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  • Ravi Swami

"Two or Three Things I Know About Her", Dir: Jean-Luc Godard, 1966

I approached Jean-Luc Godard's 1966 film "Two or Three Things I Know About Her" with a degree of trepidation, partly because I would consider it as "late Godard" and where his films became increasingly political and also because I wondered how deep I would go down the Godard rabbit-hole in view of the number of films by the prolific director - for example he made this film along with two others in the same year.

That could be explained by the fact that the film takes the form of an essay but with a narrative thread, and visually it is a patchwork of shots, many of which were unscripted and where Godard prompted actors with questions off camera via earpieces, resulting in to-camera shots of people answering the question in a random way that deliberately breaks the narrative flow.

All the hallmarks of a Godard film are present, from the spoken narrative, this time delivered in a barely audible whisper by Godard himself and the breaking of the "Third Wall", as Marina Vlady as "Juliette Jeanson" slips in and out of character, as if Godard is playfully questioning the artifice of film itself.

Overall the film appears to be questioning the growth of post-war consumerism set against the new high-rise developments of the "Banlieues" or suburbs of Paris in the 60's, intended as a shining example of the urban planning philosophies of Le Corbusier, which were universally popular in many countries after the war during reconstruction and industrial growth.

Vlady's character Juliette is married with 2 children to a high-earner who is rarely at home in the flat they live in, in one of the new high-rises. When he is at home he spends all his time transcribing radio broadcasts covering the Vietnam war or conflicts in French Indo-China and his marriage has gone cold. Juliette spends her time shopping for clothes and her aspirations center on moving up the social ladder, a desire not shared by her husband.

Boredom and a need for additional income drive her toward prostitution and via a series of vignettes it becomes clear that she is not alone in this as various women outline the differing circumstances that lead them toward the same thing - Godard is suggesting that the buy-sell culture of consumerism inevitably reduces the body to being a commodity to be traded like soap powder.

Some of the subjects appear to be based on real, rather than scripted scenarios and one particularly awful moment occurs where Jeanette goes to "work" with her daughter who is a toddler, leaving her with carers and other children in the same apartment that doubles up as a creche, where she and other women attend to clients. leaving me wondering if this was based on an actual scenario.

One striking feature of the film is the attitude of men towards women, which is uniformly one of objectification - women are only good for cooking, cleaning and sex - but by choosing to make women the focus of the film Godard manages to side-step any accusations of chauvinism. While employment opportunities are available in the booming factory economies of the suburbs, factory work is considered as unsuitable for the upwardly mobile and without an education, options are limited, which is the central dilemma for the women in the film and where prostitution is viewed as a fast-track to obtain the expensive consumer item they see in women magazines - in another context it could be drugs.

Godard is really saying that consumerism is like a recreational drug peddled by "progressive" governments but then this is in line with his increasingly left-leaning political stance, something that finds further expression by his use in the film of intercut edits of the Vietnam War and various atrocities - it's not a view I disagree with particularly and in many ways the film is quite prescient - in the U.K the post-war building boom led to similar high-rise "projects" as those in France that eventually fell victim to crime and inner city deprivation as industries closed down in the areas where they were built.

Another more recent (2019) film I viewed during lockdown, "Merveilles de Montfermeil" or "Wonder in the Suburbs" revisits the now mostly run-down Banlieues that house inhabitants from all corners of the world in a surreal plot about the town Mayor's attempts to hold on to power, played by Emmanuelle Beart and which provides an interesting and possibly more entertaining and accessible contrast to Godard's prophetic side-swipe.

"Two or Three Things I Know About Her" closes with a shot of various consumer products like toothpaste and washing powder arranged on grass, like an advertising "pack-shot", clearly to underline Godard's thesis.

It's not a film for everyone since it can be quite a hard watch due to the disjointed free-form nature of the editing, but by then this had become Godard's style and it should be viewed as an essay rather than as a conventional film, highlighting Godard's desire to experiment and break free from the confines of the rules of filmmaking - the end result is something that remains as fresh and as relevant as it did in 1966.

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