Reviews and notes
TWO OR THREE THINGS I KNOW ABOUT HER
is a pivotal film made in the summer of 1966, more essay than narrative, about alienation in consumer society and anticipating the mood and ideas that brought about les evenements
of 1968. The film's heroine (Marina Vlady) is a petit-bourgeois housewife living in a giant suburban tower block, who buys those little extras for the family by part-time prostitution. The 'her' of the film, however, is Paris, the alteration and re-building of which is intended to strike us as hideous and impersonal, though Raoul Coutard's widescreen images are consistently beautiful.
- Philip French, The Observer, July 8, 2001.
Godard has emphasised that the 'elle' of his film's title is not the character played by Marina Vlady but the city of Paris; and the first flash title to appear on the screen ("18 Lessons on Industrial Society") indicates the episodic structure he will use to demonstrate the two or three things he knows: that industrial society, embodied in the vast, impersonal apartment blocks and concrete motorways of the reconstructed city, strengthens the class system, dehumanises its inhabitants and reduces them, not to nothingness but to "zero"; that the acquisitive drive of capitalism compels all who live within it to some form of prostitution; that the proliferation of objects (consumer goods), the fragmentation of culture (paperback books) and the habitual misuse of words (advertising) combine to make communication between people virtually impossible.
Being Godard, he does not simply state what he knows, he also questions how he knows, not just what he sees but how he sees. The different levels of his film are to some extent unified by a recurrent questioning of the cognitive process that is also a questioning of the limits, and limitations, of language, including film language. As Juliette sits in the cafe, a woman at the next table flicks through a sex magazine; and Godard shows us a page as Juliette sees it, then the same page as the woman sees it, before asking: "Ou est donc la verite? De face ou de profil?"
Shortly after, when Juliette visits Robert at the garage, Godard debates out loud whether an exquisitely lyrical shot of the adjacent trees and cloudy sky is relevant to his description of this particular moment in Juliette's life. His own doubts as a narrator are echoed in Juliette's thoughts, which provide a second commentary on much of the action: she too is tormented, both by the gap between "l'objectivite qui m'ecrase et la subjectivite qui m'exile" and by the inadequacy of language to describe her state of mind. In a remarkable scene at the hairdresser's, she sustains a banal (objective) conversation with Marianne while continuing a subjective monologue about the difficulty of understanding her own sensations.
Yet just as Godard, long before Le Gai Savoir
, is already questioning the nature of images and sounds (cutting the city noises on and off to make a single shot of a construction site alternately lyrical and oppressive), so too he is already putting into practice the doctrine he formulated in La Chinoise
of confronting abstract ideas with concrete images. A naked girl is interrupted in her bath by the meter man just before the narrator observes that modern amenities like hot water, though now viewed as necessities, are luxuries that few people can afford. The emptiness of paperback culture is brilliantly suggested in the sequence where a modern-dress Bouvard and pecuchet (named after Flaubert's cliche-hunters) sit at a cafe table, digesting their dinner and frantically reading out random phrases from the books piled high in front of them; while in the film's most remarkable shot, as the narrator tries to articulate his indeterminate suspension between an objective and a subjective existence, the camera moves closer and closer in on newly stirred coffee swirling round in a cup, turning object to abstraction before our very eyes.
The desire for objects that fail to satisfy desire is conveyed as Juliette wanders round the store, trying on a fur coat, enquiring about sweaters yet supposedly wanting a dress; the cult of the object is economically demonstrated as Juliette passes from having her hair washed to having her car washed; and the film's final shot is of temptingly packaged consumer goods spread out on the grass, a set of signs that have lost their meaning. Yet despite the abstraction of much of his thought and his emphasis on objects as both defining and obstructing human relationships, Godard also creates an extraordinarily intimate portrait of Marina Vlady's Juliette, a woman trying to define an identity that is more than the sum of her socially determined acts and possessions.
- Jan Dawson, Monthly Film Bulletin, December 1970.
Weblink: Review from Strictly Film School, 2004
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