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Opposing Convention: Jean-Luc Godard as Auteur.

Opposing Convention: Jean-Luc Godard as Auteur.

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Equipped with a resolutely Brechtian perspective on the art of cinema, and an array of formal techniques which challenge, rather than grant instant gratification to, the viewer, Godard is an often politically-motivated, formally innovative and undoubtedly influential auteur.
Equipped with a resolutely Brechtian perspective on the art of cinema, and an array of formal techniques which challenge, rather than grant instant gratification to, the viewer, Godard is an often politically-motivated, formally innovative and undoubtedly influential auteur.

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Published by: Undergraduate Awards on Sep 01, 2012
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Opposing Convention: Jean-Luc Godard as
 politique des auteurs
first popularized by
Cahiers du Cinéma
is arguably one of the most divisive theories formulated throughout the history of cinema studies. AsWollen notes, the theory has separated critics into two schools of thought: those whodefine an
according to similarities in
occurring in their work,and those who emphasised a so-called "core of meanings [or thematic preoccupations]"
. While these methods of analysis are useful
it's necessary to deviatewhen discussing the work of Godard, a director whose work is best appreciatedthrough analysis of his favoured, and so singular, formal and narrative techniques.This essay will attempt to define Godard the
with reference to two of thedirector's most influential works:
Vivre Sa Vie
(Jean-Luc Godard, 1962) and
 Le Mépris
(Jean-Luc Godard, 1963). A filmmaker who during the early stages of hiscareer was in the practice of "crediting his own name [...]
on an equal footing 
withany other name or body"
,Godard, is undoubtedly, if only for the said reason, atypical
.Godard's cinema has been deemed one which "doesn't admit us easily"
, a traitmade most apparent through the use of Brechtian distanciation techniques. Thiselement of Godard's work is most evident in the aforementioned films, and isundeniably, one of his defining characteristics as an
auteur. Le Mépris,
despite itsseeming Godard's most aesthetically conformist and conventional film (his "only realattempt at a Hollywood film"
), employs an array of distancing techniques, whichserve to - in true Brechtian fashion - remove the viewer from anything reminiscent of 
1 Wollen, Peter, 'The Auteur Theory' in
 Auteurs and Authorship
ed. Grant, Barry Keith. Malden,Oxford and Victoria: Blackwell Publishing, 2008. p. 56.2 Aumont, Jacques, 'The Fall of the Gods: Jean-Luc Godard's
 Le Mépris
(1963), in
 French Film: Textsand Contexts
ed. Hayward, Susan & Vincendeau, Ginette. London and New York: Routledge, 2000. p.174.3 Monaco, James,
The New Wave
. New York: Oxford University Press, 1976. p. 98.4 Ibid., p. 130.1
fantasy with a view to encouraging critical thought and contemplation. To illustrate:the character of Francesca (Giorgia Moll) is, essentially, a tool used by Godard toestablish significant distance between the viewer and a narrative realm, which purveysescapism and subjectivity as could be found in narrative cinema. The lines areduplicated through Francesca, her incessant translating jars the narrative and theviewer is forced to adopt a critical and objective perspective regarding the series of images. Additionally, another distanciating component of the film is the painfully prolonged domestic scene, in which Camille (Brigitte Bardot) and Paul (MichelPiccoli) bicker heatedly regarding the excursion to Capri. The argument, which lastsapproximately thirty minutes, serves to distance the audience in two ways. Firstly, thesheer length of the scene brings any strain of narrative that is existent within the filmto an abrupt halt - once again, the creation of an alternate realm of emotionality and passivity is forbidden in favour of the encouragement of critical thought. Secondly,Camille's relentlessness in providing causal logic for her intense contempt frustratesthe viewer and prevents emotional identification - if she does not inform us of whyshe detests Paul so, then how can we possibly empathise? Without explanation fromCamille we are prohibited from emotional investment.This constant disallowing of escapism and character identification not onlyconstitutes Godard's auteurist mark in
 Le Mépris
but also in several instances in
VivreSa Vie
. The first dialogue of the film (in the café) is conventional insofar as it presentstwo persons - Nana (Anna Karina) and Paul (André S. Labarthe) engaging inconversation within "a mixture of two-shots and a shot-reverse shot formation"
.However, the entirety of the action is filmed from behind the characters, the faces of whom are only barely visible in the mirror in the background of the frame. Godard'sauthorial intervention
dictates that facial close-ups and frontal shots are unfavourable
5 Morrey, Douglas,
 Jean-Luc Godard.
 New York: Manchester University Press, 2005. p. 39.2
and that removed, distancing shots from behind the subjects are more conducive to the purging of "passive emotionalism" and the promotion of "active thought"
. Thisdistanciation is evidence of the ideology which inspires much of Godard's work andinforms his directorial decisions as an
. Narrative in Godard's cinema is frequently seen to be fissured and incoherent.As an
Godard renders non-linearity, or "narrative intransitivity"
 in his films,an element which reinforces his much-beloved Brechtian ideology. This qualitymanifests itself in
 Le Mépris
in the form of decidedly unorthodox flashbacks. Rather than functioning "in the explanatory fashion of the classical grammar of cinema"
 these Godardian, auteurist flashbacks disorientate and disrupt the viewer, warping any perception which might lead to comprehension of the narrative. For example, insteadof satisfying the audience with an explanation for Camille's contempt of Paul, ergooffering causality and transitivity, seemingly irrelevant, arbitrary images are patchedtogether and shown in rapid succession. To illustrate: in the exterior scene whereCamille expresses what is her apparent disgust at Paul, and sets about going for awalk, a collision of unrelated images: Camille tousling her hair, gazing at her reflection in a vanity mirror, hesitating outside Prokosch's (Jack Palance) car, occurs.Godard, in a sense, perverts the traditional flashback with a view to frustrating theviewer, and forcing them - as a result - to re-assert their attention. As an
Godard evidently favours an associative, Eisensteinian narrative method, willing tocreate a mood and provoke active thought rather than establish causal logic.
Vivre Sa Vie
is exemplary in displaying this narrative intransitivity. Thereexists, within the film, a marked linearity of sorts: the film progresses from a defined
6 Sterritt, David,
The Films of Jean-Luc Godard: Seeing the Invisible.
Cambridge: CambridgeUniversity Press, 1999. p. 64.7 Wollen, Peter, 'Godard and Counter-Cinema: Vent D'Est (1972)', in
The European Cinema Reader 
ed. by Catherine Fowler. London: Routledge, 2002. p. 75.8 McCabe, Colin,
Godard: A Portrait of the Artist at 70
. Great Britain: Bloomsbury, 2003. p. 175.3

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