected to live a long life. The body must revert back to a state of rest and complacency just like the picture has to revert back to being unpainted. (wow that was pretentious)
Also available on the disc that I watched this film on is one of Godard’s shorts that he made with Gorin. It is entitled a Letter to Jane and is about Jane Fonda visiting Vietnam and this picture that surfaces of Jane listening intently to a native. Is she being revolutionary or is she being co-opted into something that she does not represent? Is this picture a reflection of the truth or is it just a manipulation to make Jane Fonda look like Mother Teresa? If you can get over the repetition that Godard seems to love more and more than I think it is worth watching to hear the ideas that Godard grapples with in most of his films distilled into a ten minute short meditation on this picture.