Could be one of Godard’s most beautifully-shot films, but its experimental use of unsync dialogue combined with a fragmentary and obtuse narrative makes this challenging to appreciate.
Dir. Jean-Luc Godard
1982 | France | Drama | 88 mins | 1.66:1 | French, German & Polish
Not rated (likely to be M18 for nudity and sexual references)
Cast: Isabelle Huppert, Hanna Schygulla, Michel Piccoli
Plot: A film director has an inspirational crisis while working on the production, Passion, and struggles with the nature of work and art.
Awards: Won Technical Grand Prize & Nom. for Palme d’Or (Cannes)
Subject Matter: Abstract/Meta
Narrative Style: Fragmentary/Experimental
Audience Type: Niche Arthouse
(Reviewed on DVD)
I have no strong feelings for or against Godard’s Passion, so it’s quite difficult to write about it. But one thing’s for sure, if you aren’t a fan of Jean-Luc Godard, this won’t be for you. Even if you are, as I am (though not a die hard one), it can be challenging to appreciate the film, let alone to dissect and analyse it.
Godard’s Passion, as its oddly meta-filmic title alludes, works on at least two levels. On one hand, one could see it as a ‘narrative’, a story about a filmmaker struggling to make a picture. On the other hand, one might see it as a behind-the-scenes take on the said filmmaker’s struggles by Godard himself.
“It bores me to have to take my clothes off.”
“People who are bored blame work for their boredom.”
Perhaps the word ‘passion’ gives us a clue—it is both the name of the picture that the aforesaid filmmaker is directing, as well as the title of Godard’s film (literally!). But passion also suggests obsession, hence it could be from a descriptive level that Godard’s Passion is essentially about one man’s singular fantasy and vision, warts and all, to make that perfect film.
Godard’s protagonist just can’t seem to get the right lighting for a period setting, thus wasting precious time and resources, a fact that irks his producer deeply. The irony is that the filmmaker in question is working with the legendary Raoul Coutard (Godard’s long-time cinematographer) who’s a master of his craft. Coutard won the Technical Grand Prize at the Cannes Film Festival for his work here, and quite deservingly so as I have not seen a more beautifully-shot film from Godard yet.
The blending of real and reel is not new, but Godard’s experimental use of unsync dialogue combined with its already fragmentary and obtuse narrative makes it hard to ‘get into’. Passion here could also refer to romance and illicit affairs which the protagonist is having, in hopes of rejuvenating his senses—and perhaps sensitivities to love and life—that might inspire his cinematic pursuits.
Vittorio Storaro was Godard’s first choice cinematographer, but replaced him right before shooting began with Raoul Coutard, whom he hadn’t worked with since the mid-1960s.
In the final analysis, Godard’s Passion seems to be an amalgamation of any artist’s existential crisis, rendered through a meta-filmic construct that says quite a fair bit about the nature and process of art-making. But somehow Godard has conspired to make it as uninteresting as it is interesting, as woefully boring as it is intellectually stimulating.
His next film, First Name: Carmen (1983) would see him play a filmmaker (if only briefly) who has been staying in a mental institute so that he can escape the burden of making films. And it’s not even the main plot of the film. Go figure…