Notre Musique starts out with images of war. Blurry and segmented, all you know that you are inhabiting Hell and that you are watching images of destruction. Images pulled from Nazi propaganda films, documentaries on Vietnam and even science fiction films like Kiss Me Deadly are splashed on the screen while a young woman speaks in hushed tones. You listen to her words and see them translated at the bottom, but you don’t really pay attention to them, because of the striking images on-screen. Is she talking about war or is she talking about herself? Is she reciting a famous work or is it her own diary entry? Although you later realize who is speaking, the difficulty still comes in deciphering what she is saying. So as you enter Purgatory, you are left emotionally raw from the overt violence on-screen and perplexed by the words said on top of them.
Once you move into Purgatory, the film goes into a more natural and conventional narrative. You see Godard listening to a man as he tells him how he came to be a translator. You figure out that they are in Sarajevo and he is giving a talk about images and text. As they journey through war-torn Sarajevo, many haunts of the previous section are recalled by the viewer, but not necessarily shown. During this time, Godard is asked why don’t more humane people start revolutions and Godard responds with humane people don’t start revolutions but they start libraries instead. I thought that was a good quote to introduce the character of a young idealist woman. She is in Sarajevo trying to get people to talk, trying to figure out how to mend her own broken country just like Sarajevo (Bosnia) is trying to do with theirs. She is a Jewish woman living in Israel. As this is set in modern times, you know that Israel is beset with horrible conflicts between Israelites and Palestinians. She talks to several people and each one says different things about the conflict. She documents their conversations and her journey to understand that there is no need for war attacks, no need for property disputes, no need for anything other than peace. She wants to save Israel/Palestine from being anything other than a safe haven for peace. This is set against Godard’s lecture on images or shots and reverse shots. He says that the image of Exodus is the same image as an image of fleeing. A man and a woman are photographed the same way in a Hawks film because Hawks did not see the difference between men and women. And there isn’t any. There isn’t any difference between a Jewish person suffering and a Muslim person suffering. They are suffering that is the end of it.
What happens to the woman is what brings us to Paradise. For Godard Paradise are foliage, woods, and men and women enjoying themselves in natural environments. But military men control even Paradise. You cannot escape it, even in death. She becomes Godard’s Eve by sitting next to a man and sharing an apple. She now knows how Paradise, how death is. She is aware. She is interesting.
This film is quiet in several ways and earth shattering in other ways. The ideas expressed about Israeli Palestinian conflict are intellectually stimulating, but the fate of this young girl is emotionally fulfilling. Something that I have learnt from watching several of Godard’s films is that he is most interesting when he is understated. When he has a concrete message. I only have one more film of his to enjoy before I move on to his companion in the French New Wave, Francois Truffaut. Adieu until then.