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Godard's Passion

Godard's Passion

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Published by: Cassie Warholm-Wohlenhaus on Nov 13, 2011
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Godard’s Passion
The Problem of FilmOr How Film Makes a Muddle of Work and Art
Cassie Warholm-WohlenhausKiarina Kordela, Goebbels to HollywoodDecember 13, 2007
Jean-Luc Godard’s film Passion (1981) deals primarily with what film is, thedifficulty in making a film, and the problems of film production specifically andmechanical reproduction generally. In raising these issues Godard also foregrounds thethemes of art and work, which leads to a view of film that has to do with prostitution andthe degradation of both art and work in the age of late capitalism. The postmodern viewof this film, which I will be investigating along these themic lines, is useful in that it has precisely no allegorical effect whatsoever. The themes of art, work and, to a lesser extent,love, “only distantly resembling ideas,” allow us to view a show of characters thatGodard stages; we see characters’ reactions to different tropes, situations and sinthoms,which effectively show us the aforementioned themes and how characters embody themwithout pointing out the characters themselves. (Jameson 176)As Jameson says, Passion exhibits a conspicuous lack of both plot and characters,which could be read in a postmodern perspective. (See 1640168) If read in this way, thislack can be used to uphold Godard’s ideas by allowing us to focus on his use of themesrather than his use of characters; if we read the film with a modernist perspective,however, we are invited to create connections between characters and events in thediegetic reality and their underlying allegorical structures. This may be useful to someends, but in this case an underlying allegory would obscure the themes as well asGodard’s overarching view of the aspects of film, which is what I would like to examine.First, let us look specifically at the lack of both a central plot and a centralcharacter in Passion, and how this focuses the viewer’s attention on themes instead. The plot of Passion is rather elusive in Godard’s own account of the film: “A factory girl[Isabelle] is sacked by her boss. She falls in love with a foreigner [Jerzy] come to make a
film. Then the boss’s wife [Hanna] also falls in love with the foreigner. He for his partcannot find a subject for his film, and though there are dozens around him” (Jameson165). This explanation is sketchy and, at best, envelopes the general interactions betweena couple of characters, offering up meager facts whose explanation does not trulydescribe what the film is “about”; no one plotline is foregrounded. Watching the film wenotices the lack of meaningful or climactic events, which cause us to look for somethingelse to hold onto – we look for a central character.The lack of a central character is also quite glaring, however, though Jamesonupholds it as a necessary feature: “Indeed I believe it is aesthetically…wrong to posit any‘central characters’ at all; wrong to see Jerzy as the ‘hero’; wrong to extract the women’stwo subplots from what is a very tangled web indeed, full of any number of other storylines – such as the electrician and his wife…, the violent jealousy drama between Laszloand the two assistants, and even the acrobat contortionist…” (See 166) If we avoid positing a central character and, therefore, a central gaze, the output leads to afragmented, or indeed nonexistent, narrative in which the structure of the events rotateswith each change of scene. (Jameson 166-167) This fluctuating point of view, then, istruly what creates our ability to not focus on the characters as a false allegory for somespecified moral outcome of a plot, but rather allows us to focus on the themes Godard presents and their relation to the structure of the film in general. There are no moral,social or political conclusions (which would in other films presumably result from thecharacters and plotline) to be drawn about this amalgamation of characters and events.In an entirely postmodern view of this film, the interactions within thisamalgamation raise questions about themes and ideas, about “the question of what a film

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