Filmmaker Jean-Luc Godard, 74, came to Cannes last May to discuss his latest cinema essay, Notre Musique/0ur Music. But before his press conference could get going, Godard, a man of the militant left since the mid-60s, gave over the event to France’s National Coordination of Entertainment Workers. The union of freelance film and television actors and performers, threatening a strike, were picketing outside of the Cannes festival.
As Godard puffed a long cigar, a union spokesman painted for the international press a dreadful picture of life for his Gallic union members: "You do manual work in the daytime, at night a show, you are taken on with no papers, you clean up polluted beaches, you do porno, etc." He held up the new issue of Cahiers du Cinema, the once-avant garde magazine associated with Godard, Truffaut, and the French New Wave. Oh, the capitalist rag! The latest Cahiers sported a sleek cover with a female model pushing a yuppie cologne.
Exit the Entertainment Workers, and Godard’s Notre Musique cast finally was introduced. They included young Jewish women from Russia and France, a Native American actress, a Palestinian poet, a French journalist. In Notre Musique, they are among the participants, along with Godard himself,at a literary conference in post-war Sarajevo. "Since there were lots of different languages," Godard said, "the film should be subtitled into the American English of a Pakistani cab-driver." Then he backtracked: "I’m for dubbed versions, because subtitles allow you to think you are watching a film in your own language. If you’ve seen a film with subtitles, you’ve read it, you haven’t watched it. You aren’t thinking, for instance, ‘Arabic Spanish.’ You’ve only seen 6% of the film. With this 6 %, I hope you can write something about it."
With that, Godard went off on an attack on Viviana Redding, European Commissioner of Culture: "Although she’s blonde, she’s my ‘bete noir.’ She said we should create ‘European filmmaking,’ a rather crazy notion. It reminds me of when I read books about creating a Superman. If you’re going to create ‘European filmmaking,’ why not call on [Dr.] Frankenstein? She’s stupid, that woman. . . . Globalization is a form of totalitarianism. Television is the same, whether in North America or Palestine."
Are the people on screen in Notre Musique playing themselves, or should they be viewed as fictional creations? "I’m not trying to create a difference between actors and ‘documentary actors,’ Godard answered. "They are there to speak texts, but there should be something of their own lives too, like Rony Kramer, who was born in Egypt, lived in France, served in the Israeli army, which are interesting contradictions. So they are not actors, they are chosen people. But [Notre Musique] was unlike certain documentaries, where the subjects aren’t paid."
Translation: the performers are themselves, though they read lines supplied by Godard; and they were salaried for appearing in Notre Musique.
Jean-Christophe Bouvet, the French journalist: "As actors, we played little musical notes, but maybe they were false notes, wrong notes. Maybe Godard was filming our DNA."
Nade Dieu, the Russian Jew: "He’d chosen me on the basis of what I didn’t understand. In playing the text, trusting the text, I learned something."
Sarah Adler, the French Jew: "It’s a collaboration, but it’s Jean-Luc’s collaboration. It was a journey to Sarajevo, but not a holiday. There are buildings which are empty shells from the war, and that makes an impression."
Leticia Gutierrez, the Native American: "Not many people take an interest in us, because I’m a Mexican half-breed. Sarajevo made an impression on me. We’re always looking for our roots, and I came back more and more to my ancestors."
Why did Godard decide to film in Sarajevo?
"It’s a long story, both personal and impersonal. I’m in favor of frontiers but against customs officers. By my nature, I’m not particularily brave, but I do like to see things: people who are sick, wounded, maybe I got that from my father, the doctor. I like to go when a war is over, when interest is lost, that’s when purgatory begins. It’s a metaphor for life. I tried to go to Sarajevo in another film, Forever Mozart, but it didn’t succeed. I was invited once or twice to take part in literary meetings. I didn’t really choose Sarajevo. As Tolstoy said, ‘I didn’t choose Anna Karenina, it chose me.’"
(Boston Phoenix, January, 2005)