(Original Title: 2 Ou 3 Choses Que Je Sais D’Elle)
Perhaps you’ve heard of Jean-Luc Godard; if you haven’t gotten wind of the critical confusion over his most recent Film Socialisme, the title Breathless may ring a bell. Along with Citizen Kane, Breathless is considered to be one of cinema’s great formative steps. Its influence can still be seen now, although notions like jump cuts have been used and overused to the point of being fairly commonplace.
Between Breathless and today stands an oeuvre of increasing difficulty: our (the average audience’s) problem with Godard is that he continued to innovate past simple tricks like playing with genre conventions. Film is this artist’s medium, and over the years he has pushed at our fundamental assumptions about how it works during his progressive dive into increasingly theoretical territory.
Not all the results from his explorations pan out, but in my opinion 2 or 3 Things I Know About Her is a true gem, a flash of insight into what he tries to do…and yet, a direct quote for what that is proves elusive. There are wisps of consumerism, prostitution, class discrimination, social pathology and communism amid an array of buildings, construction sites and advertising. The Vietnam War and U.S. lurk in peripheral view.
Each of these subjects is examined in a collage of skits and monologues that loosely follow actress Marina Vlady/character Juliet Jansson (both are noted) on a trip through the shops, cafés and hotels of Paris. There is no ultimate destination, but there are some fascinating stops.
Exactly what it all adds up to is your own conclusion to find; one cannot be a passive observer while watching a Godard film. There are trains of thought here, but they are split and stratified; one has to lean in and listen close. There is something going on, but the process of puzzling it out may be more satisfying than the statements you could sum up your findings in. Perhaps the best way to describe it is to call it a state of mind: these were the subjects on the creator’s mind, and the way they flit past reflect his thought process.
But it is more than that. The film could also be called a rough draft of itself: how the filmmaker thought of illustrating these concepts (Godard clearly reminds us that he is the creator throughout, to Brechtian effect), seeming to still be in a somewhat disorganized, unpolished (certainly overlong, in some cases) form… but even more than that, a kind of personal paranoia, uncertainty, fear of the inability to communicate haunts the film even as it swoops into brilliant expressions. More than being told or lectured to, like other Godard film essays that put him on-screen, 2 or 3 Things puts us inside of his mind — specifically, himself as a creator of film.
The implications are tremendous: here is a filmmaker using, or attempting to use, film as the ultimate first-person form of self-expression — a mirror, a river of thoughts. And, as the film’s scenes and skits are shown in a seemingly rough form that give them a genuine status as the real first-version thoughts of their creator, his anxiety and doubts make a quiet intimacy: here is a real person, huddled against the ominous modern reality he has found himself in, whispering his thoughts directly to us. It’s hard to get closer than that.
The good news for you as a viewer is that the film’s other subjects are still there; it is both a creator’s stream of consciousness and a real attempt to get at what he is thinking about; it takes place within himself but is not self-absorbed. The special achievement of 2 Or 3 Things I Know About Her is that Godard managed to bring both form and content together to produce something more than a mental exercise, without sacrificing his penchant for thought in film.