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Paris by Night: Calling a cab is just plain better in Paris, although Jean-Luc Godard is too busy castigating the United States to notice.

Grumble

It's hard to praise Godard's remote 'In Praise of Love'

By Richard von Busack

FALLING IN LOVE and failing in art, Edgar (Bruno Putzulu) wanders through modern Paris--black-and-white and grim--in the aftermath of a project that disintegrated. And it's only the press notes that explain what really happens next. All is abstraction in Jean-Luc Godard's newest film, In Praise of Love. The intertitles--"Something About Love" or just "Something," "Two Years Earlier"--seem, at first, as deliberately deluding as the mock-serious titles in Buñuel's An Andalusian Dog. The film was probably imported on the success of the reissue of Godard's Band of Outsiders and the still daisy-fresh Breathless.

In Praise of Love is an essay in two parts. The first takes place in the "present" at street-level Paris, with one indelible shot of a homeless man sleeping in the rain on a park bench. The second half is a flashback to two years before in Brittany, in bleedy-looking, saturated digital video. The gaudy colors are, Godard claims, meant to resemble the Fauvist paintings of the early 1900s. We see a helicopter as blue as tropical papaw fruit, like the Braniff jet on the end titles of TV's South Park. Blink and you'll miss love at first sight as it strikes Edgar. It happens when he sees "Elle" (Cécile Camp) by chance during a visit to the girl's grandmother's house. The development of love is indicated from the back of the actors, looking at a stretch of a river that's about as romantic as an industrial canal.

The Brittany sequences involve Edgar's attempts to make a film, though he's outbid by Yankees. A representative of "Spielberg and Associates" buys the rights to a French Resistance story he wants to make. Like Godard, I recoil from the great cinematic leap into the candy factory represented by the success of Spielberg and Lucas. But his arguments here are vague and crabby; he doesn't seem to know his enemy. Godard was always suspicious of the United States. Still, there was a time when he had faith in American films, and even that's been broken now. But what the characters say in In Praise of Love about Yankees trying to gobble up the pasts of the rest of the world, because Americans have no past ourselves--these aren't arguments a rational man makes. Everyone enjoys soaking up the past of the human race, regardless of nationality. Doesn't the French cultural past belong to anyone who can appreciate it? (Wasn't there once supposed to be a French mission to civilize the Earth?) Is Godard saying that only the French can really understand Chateaubriand, Honoré Daumier or Simone Weil (some of the cultural figures he name-checks here)?

Certainly, the Paris section is the most resonant part, since is represents the director's first film made there since 1966's Masculine-Feminine. Paris may also be what critics are responding to, and Godard's vision of it--derelict, ominous, beautiful--is the only reward for cringing through the director's diatribes. It's depressing to see a mind as profound as Godard's bent on these old man's crochets.


In Praise of Love (Unrated; 98 min.), directed by written by Jean-Luc Godard, photographed Christophe Pollock and Julien Hirsch and starring Bruno Putzulu and Cécile Camp, opens Friday at Camera 3 in San Jose.


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Web extra to the September 26-October 2, 2002 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

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