It’s strange to think that a man who’s already been written into history as a legend and cinematic master is still alive.
In America, a man who has accomplished more than many will in a lifetime, French director Jean-Luc Goddard, disappeared from everything but film textbooks, until now.
Goddard’s first major theatrical release in the United States in nearly 20 years, In Praise of Love (Eloge de l’Amour), is an airy attempt to explore love, resistance and memory.
The film appears to progress on a level of higher consciousness that is somewhat difficult to understand, but its strikingly original cinematography is worth contemplation.
The first and longer of the film’s two sections represents the present, which is shot in fine grain black-and-white 35 mm film that shimmers on the screen.
While the second section, placed in the past, is shot in a distracting over-saturated color digital-video.
The lead character Edgar (Bruno Putzulu) is an artist struggling with his “project,” which is to detail one young, one adult and one elderly couple through what he believes to be the four phases of love: meeting, sexual desire, breakup and reunion.
Though he repeatedly claims he cannot decide what form his project will take – a film, an opera, a novel or a play – Edgar casts the young couple and begins shooting.
He loses direction however, when he has trouble casting the adults.
According to Edgar, the young and the old assume a story merely by being young or old.
Adults though, need a story in order to be of interest.
Edgar is an adult himself.
His film is unsuccessful and his love interest refuses to be in the film, or even have dinner with him.
This all makes for a great story, but too bad it’s told through philosophical-sounding incoherent whining.
In the film’s second section, Edgar visits the home of an elderly couple who have lived through all four stages of love.
They were Resistance fighters in World War II and to prevent bankruptcy, are selling their story to American filmmakers.
It’s here that Edgar originally met the couple’s granddaughter Elle (Cécile Camp), who he attempts to cast as a love interest.
Besides the present-to-past structure, the only vividly coherent concept of the film is Goddard’s tirade against America.
Using Elle as a spokesperson, he rants at length about America’s cultural and technological imperialism, as well as Hollywood’s bastardization of history.
While it’s not entirely false, the outburst is sudden and out of place in a film that refuses to make much sense otherwise.
It’s unfortunate Goddard didn’t just run with the beautiful, gentle yet striking cinematography that starts the film.
The Paris cityscapes and stunning nighttime scenes make the first section very enjoyable.
Also, the film does have a few spontaneous moments reminiscent of Goddard’s earlier works, like Breathless, Contempt and Pierrot Le Fou.
In one nighttime scene, with lights sparkling in the far background, a female flasher opens her overcoat to two men, and then walks away.
The men say nothing of her and continue with their business.
It’s a shame these impulses give way to lofty contrivances.
There’s a lot of talk about stories and how they begin and end, which is a great motif for a film that very nearly ends on the same lines with which it begins.
But again, it’s a motif that is not clear enough.
So, unless you’re ready to wax poetic with a 98-minute moping reverie, you’re better off renting one of Goddard’s earlier flicks.
If you’re interested, the last showing of In Praise of Love (NR) is tonight (Sept. 26) at the Roxy Theater, 2023 Sansom St. Showtimes are 5:30, 7:30 and 9:30 p.m.
General admission is $8 and $5 for senior citizens and children. Call 215-563-9388 for more information.
Rachel Barbara can be reached at Rbarbara@temple.edu.