When I complain about Godard’s lack of coherence and mish mash of styles, it pains me to write those complaints because I know that he was just a few frames, a few sounds and a few characters away from greatness. Then when he finally gets the combination right and completes a work that is complete in some way, it feels like I was watching his progress. I feel like the last couple of films that I watched of his, with the experimentation of the limits of character, montage, classical music, and titles have led him to create this masterpiece.
A sequel of sorts to Alphaville (it has the same main character, the wrinkled Lemmy Caution), it involves a spy who is trying to get a grasp on what Germany is after the fall of the Berlin Wall and the unification of Germany. Of course this film is much more than a story about a lost spy. It is about a lost country. How can a country that has been divided for so long, and has had such a complicated past, construct its future? Is it supposed to just forget the past and succumb to American ideals and consumerism? Is it capable of incorporating such a rich history into a future that will be able to compete with the superpowers of the world? All of these questions are asked by Godard, but in a way that only Godard can do.
You can tell by his past films that his love for classical music (especially Mozart, but also Wagner, Stravinsky, and many other German and Austrian composers) is boundless. In this film he takes sections of different works by different German composers and lays it against footage of Lemmy Caution walking around and old film clips from the Weimer period. This piecing together shows the beauty that has come out of German passion in such way that makes me wonder how movements such as music or film would have done without the German aesthetic. Germany is so much more than Hitler. But it is hard to escape from that notion as a Westerner. I think Godard recognizes that and shows that Germans also recognize this but at the same time just want to forget about it. They want to forget about it by buying things, by becoming as Western as possible and by caring only for superficial things. Godard tries to tell the audience that that is not the way to forget. There is no forgetting, there is only the movement forward.
On a purely aesthetic basis, this film was well paced and really beautifully shot. There is one scene in particular that I found breathtaking. It is such a simple scene of Lemmy Caution walking down past this massive old machinery used to turn ground over in order for it to be dug out for some sort of development. The scene is just Lemmy Caution narrating his discontent, him walking and this massive machine churning and yet it is magnificent in its simplicity.
This film is why I love Godard. When he has a solid idea, he can mix aesthetics, intellectual quagmires, art and art history, along with politics in such a way that is magical to behold. There is truly no one like Godard that has ver worked in cinema and I hope there will never be another one.