Like several of his previous films (Alphaville and Made in the U.S.A. specifically), First Name: Carmen could be considered a crime thriller. The story is about this woman (named Carmen) who is a part of a terrorist group planning to kidnap a high official in France. In order to get enough money to do so, they must rob a bank. Outside the bank is a security guard who gets caught up in the robbery. The security guard and Carmen get caught in a Mexican stand-off that devolves into a wrestling match before they end up making out. The security guard then defects and runs off with Carmen to her deranged uncle’s abandoned apartment. From there the plan to kidnap this official changes and warps as the feelings of Carmen towards the security guard change and warp. However it really isn’t about the kidnapping or the robbing of the bank or the security guard defecting, but instead it is about the relationships around Carmen.
When we first see Carmen, she is visiting her uncle in the psychiatry ward of a hospital. This uncle (who is played by Godard in a self-fulfilling prophecy maybe?) used to be a director before he was driven mad by the constant need to raise money, to create original work and stay up with evolving technology. She manipulates him into giving her his apartment and his film cameras by saying that they are getting funding for a documentary which is their cover up for the kidnapping. Later on in the film they actually recruit the uncle to be a part of the scene they are creating.
What is most fascinating about this film is not the crazy love story or the absurd amount of nudity (I mean does a woman really just wear a sweater and not panties while eating in real life? I think not Godard. I think not.), but the use of music throughout the film. In between the narrative, Godard cuts to this violin quartet practicing Beethoven works several times. They stop and start as they think of new ideas for how to interpret the phrasing on the sheets of music. This gives the plot line a jarring effect that makes the viewer think how the song they were playing relates to the ensuing scenes. It also gives these pieces of classical music more of a narrative tone that is not inherent if you just listen to the work. It is quite an ingenious way of interpreting the practice of scoring a film.
I consider this film to be minor Godard. Although the actors are nice to look at, the scenes sometimes are not framed in the best way possible. The emotions that are carried out by the actors don’t feel earned in any way and the plot line is boring. The best part honestly is to watch Godard pretend to be crazy which he will do again to more of a slapstick effect in Keep Up Your Right. Watch for a scene where Godard places a massive boombox next to his head like he is a black kid walking down the streets of Brooklyn in the seventies. It is pretty funny.