Over the last decade and a half, Jean-Luc Godard has seemed the most marginal of all major film-makers - an ever shaggier prophet declaiming his jeremiads to the dwindling faithful. Then this year, he unexpectedly came in from the cold. Not only did an NFT retrospective attract hordes of intense new acolytes, but in Cannes a fevered buzz circulated about Godard's new film Eloge de l 'Amour. Tempers were raised and ribs all but crushed in the queue for the press shows. Of course, it can 't have hurt to leak the information that the film would vent Godard's notorious animus against Steven Spielberg.
Eloge de l 'Amour (In Praise of Love) is indeed something. However, it's hardly a bolt from the blue - it just seems that way in Britain, where no new Godard feature has been distributed since the mid-Eighties. He hasn't been inactive since then, simply wilder - his cinema work ever more elliptical, sometimes way beyond the bounds of coherence. But then there were all those sui generis video pieces, in which he used the medium as his personal sketchpad, soapbox and mind gym - the lyrical essays, the self-portraits, and the encyclopaedic contemplation of a century of images and atrocities, Histoire(s) du cinéma.
In Eloge de l 'Amour, however, Godard seems ready again to meet his public half way - if not to entertain, certainly to seduce. Eloge even has the ghost of narrative.
This is another of those Godard films, like Passion or Le Mépris, that ostensibly deals with making (or not making) a film (or perhaps not a film). Edgar (the handsomely impassive Bruno Putzulu) is working on an unspecified project - a film, a novel, perhaps a piece of music.
The theme will be love, as experienced by the three ages, young, old and adult; but then Edgar has no idea what an adult actually is. It seems as if everything in Eloge can only be defined in terms of what it is not: as if the film's elusive subject were the elusiveness of its own subject.
Eloge is more easily described in terms of form than of story - but then, what is a story except a specialised type of form? The first half is shot on film in black and white, the second on digital video in colours cranked up to radioactive intensity: a helicopter takes off in burst of blue, Putzulu's profile melts into an oil-paint sunset. In Part One, the compositions are soberly classical, often static, with a distinct Cartier-Bresson flavour: after years away, Godard has rediscovered Paris, especially by night, steeping it in inky blacks, picking out glaring streetlights.
There is a running theme of homelessness, but you wonder whether this is more to do with Godard's social conscience or with his own status as an exile returning to what was briefly the capital of 20th-century cinema.
As usual, Godard brandishes his polemic cudgels against all things made in USA, whether in Washington or Hollywood. In the second section, a couple of old Resistance veterans have sold their story to a Monsieur Spielberg: America, someone complains, has no memory of its own, so has to steal everyone else's. Much of the rest is more obscure, but in the end, the difficulty of Eloge de l 'Amour is only a question of how much input you can process.
People come and go before they can be identified, stopping in momentarily to deliver a maxim, sell a painting, turn a somersault. Paintings, books, film posters zoom by on Godard's conveyor belt of allusion before we can stop to puzzle over their significance. If you miss a gnomic aphorism, there'll be another along shortly, although they can't all be taken at face value: "Every thought should recall a capsized smile," says a woman enigmatically, before adding, "I just made it up." Is it missing the point to say that the film is, above all, extremely beautiful? Absolutely not, because real beauty - beauty invented rather than, as Godard would say, programmed - is the greatest rarity in cinema today. Even in this film, relatively manicured and packaged for public consumption, Godard still ventures further beyond the standard codes than even the most confrontational of his peers. He still makes films against - against American arrogance, gainst cin-ema's laziness, against the fatigue of cultural literacy. Eloge de l 'Amour is his latest declaration of faith that even if cinema's game is up, there are still new games to be played with moving images, still good reasons to sit watching light flicker in dark rooms. In fact, he suggests that might just be our best hope of finding the time and space to reflect on the state of the world.
In the late Seventies, Godard very nearly made a film in Hollywood, with backing from Francis Ford Coppola. It's hard to imagine him having much in common with the director of Jack and John Grisham's The Rainmaker. But in case we've forgotten what hard case Coppola himself once was, he's now released Apocalypse Now Redux - a reconstructed, expanded version of his 1979 Vietnam odyssey, 50 minutes longer than the original. "Redux" means "revived, brought back, restored to health", and this version effectively restores the film to some of the strangeness and power it had before the highlights of its script - "Terminate with extreme prejudice", "Charlie don't surf!" - were established as Mad magazine catch-phrases.
Some of the material, you suspect, was originally excised because it was just plain awkward. The fabled French plantation episode goes from Southern Gothic glumness to nights-in-white-satin kitsch, while the sequence in which the grunts tryst with some distressed Playboy bunnies is hippie-macho misogyny masquerading as pathos, poignant but oddly ugly.
Even so, the restoration expands the film's political dimension, making it more specifically about Vietnam, less straightforwardly a mythic quest; mind you, Brando's mountainous, muttering Kurtz cuts an unlikely figure producing news clippings from Time magazine.
Above all, as David Thomson remarked in this paper two weeks ago, Redux expands the film's symphonic structure, giving it a much needed slow movement: now you really believe in the length of the river, the remoteness of Kurtz's lair.
And somehow Brando, who seemed a bathetic, blustering Ubu figure in 1979, acquires a new shading, a definite humanity. But the figure who now looms larger still is Robert Duvall's monstrous Colonel Kilgore. His presence alone might qualify Redux as the first true Dubya-era movie.Reuse content