Jean-Luc Godard J. Hoberman - Essay

J. Hoberman

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Numero Deux is a mirthless caricature of domesticity. In addition to some startlingly explicit sex scenes, the film is crammed with garrulous grandparents, battles over the TV set, family members retreating into the world of stereo headphones, curious children, and sullen marital disagreements. While Two or Three Things was sumptuously cinemascopic, the fact that everything here is shown on two small TV monitors contributes to the bleak sense of isolation and claustrophobia. Even the few exteriors appear to have been shot looking down from a window.

But none of this withstanding, Numero Deux is among the most visually compelling films Godard has ever made. He uses his video monitors to invent a dozen new ways of splitting the screen or layering the image…. Godard is a master of expressive cacophony. When he piles up his TV sets so that fractured movie trailers are blasting out on top of the nightly news, the film becomes exhilaratingly kinetic….

Yet the film is bound to be misunderstood—for all his interest in realism, clinical sex, naked old people, Godard is hardly a naturalist. His notion of a human being is as stylized as Giacometti's, and about as cuddly….

Like many Godard films, Numero Deux bogs down in the home stretch, then rallies for a poignant ending. The light shifts in his studio so that we see the exhausted filmmaker sitting and resting his head on the consoles…. The penultimate shot—a close-up of Godard's weary hands caressing the control board—may be the most movingly confessional image he's given us since Pierrot le Fou.

Numero Deux is undoubtedly too radical for some, and too dour for others. But compared to it, virtually every other movie in town is just a cavity on the screen.

J. Hoberman, "Godard's 'Numero deux,' or Three New Things We Know about Him" (reprinted by permission of The Village Voice and the author; copyright © News Group Publications, Inc., 1981), in The Village Voice, Vol. XXVI, No. 25, July 17-23, 1981, p. 41.