Jean-Luc Godard

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Pauline Kael

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Only the title of Jean-Luc Godard's new film is casual and innocent; Weekend is the most powerful mystical movie since [Bergman's] The Seventh Seal and [Ichikawa's] Fires on the Plain and passages of Kurosawa. We are hardly aware of the magnitude of the author-director's conception until after we are caught up in the comedy of horror, which keeps going further and becoming more nearly inescapable…. The danger for satirists (and perhaps especially for visionary satirists) is that they don't always trust their art. They don't know how brilliantly they're making their points; they become mad with impatience and disgust, and throw off their art as if it were a hindrance to direct communication, and they begin to preach. When Godard is viciously funny, he's on top of things, and he scores and scores, and illuminates as he scores. When he becomes didactic, we can see that he really doesn't know any more about what should be done than the rest of us. But then he goes beyond didacticism into areas where, though he is as confused and divided as we are, his fervor and rage are so imaginatively justified that they are truly apocalyptic. It is in the further reaches—in the appalling, ambivalent revolutionary vision—that Weekend is a great, original work.

Weekend begins with a callous disrespect for life which is just a slight stylization of civilized living now; it's as if the consumers of The Married Woman had become more adulterous, more nakedly mercenary, and touchier. The people in Weekend have weapons and use them at the slightest provocation, and it seems perfectly logical that they should get into their cars and bang into each other…. As long as Godard stays with cars as the symbol of bourgeois materialism, the movie is superbly controlled; the barbarousness of these bourgeois—their greed and the self-love they project onto their possessions—is exact and funny. But the movie goes much further—sometimes majestically, sometimes with brilliantly surreal details that suggest a closer affinity between Godard (who is of Swiss Protestant background) and Buñuel than might have been expected, sometimes with methods and ideas that miss, even though the intentions are interesting. The couple wreck their car, and as they wander the highways, lost among battered cars and bleeding dead, they have a series of picaresque adventures, encountering figures from literature and from films, until they meet a new race of hippie guerrillas—revolutionary cannibals raping and feeding on the bourgeoisie. It is both the next step and a new beginning.

The movie has extraordinary sections [such as the sequence of the wife's erotic confession]. (pp. 138-39)

But not all the big scenes work. There is respite in the story, a musicale sequence (which might be one of the cultural programs outlined in La Chinoise) in which a pianist plays Mozart in a farmyard while a few peasants and farm laborers listen or walk by. We are so alerted to the technical feat of this sequence … that the actions caught seem too mechanical. And the meaning of the sequence is too ideological and too ambiguous (like much of Les Carabiniers ); Godard may possibly believe in that musicale—that is to say, Godard may believe that art must be taken to the peasants—but more likely he's satirizing the function and the place of art, of himself along with Mozart. This might be clearer if it were not for another, and worse, ideological sequence—a big symbolic garbage truck manned by a Negro and an Algerian, who empty the refuse of our civilization and make speeches directly at us. The more "direct" Godard is, the more fuzzy...

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and obscure he is. Who can assimilate and evaluate this chunk of theory thrown at us in the middle of a movie? … Though the movie slackens during this agitprop, the horrors soon begin to rise again, and they get higher and higher. Some of this doesn't work, either: Godard has been showing us life going wild and depraved into nightmare, beyond totem and taboo, but his method has been comic and Brechtian…. Godard shoves at our unwilling eyes the throat-cutting of a pig and the decapitation of a goose. Now, when people are killed in a movie, even when the killing isnot stylized, it's generally O.K., because we know it's a fake, but when animals are slaughtered we are watching life being taken away. No doubt Godard intends this to shock us out of "aesthetic" responses, just as his agitprop preaching is intended to affect us directly, but I think he miscalculates. I look away from scenes like this, as I assume many others do. Is he forcing us to confront the knowledge that there are things we don't want to look at? But we knew that. Instead of drawing us into his conception, he throws us out of the movie. And, because we know how movies are made, we instinctively recognize that his method of jolting us is fraudulent; he, the movie director, has ordered that slaughter to get a reaction from us, and so we have a right to be angry with him. Whatever our civilization is responsible for, that sow up there is his, not ours. (pp. 140-41)

Pauline Kael, "Weekend in Hell" (originally published in The New Yorker, October 5, 1968), in her Going Steady (copyright © 1968 by Pauline Kael; reprinted by permission of Little, Brown and Company in association with the Atlantic Monthly Press), Atlantic-Little, Brown, 1970, pp. 138-44.


Andrew Sarris


Pauline Kael