Detective (1985)

Godard’s attempt at mashing multiple genres together in a mystery-type film doesn’t really go anywhere, and in fact, the characters are ironically searching for some kind of direction.

Rating: 2.5 out of 5.

Dir. Jean-Luc Godard
1985 | France | Experimental/Crime | 95 mins | 1.37:1 | French, English & Italian
Not rated – likely to be at least M18 for nudity

Cast: Jean-Pierre Leaud, Nathalie Baye, Emmanuelle Seigner, Julie Delpy, Johnny Hallyday
Plot: In a palace of Paris, two detectives are investigating a two-year-old murder. Elsewhere, Emile and Francoise are putting pressure on a boxing manager who owes them a huge amount of money.
Awards: Nom. for Golden Lion (Venice); Won Best Innovative Film (Rotterdam)
Source: Studiocanal

Accessibility Index
Subject Matter: Moderate
Narrative Style: Elliptical/Experimental
Pace: Slow
Audience Type: Niche Arthouse

Viewed: DVD
Spoilers: No

One could sense that Godard was bored in his later years as a filmmaker.  Add Detective as one more example from his prolific output that shows why. 

Trying hard to make the most boring and non-consequential detective-type film ever, Godard’s attempt at mashing multiple genres—the crime film, some aspects of noir, an investigative procedural, a dash of erotica, an ensemble piece, an experimental exercise—didn’t really go anywhere; neither did he try to make meaningful stabs at any theme. 

There is, however, a lot going on in the film, a flurry of activities as it were, with some nimble editing craft on display.  It begins rather well, setting up some kind of murder mystery in a seemingly traditional way.  But I guess a cup of coffee later, things become aimless. 

 “We’re not in one of those little French films, where the actors believe talking is thinking.”

There is no narrative thrust—we don’t (or perhaps are not expected to) feel much for any of the characters, even if I did find several of the performances at least interesting to watch, particularly from the more familiar names e.g. Jean-Pierre Leaud, Jonny Hallyday, Emmanuelle Seigner, and Julie Delpy in her feature acting debut. 

Nathalie Baye is quite strong as one half of a couple in a love-hate marriage who pushes a boxing manager to return them a huge sum of money that he owes (and which he also owes the Mafia). 

The characters are all searching for some kind of direction to go in their lives, and I feel this is ironic—and perhaps symptomatic of Godard’s nonchalance toward his work.  With the exception of a few films, post-New Wave Godard seems to be interested in creating ‘art’ for no one but himself. 

Grade: C


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