2 Or 3 Things I Know About Her (2 ou 3 choses que je sais d’elle)
Directed by Jean-Luc Godard
Written by Jean-Luc Godard
Starring Marina Vlady, Joseph Gehrard, Roger Montsoret
Cinematography by Raoul Coutard
Distributed by New Yorker Film (US)
Running time 87 minutes
Over the past few years, I’ve really become a fan of French cinema. In particular, I’ve enjoyed the films of François Truffaut. In fact, I’ve been intrigued by the French New Wave movement for some time now. I’ve done a lot of research and reading about the movement, and I even delivered a lesson on the movement to a French class when I filled in as a substitute teacher. One New Wave director whose work I haven’t seen yet is Jean-Luc Godard. I’ve queued up a number of his films to see, having read about his contributions to the New Wave movement, and I know some of them are considered classics. However, I’m a sucker for a good title, and one of his caught my eye: a film called ‘2 or 3 Things I Know About Her’. It just sounds mysterious. Some basic research told me that it’s the story of a Parisian housewife who turns to prostitution to supplement her family’s income. Interesting, right? I got my hands on the Criterion disk and decided to make it my first Goddard film.
My Thoughts After Viewing
In honor of the title, here are 7 or 8 Things I Want To Say About This Film…
#1. Although the story is about a housewife who resorts to prostitution, it’s not really about that. In fact, there’s not really a plot to the film per se. However, in the end, that becomes its strength as its more a character study and a chance for Godard to, well, philosophize- and he has a lot to say about consumerism, modernization, America, Vietnam, and more.
#2. The ‘Her’ the title refers to is actually one of three things- the city of Paris, the housewife Juliette, and the actress Marina Vlady who plays Juliette. In fact, the opening sequences of the film say as much. However, the film never really delves as much into the life of the real actress as it does the first two. Godard seems to be very critical of the modernization of Paris. We’re never shown the historical or quaint side of Paris (I don’t recall seeing a shot of the Eiffel Tower once- contrast that with the French New Wave classic The 400 Blows where the tower makes up the opening sequence). In fact, it’s always shots of ultra-modern apartment buildings that look like concrete wastelands- and everything’s always under construction. He’s much more sympathetic with the housewife, never visually seeming to pass judgement on her.
#3. It’s shot in a pseudo-documentary style that I just found fresh (even in this day of The Office). Characters would just turn, look at the camera and comment while the action was going on, then go back to what they were doing. It was clear the actors were aware that the camera was there, and it make us active participants in what is going on.
#4. Visually, the film is gorgeous. Godard’s camera seems to have a love affair with Juliette’s face (like the camera work in Lost In Translation and Scarlett Johanssen’s face). Marina Vlady’s face is beautifully plain. It’s not overdone or extremely made up, which gives her an air of reality. The shots of the city, although of bland buildings and cluttered landscapes, have an urban beauty all their own. Godard and his DP compose shots that just seem to fill each frame with something interesting. One shot comes to mind- an image of a bridge being built and painted. In the upper right-hand area (though not exactly in the corner) is a man painted a column. It’s framed in a way that seems almost claustrophobic and really illustrated how the modern world in encroaching on Paris. Products, posters, and advertising seem to be everywhere the camera looks. In one of the most famous shots from the 60s, a cup of coffee becomes a symbol of the universe, and some of the camera work with the coffee is inspirational in its creativity. In the film, there are a number of long, unbroken shots where people speak off-camera, characters come and go, and the camera never moves. I love the static shots that last minutes because the camera functions as an observer who is just taking in the atmosphere (and, by extension, puts us in the same role).
#5. Godard himself serves as the narrator of the film, and what’s interesting is that he speaks, for the most part, in hushed whispers. It’s almost like he’s sitting there next to you in the theatre, commenting on what he sees on the screen. I’ve never seen a film narrated like that. Usually the narrator is loud, omniscient, and ever-present. Here Godard sounds like he’s trying share secrets with the viewer. His words are very deep and his language is very dense. In fact, a lot of the dialogue in the movie discusses the nature of language and how it shapes our perception of the world. There are a lot of beautiful lines, like when the narrator is looking at a tree and states: ‘Should I have talked about Juliette or the leaves, since it’s impossible to do both at once? Let’s say that both, on this October evening, trembled slightly.’
#6. The film itself plays like a reflection of its time, and does so successfully. The movie in a lot of ways is not timeless- it’s clear that it take place in the 60s due to all the references in it to the Vietnam War, President Johnson, and so on. Yet at the same time, as the essay in the liner notes provided with the film point out, you could replace ‘Vietnam’ with ‘Iraq’, and the sentiments would still be the same. I absolutely agree. Godard is very critical of what is going on at the time, and he makes no bones about it. The symbolism in the film is extremely overt and easily makes a point. It’s very much a political archive of the late 60s.
#7. Although the film really isn’t about anything in particular, we DO get to see Juliet somewhat engaging in her money-making ‘activity’. However, there’s nothing sexual or sensual about it. She doesn’t seem particularly interested in what she has to do, not do her clients seem particularly lustful. In fact, in one scene, Juliette and another girl are made to walk around with airline bags over their heads (interesting enough, the two airlines on the bag are TWA and Pan Am, both no longer in existence. Score one for Godard!). Another client, a younger man, places a mirror down next to the bed and asks Juliet if she minds. She shrugs in reply. It’s interesting to hear her talk about sex in regards to her prostitution, as it doesn’t bother her. It’s weird when we see her with her perpetually distracted husband and kids. It’s hard to tell if she finds any joy in them. In one heartbreaking scene, she drops her hysterical daughter off at a day care that also serves as a brothel! If anything, it’s like she never has any fun. There’s no passion in her marriage OR her ‘profession’.
#8. There are two scenes near the end of the film where Godard breaks away from following Juliet and allows us to hear two conversations which are interesting, but I found myself wanting to go back and see what Juliette was up to. One of the scenes involves Juliette’s husband talking to a woman in a restaurant, the other involved a Nobel-prize winning writer talking to a student. There’s something voyeuristic listening to these conversations, but that’s OK. That’s the point. The whole movie is about being a voyeur and uncovering secrets.
On the whole, it was a film that wasn’t like anything I had ever seen before. It intrigued me, captivated me, and inspired me. It’s amazing to see some of these masters at work. I guarantee if a young filmmaker today attempted something like this, it would never get off the ground. It’s not a commercial project, it doesn’t have mass appeal, but honestly, it’s one of the most compelling arguments for cinema as an art form that I have ever had the pleasure of seeing. I learned more about the potential in filmmaking from this film that I have from any of the books I’ve read.
The Final Verdict
If you’re the type that insists that your movie follow a traditional narrative structure, contain plot twists, or wow you with explosions, you’re better off skipping this one. But if you have an open mind in regards to what a movie should be and love cinema (and, in particular, the moving image), you shouldn’t pass this one up.