Hélas pour moi (1993)

4/5

France/Switzerland; Jean-Luc Godard

Parental Guidance - Sexual Content; Nudity


Simon (Gerard Depardieu) leaves his loving wife Rachel (Laurence Masliah) in a sunny afternoon. He comes back to his household and to Rachel and they have sex. The following morning, Simon is not the same man. Rachel realized something happened during the night, and the creature in front of her is not even a human being, let alone her beloved spouse. Another thread charts a novelist’s endeavours to elucidate the mystery, thus wading deeper and deeper into a maze of incoherences, secrets and lies.

The film starts on a hypnotic note, with an eerie and disincarnated voiceover recounting the tale of an ancient ritual that, with the passing of time, fades slowly into oblivion. The last thing the latest, debased generation can do is tell the story about it and it seems to suffice. The progression – or regression – from action to thought is the underlying theme of this challenging and baffling arthouse endeavour from one of the wise master of the French New Wave. Loosely based on a Greek legend, it milks its shocking premise from all its metaphysical and philosophical heft and indeed, his conclusion feel just and profound, at times nothing short of dizzying.  God is, from the very beginning, omnipresent. The highly educated discuss and pontificate about it with concern, unwrap and expose him with neither fear nor the guilty exhilaration of the transgressor. God became a purely intellectual problem. But one day he takes hold of a random man to experience physical love with his creations, causing distress and dread.

This is the adult Godard, not the playful and loud brat that flaunted cinematic conventions and enchanted us with his many mischiefs. The poetry still lingers, but the playfulness and buoyancy is long gone. The introduction is overlong and confusing, lacking even the redeeming quality of Godard’s subversive humour and dark blazing wit. The kernel of the movie is buried deep under layers of trite and often meaningless arthouse conventions, albeit most of them were, admittedly, invented by Godard himself over the course of his long career. But now the audience has grown up too and wants new tricks, new toys and a constantly rejuvenated sense of madness.

Can Godard still raise to the challenge each new encounter with his audience poses? Maybe it’s too late for him to reinvent, but “Hélas pour moi” attests that if time washed away his grin, it could do nothing to harm his artistic and intellectual integrity.

 

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