2018, Jump Cut: A Review of Contemporary Media
Jump Cut, No. 58, winter, 2017-2018
Lost landscapes: representations of war and reconciliation in
Godard’s Notre musique (2004)
"But the landscape of devastation is still a landscape."
- Susan Sontag, Regarding the Pain of Others (2003)
Jean-Luc Godard’s Notre musique (2004) probes the elasticity of cinematic interactions between the histories and the representations of warfare through semi-documentary searches for reconciliation in the post-war Bosnian cities of Sarajevo and Mostar. The searches are presented as both traversals and attempts to bypass the territories of the image(s), the language(s), and the body.
In this essay, I examine several dimensions of Godard’s project in Notre musique:
These dimensions of Godard’s project in Notre musique are best examined through the lenses of the film’s Balkan milieu in Sarajevo and Mostar. They represent narrative and visual background settings as well as metaphorical milieux for probing cinematic relations with histories of warfare, including the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and possibilities for reconciliation.
Jean-Luc Godard's Notre musique questions the capacity of camera to act as a witness in a documentary sense. [open endnotes in new wndow] Rather than witnessing, through image juxtapositions cinema becomes a "trespasser" across the elusive boundary between the actual and the imagined, the documentary and fiction, creating at times, through montage, a pathway (or a bridge) between the two, connecting different historical times and alternate histories of warfare and conquest. Notre musique completes Godard’s challenge to war films by means of a cinema of border crossings and reconciliation. The film presents as well a visual query into cinematic crossings between digital and analog images. This enables theoretical questioning of the reflexive potential of cinematic contingency “to force a mediation on the history of its own impossible fate within modernity” precisely in a critical moment when film is both challenged and renewed by digital technologies and by a revival of documentary.
Cinematic contingency, in its resistant and heterogeneous potential, is tied to the medium's "technological promise to capture time"—indeed its multiple and condensed temporalities—and to represent (the illusion of) movement—the fleeting, ephemeral, random, unpredictable, elusive moments recorded permanently as the present in time is registered and stored compulsively, offering to the spectator as well an "immersion in other spaces and times," into the diversities and multiplicities of life. Cinematic contingency, which may resist and elude coding, is itself a part of capitalist modernity in which time is stratified and coded by the needs of capital. Storytelling can reinforce the bourgeois notion of the individual "yoked to a meaning guaranteed by his or her mortality" yet endangered by the lure and the threat of the very anxiety-ridden contingency.
Kracauer's "politically grounded critique of ideology... takes aim at the film's recycling of outdated bourgeois forms." By comparing cinema to modernity he highlights "traumatic and pathological effects as well as [cinema's] transformational, emancipatory possibilities." Doane cites Simmel's perhaps outdated and exaggerated theories that link temporality, space, and the "money economy" by making metropolitan life—the site of intensification of nervous stimuli—"unimaginable without the most punctual integration of all activities and natural relations into a stable and impersonal time schedule." This is nevertheless relevant here as film can serve a "psychological and ideological function of ordering and regulating time to in order to stabilize the subjective [although too commonly stereotypical] identity produced by an overstimulating environment of industrial modernity." Yet film also in turn can shape a subjectivity (including that of the spectator) whose "very sense of identity, stability and control is threatened by the otherness of the material world."
As an example of a "spatialized experience of time," of "a specific configuration of sensualism as the basis for a material aesthetics," and of "an aesthetics of reconciliation," Notre musique's ruined post-war cities of Bosnia in the process of recovery and revitalization are observed during fleeting moments as the real and fictional protagonists traverse the illegible landscape of recent trauma and terror. This landscape becomes for Godard a metaphor for contemporary critical art cinema, and the auteur engages, of course, in a critique of the visually seductive and spectacular powers of landscape. Indeed, Godard's "penchant for interspersing clips from the history of cinema within the diegetic world of film, suggests that he sees cinema itself as a kind of landscape." The history (of cinema) for Godard is a requirement to believe in different and multiple stories, but the auteur's concern is also with the problems of memory, the right and the obligation to witness, and the (im)possibility of testimony.
Miriam Hansen's notions of experience (Erfahrung), and of cinema as a public sphere, are critical in understanding the possibilities of a cinema of reconciliation. For Hansen, experience "crucially came to entail the capacity of memory—individual and collective, involuntary as well as cognitive—and the ability to imagine a different future" Kracauer saw film as "an at once a sensory and reflexive discourse uniquely suited to capturing the experience of a disintegrated world [following World War I]." It was "both symptom of the historical process and sensory-reflexive horizon for dealing with its effects." Hansen's interpretation of Kracauer is especially relevant here because of Kracauer's and indeed Godard's [referring to World War II] charges that cinema neither represented a critique of modernity as "the negativity of the historical process" nor did it "live up to the liberating, egalitarian impulses." Gertrude Koch argues in turn:
"The primacy of the visual, what Kracauer terms the redemption of reality through its pictorial representation, comes up against intrinsic limits in those areas that are to be redeemed in the image and are supposed to permit anamnestic solidarity with the dead—for they elude visual presentation in any form."
According to Hansen, Kracauer "conceived of film as material expression—not just representation—of a particular historical experience. It is an objective correlative, as it were, of a particular historical process"—a medium that has the capacity to advance the process of a world that is literally going to pieces, leading the spectator with an autonomous agency to visualize a utopian future of justice and peace. Kracauer "incorporates the threat of annihilation, disintegration, and mortal fear into his film aesthetics as a fundamental historical experience." His Theory of film is haunted by the question of film after Auschwitz, although hesitantly so since, according to Koch, mass-annihilation was quite anathema to Kracuaer. It is much like how Godard's recent oeuvre is haunted by the question of film after ethnic cleansing—which was, however, televised.
Projecting history, resisting narrative: warfare in
Les Carabiniers, Éloge de l'amour, and For Ever Mozart
As Rosenstone has argued, popular audiences increasingly learn history through televised and cinematic vision—a fact that has made both historians and cineastes uneasy, as much as it has also opened avenues for alternate interpretations of historical events, suppressed narratives, and alternate forms of telling stories. War films in particular, illuminate, reconstruct, manipulate or ignore historical events in their aim to critique violence; they at once expose the specific consequences of violence and also uncover the universal meanings of devastation. Yet "ideologies create substantiating archives of images, representative images, which encapsulate common ideas of significance and trigger predictable thoughts, feelings." Kracauer’s premise in the context of the Western European World War II cinema was that a war film might fulfill its mimetic potential by representing the imagined yet unimaginable tragedy through which audiences can confront, reflect upon, conquer, or come to terms with terror. As Annette Insdorf has observed, however, filmmakers actively “shap[e] history into a heightened form of communication.”
Contemporary engagements with the historical narratives in Western art cinema in particular are increasingly seen as segments, shards, shadows—that is, mere fragments of visions whose mimetic potential is questioned, if not completely suspended. Reflexive critique in war film would thus suspend the reliance on individual protagonists and would also offer a critical stance towards implied and explicit national “imagined communities” commonly upheld by the narratives of heroism. As Sontag notes, "Images of dead civilians and smashed houses may serve to quicken the hatred of the foe." Behnke and de Cavalho have noted that Western mainstream war film often takes for granted a Western perspective seen as “civiliz[ing] the rest of the world” and avoids politically contested positions. Thus the question for the critical reflexive cinema of warfare becomes what cinematic—visual and narrative—tools can be used to critique the notions of military triumph or national pride, to probe the role of the military apparatus and the political leadership, to reexamine the notion of heroism?
Starting with the premise that cinema creates only the “reality of its own making,” yet also consistently calling for film’s social and political responsibility, Godard has offered a set of responses to this question. He has done so throughout his extensive and unrelenting engagement with history as well as history of film; I only cite selected examples in Les Carabiniers (1963), Le Petit soldat (1963), Ici et ailleurs (1976), Histoire(s) du cinéma (1989, 1997, 1998), For Ever Mozart (1996), and Éloge de l'amour (2001).
As Robert Stam has argued, the doyen of the nouvelle vague has long fought a guerilla warfare of his own, his art “a special gun” and his film a “theoretical rifle” taking aim at bourgeois culture, capitalist society, and especially at the cinematic conventions that replicate and sustain them. But Notre musique approaches Godard’s political project differently. The film breaks with the aesthetic and ideological tradition of Godard’s earlier war film, Les Carabiniers, while also adopting an anti-war stance. The film’s linkages between narratives of the nation and of the self follow the trajectories of Godard’s recent films such as Germany Year 90, For Ever Mozart, and Éloge de l’amour. Notre musique, however, casts Godard’s critique of warfare and his protagonists’ searches of reconciliation through the prisms of multiple border and boundary crossings.
Godard’s engagement with the historical narrative in Notre musique has to be seen as a dialogue between a) the cinematic capacities to expose multiple possibilities of history, as Doane suggested in her interpretation of Kracauer, and b) the challenge of visualizing the simultaneous co-presence of several layers of the historical past and present. The first aspect is subverted by the second, as Jeffrey Skoller has suggested in his application of Deleuze’s vision of cinematic sedimentation of history within political avant-garde film. According to Skoller, avant-garde films
"work to undermine the gaps between past and present by using a range of cinematic strategies to consider elements of the past that are unseen, unspeakable, ephemeral, and defy representation not necessarily verifiable through normal empirical means."
Calling into question linear chronologies, sharpening awareness of other temporalities, emphasizing the significance of fragments, presenting the "occluded, incomplete, intuited," these films suggest the poetics of history and present the past as an experience that transforms the present given that, following Deleuze, "the movement of time is always the potential for transformation and new thought."
"[I]t is the experience of thought through the lapses and disruptions in the flow of time that occur in gaps between nonlinking images that evoke the unseeable, the forgotten, the spectral qualities of history."
Moreover, "[t]he sign of Auschwitz continues to haunt the intellectual worlds of Europe and America"—rendering "established forms of narration" and "representational modes based on solid distinctions" "no longer functional or meaningful:" the Shoah presents a profound challenge for avant-garde art. At the same time, through Hollywood and international film and televisions corporations,
"Shoah-business, with its vast marketing and distribution networks, creates a yearly outpouring of gut-wrenching and eye-popping historical melodramas that threaten to obscure other cinematic approaches to these histories."
Notre musique engages most explicitly with two prior pillars of Godard’s “war” on war in film: the relation between cinema and contemporary historical events, and the author’s position regarding visions of warfare in film. First, as James S. Williams, Colin McCabe, Junji Hori, and Libby Saxton have written, Godard has condemned cinema for failing to document the horrors of the Holocaust, thus falling short on its historical mission.[45/46] Cinema, according to Godard, failed to bear “witness” to a key historical moment. In Godard’s vocabulary, this transgression is recast in moral and religious terms: cinema has “sinned” by not confronting a grave historical truth of the 20th century. Godard’s quest for “pure” cinema thus paradoxically turns into a parable of power—the impotence of cinema (art) can be reversed by the presumed potency of the auteur (presumably himself) whose mission is to confront bourgeois ideological biases and the might of the industrial apparatus of film. This has led to ontologically limiting interpretations of turning the camera into a weapon for the purposes of “visual revelation” of social injustice (war, colonialism, etc.). Daniel Morgan argues,
"The war provided an occasion for the rediscovery of the facts, the importance of being attuned to the world: the fulfillment of the rights and duties cinema inherited from photography... Not only was the cinema unable to show audiences atrocities that were yet to happen; neither could it reveal these events as they were taking place."
Furthermore, responding to Godard, Claude Lanzmann (Shoah, 1985) "argued that, by using photographic images of Holocaust victims, Godard effectively belies that scale of genocide perpetuated by the Nazis. Since no image can possibly represent the entirety of what happened, images should not be presented at all; what is shown can only concern these people at this moment." According to Susan Sontag,
"As Hannah Arendt pointed out soon after the end of the Second World War, all the photographs and newsreels of the concentration camps are misleading because they show the camps at the moment the Allied troops marched in. What makes the images unbearable—the piles of corpses, the skeletal survivors—was not at all typical for the camps, which, when they were functioning, exterminated their inmates systematically (by gas, not starvation and illness), then immediately cremated them. And photographs echo photographs: it was inevitable that the photographs of emaciated Bosnian prisoners at Omarska, the Serb death camp created in northern Bosnia in 1992, would recall the photographs taken in the Nazi death camps in 1945."
Godard's notion of the cinematic “sin” also misconstrues cinema’s historical dimension that his recent films have tackled more delicately and fruitfully than did his rhetoric or his earlier films. Following Jeffrey Skoller's analysis of avant-garde cinema, it could be argued that Godard's films belong to an opus more concerned with the present than the past where a relation between the present and the past represents a form of knowledge — yet a knowledge that cannot perhaps "repair our ignorance about the history and causes of the suffering it picks out and frames"—which necessitates active spectatorship.
Another point concerns the contemporary crisis of representation of war in film. Godard’s criticism of war films as spectacles of destruction has in fact anticipated this crisis in war film. Our visual culture is saturated with hegemonic representations of combat, particularly in high budget Hollywood productions that glorify violence through the spectacle of military triumph or belligerent masculinity, directly or indirectly, even if they may contain anti-war messages. As Sontag has written about photographs, "In a world in which photography is brilliantly at the service of consumerist manipulations, no effect of a photograph of a doleful scene can be taken for granted." Thus Godard has deplored Steven Spielberg, in particular in Spielberg’s violation of the Bazinian vision of the cinematic “reality” through the creation of “fake” concentration camps in Schindler’s List. The extremity of this position aside and its possible counterpoints, under the influence of contemporary Hollywood productions popular audiences have grown accustomed to receiving an anti-war message through an ambivalent or unlikely hero, but only after financial and industrial might have staged a grand spectacle, without illusions, of exploding flesh and mortar (yet this is of course a stereotype as well). Godard’s views in this context are more significant with regard to commercial pressures on art cinema, and the evocation of Bazin would be contradictory to his own opus. While Godard’s stances can be challenged—the high moral call placed on film art to expose and even prevent genocide and his complete rejection of recent Hollywood, above all, the nouvelle vague auteur’s inability to “negotiat[e] the greater realities of now-late-twentieth century carnage with his poetic, aphoristic style”—the films’ value lies more in the questions they pose.
Godard’s films redefine Kracauer’s quest by redeeming film from the corruptions of spectacle in Debord’s terms by adopting a different visual and narrative language. This set of techniques has included narrative breaks and disorientations, asynchronicity, jumpcuts, elliptical connections, spontaneity, Brechtian detachment (especially in his 1960s films), allegorical vignettes, and, above all, montage that stresses reflexivity over submission to the spectacle-qualities of images. As David Sterritt has pointed out, Godard’s visual style, which has evolved greatly over the past decades, represents a form of creative experimentation, a “work in progress” and “an attempt at cinema” that constantly reexamines and challenges the notions of the documentary and the fictional.[58/59] But as his once-challenging cinematic form has also been in part adopted by contemporary film and media, this aspect of Godard’s older (and more daring) rhetoric precludes a possible redefinition of contemporary cinema.
Godard presents an additional challenge to mainstream cinema through his emphasis on alternative narrative forms. Mainstream cinema is characterized by a lack of ambiguity and an absence of ironic juxtaposition. In the case of mainstream war films, the banality of spectacle does not expose the banality of war. With narrative and visual asymmetries ironed-out and spectacularized, such films project a misleading vision of war. These visions are complete opposite from those of Les Carabiniers, an anti-spectacle war film in which absurdity, lunacy, and randomness of violence rule. The two main protagonists, named sarcastically Ulysses and Michael-Ange, are village idiots lured into warfare by the prospect of plundering. They ask of a recruiter,
“In the war can we take slot machines? No charges if we take old man’s eye glasses? Can we break a kid’s arm? Both arms? Stab a guy in the back? Rob apartments? Burn towns? Burn women?... If we want, can we massacre the innocent people?”
The response in the film is “Yes. Yes. That is war.” Misled, fooled, debilitated by violence, Ulysses and Michael-Ange finally end up killed themselves. Stam argued further that Les Carabiniers also represents an antidote to the anti-war film, establishing instead a cinema of reflexivity, a meditation on warfare in film.
This vision discerns two motifs, both I argue in part unwieldy: the absurdity and purposelessness of all wars (hence their equation), and the incapacity of cinema to confront this notion, that is, to ever create an anti-war message. These motifs perhaps need to be situated in the contexts of a post-Hiroshima disenchantment with heroic narratives and the ideological misuses of World War Two by both blocs during the Cold War. A “just war” narrative is in this manner reduced to a product of ideological representation, and the cinematic powers of spectacle function to further enhance the ideological display of power. Les Carabiniers explicitly counters these hegemonies by placing a strong emphasis on the absurdity of war (although inspired by Brechtian techniques, Godard departs from theater through advanced visual grammar). Les Carabiniers renders the anti-war message implausible, and consequently, the cinema of liberty an impostor. An intertitle towards the end of the film announces, “There is no victory. Only flags and fallen men.” By emphasizing detachment and avoiding the empathetic connections, Godard’s vision in Les Carabiniers in part flattens all other effects—the audience struggles to derive the capacity for confronting the horrors of war, making both Bazin’s and Kracauer’s realist approaches questionable. Viewing excludes the potential to contemplate positions of resistance, even if the film itself signifies “resistance.” Godard’s war cinema of visual and narrative challenge bears the mark of another cinematic representational crisis.
This point is particularly significant given Godard’s concern for relations between social and artistic responsibility, particularly in the historically specific, rather than allegorical (as is the case with Les Carabiniers) narratives of warfare in which the blurring of the past and the present contexts occurs. Leslie Hill argues that Godard's Histoire(s) du cinema posits engagement
“not only with the historical past, where ghosts reside, but also with the unhistorical future, the time without time when ghosts are always liable to return—to haunt us and recall us to our responsibilities.”
And, importantly, to recall is not only to remember a narrative, but to call up or conjure haunting images yet memories can also alter images, and "remembering through photographs eclipses other forms of understanding, and remembering." Histoire(s) du cinema is Godard's "memorial" to cinema, "repository of shards of cinema," his response to Shoah and the absence of archival footage of the concentration camps resulting in the rejection of documentary and historiography in film which meant "death of the European cinema and the triumph of American cinema." It cannot be omitted, however, that Godard excludes non-Western cinemas from Historie(s), neglecting Asian, African, Latin American cinemas, as well as the entire cinemas after 1960.
Godard’s earlier film from the Dziga Vertov phase, Ici et ailleurs, completed years after the interrupted shooting of his Palestinian-sponsored documentary Jusqu'à la victoire, cuts between the documentary footage of contestation in Palestine and in daily life of a middle-class family in France. Godard attempts to tackle relations between the two places in order to “learn to see here to understand elsewhere” as Anne-Marie Miéville, the film’s narrator, artistic director, and Godard’s long-term partner and collaborator, relates. “The others” are, as Miéville stresses, “the elsewhere of our here.” While establishing linkages across borders, Ici et ailleurs whose documentary footage that filmed many Palestinians who later died in combat, also questions the cinematic capacity to represent conflict and warfare. As Miéville narrates over intertitles—a marker of Godard's filmmaking since the 1960s—that read LE MORT, IMAGE, SON, SILENCE, SILENCE, VIVANT,
“Death is represented in this film by the flow of images. A flow of images and sounds that hide silence. A silence that becomes deadly because it is prevented to come alive.”
In Deleuzian terms, a sedimentation between the past and the present takes place; daily life in a middle-class Western setting has been falsified by the deaths taking place elsewhere—as a more recent theory of cinema, ironically, arrives much later than Godard's original contributions since the 1960s. The porousness of space is not simply confined to the actual settings where atrocities took place, as in Resnais’ Holocaust documentary Night and Fog, but rather signals global spatial interdependence and interconnectedness in a nascent form.
A rejoinder and a set of challenges to the visualization of historical memory can further be found in Godard’s more recent work. In a striking set of sequences in his film Éloge de l’amour (2001) for instance, an elderly French Holocaust survivor actually sells her memories to Steven Spielberg’s film producer. Godard bypasses the simplicity and crudeness of the anti-American critique by subverting the emphasis on the “great” cinematic “robbery” of the Bazinian ideal in a contrasting sequence that follows. In it, the Holocaust survivor’s granddaughter reads passages from, ironically, Robert Bresson’s Notes on the Cinematograph, and then queries the grandmother’s motives for selling her history, her inner recollections. The old lady replies that when lecturing in the U.S. about her war experiences, she felt only cold detachment from her audiences. This speaks to the powerlessness of both words and images, and also of the need for a genuine capacity for empathy, one that in Godard’s art would flow from reflexive engagement. In For Ever Mozart (and also in Notre musique), this transference is mediated by the pure abstraction of classical music cadences. In the concert that ends the film, theoretically no trespass occurs; rather, the implied (and of course, problematic) purity of the artistic abstraction enables the immediacy of connection with the listener. The deceptive sublime bypasses both the social and the interpretative context, wishing for the exit of art from the world of shadows and indictment into the Platonic ideal—a strain that often resurfaces in Godard’s art to then be quickly subjected to irony and reversal.
In Éloge de l’amour, Godard's response to Shoah, Schindler's List, and Lucie Aubrac, Godard attempts a high-flown visual equivalent. He presents a beautiful dissolving shot of the beloved grandmother by lamplight that melts into a sky of refracted sunlight with albatrosses. She is letting go of her memories, and this parting, even through an uncertain, incomplete, fractured, and certainly commercialized mediation, brings liberation. Godard suggested "that for people who lived through such persecution, perhaps, the war never really ended." The Jews of Eloge de l'amour are thus according to Brody burdened by memory and Godard allows the images to serve as mute testimonies. This enables Godard’s cinema to exit the entrapments of absurdist narratives or simplicities of the predictable critique of Hollywood and mass media, while still challenging the more reductive languages of spectacle. The visual lecture on “how the gaze collapsed” that is also a part of Éloge de l’amour liberates cinema for yet another renewal. In Deleuze’s terms, such framing moves away from the empty set of Les Carabiniers to a frame saturated with color and often imagery of nature— the image becomes at once visible and legible. (In another example, "[a]fter a close-up of the book Le Voyage d'Edgar, the film bursts from black-and-white into brilliant, acidic color, a seascape with the sea a fiery orange and the sky an acrid yellow, an image that introduces the title card "Two Years Earlier.") In Éloge de l’amour the natural imagery thus subverts the spatial geometry, suggesting gradations within the natural settings yet never allowing the audience to experience their weight or measure their scale (as in Antonioni’s films, for example).
Cinema on its own terms (“le cinéma seule”), returns to images and montage (as bridges between multiple meanings and visions), to the “greater possibility for reversibility, transfiguration and resurrection.” Film also does not reject the beauty of images (as in Les Carabiniers), nor does it give up on the narrative’s capacity (even if fractured or disorienting) to transform consciousness. The search for alternate forms of narrating the dogs and fools of war or conquest need not mean abandoning narrative’s redeeming capacity, although the question becomes more problematic if we consider the sources from which that capacity may be derived.
Reflexive cinema in turn wishes to propel the audience ahead although without leaving it completely behind (or rendering them fools as easily tricked as Michael-Ange in Les Carabiniers). Thus, if camera is a “trespasser” between the real and the imagined, it relies in part on both empathic and reflexive engagement to sustain the transgression and to unmask the manipulation (to “suspend disbelief” and to suspend itself). If the illicit aspects of the crossing can underscore active emotional (and intellectual) manipulation, they also speak to the cathartic powers of film (a synthesis of all other arts in one view) and the strength of its visual and narrative capacity. This can in fact be derived from a cinema of reflexivity. As Mary Ann Doane argues, cinema could be seen an “homage to possibility,” as Éloge de l’amour suggests. If then “the cinematic contingency is not the embodiment of history as mark of the real or referent but history as the mark of what could have been otherwise,” Notre musique, more than any recent Godard film and indeed more than many recent war films, takes us along the yet uncharted pathways of that cinematic journey. But Notre musique recasts as well the porousness of globally interconnected locations through the return to a narrative of traversals. As compelling as the notion of the visibility and legibility of the image may be in Deleuze’s terms in Éloge de l’amour, this quest is insufficient in the case Notre musique.
Notre musique’s triptych
Notre musique is a film about war narrated from the point of view of the search for reconciliation—a complete opposite to Godard’s earlier film Les Carabiniers, yet also its twin. Peace, after all, is not merely an empty void or a state of no-war; it represents a call for justice served, understanding attained, destroyed edifices rebuilt. It can offer as well a plea for reflexivity and remembrance (“do not forget” and “never again,” as art too has shown us, too easily trespasses onto the narratives of national pride). Here, amidst the dissolving shots of evoked history and the impermanence of remembrance, film art enters the realm of shadows. As Godard states at the beginning of Le Mépris (1963),
“Knowledge of the possibility of representation consoles us for being enslaved to life. Knowledge of life consoles us for the fact that representation is but a shadow.”
(It is not perhaps accidental that the same citation is repeated in For Ever Mozart, which also takes up the theme of the Bosnian conflict.) War film is but a shadow of the real horrors of devastation (hence, for instance, the quest for humble and not spectacular of Jean Renoir). Yet some of these shadows have imprinted themselves so profoundly onto our memories and selves—they have become in Annette Insdorf’s words, “indelible.” In the flattening, overexposed, montaged universe of Godard’s films, we find no shadows of this sort—rather, rescued from darkness and, for the most part, from dissolving shots of memory, “shadows” walk in the eternal present of the cinema screen as freely Godard himself does among the cast of his “real” and fictional characters.
Notre musique’s triptych unmasks the shadows of history in the documentary and fictional realms that permeate each other, presenting both the darkness of war and the hopefulness of reconciliation. This represents an example in which the trajectories of historical contingency have been subverted by cinematic sedimentation. Such sedimentation allows Godard to pose the following challenge: the film acknowledges the history of warfare as well as its image manipulations in film, but the alternate trajectories in Notre musique are not projected into the past. The contemporary moment is rather saturated with the sedimentation of destruction and ruin, and thus the trajectories within it, those that chart possibilities for reconciliation, are constantly arising anew and also being limited by the histories of conflict. Visions of Bosnian cities are critical in this respect.
Notre musique has the tripartite structure of Dante Alighieri’s Divine Comedy, in which the poet is led from Hell through Purgatory to Heaven. The theme of crossing into foreign territories, real and fictional, is likewise central to Notre musique, and the narrative significance of its crossings also lies in the possibilities they offer for reconciliation. In Notre musique, Godard rejects Sontag's claim that "it is intolerable to have one's own sufferings twinned with anybody else's." In that sense, my analysis here challenges Brody's view that Notre musique represents "a diatribe under the guise of meditation, a work of vituperative prejudice disguised as calm reflection, a work of venom dressed up as a masque."
In the film, the first section, Hell, is a montage of documentary and fictional wars: cowboys and Indians, the Crusaders, World War Two, Vietnam, the Bosnian War. In the present-time section, Purgatory, that follows, Godard deliberately introduces multiple crossings into a main narrative that takes place in post-war Bosnia which is not shown as a site of post-war resentments even if the latter remain real. We meet Godard, on his way to a “Literary Encounters” conference in Sarajevo to give a speech on representations of war and of beauty, of hell and heaven. He is accompanied by a fictional Israeli journalist, Judith Lerner (Sarah Adler), who comes to Bosnia in search of the key to reconciling the Israelis and Palestinians. (Importantly, both the Israeli-Palestinian and the Bosnian conflicts were, according to Sontag, "invested with the meaning of larger struggles.") They are joined in Sarajevo by the following:
Finally, we meet a Russian Jewish woman Olga (Nade Dieu), a filmmaker-revolutionary and a true Godardian heroine. Olga recounts her disillusionment with the politics of conflict in the Middle East and sets the stage for what will be her personal sacrifice mission.
In the final part of the trilogy, Heaven, martyred Olga is saved and walking around in a wooded island in springtime guarded by the U.S. Navy sailors (the soundtrack at one point includes part of the "Marine's Hymn," however). In the last sequence a U.S. Navy sailor literally stamps Olga’s arm with a virtual seal of approval as if to acknowledge her final redemptive journey into a protectorate or a rather unusual Heaven.
The Hell of all wars
In Hell’s vortex of Thanatos, Godard presents an effective montage of layered newsreel and fictional images of warfare in black and white, technicolor, and in blue and red tones that seep across the screen. The director pays respect to Bruce Conner and Chris Marker (A Grin without a Cat —1977), and cites the final shots of Robert Aldrich’s striking noir Kiss Me Deadly in a powerful staccato final sequence of images of human and material destruction. The tempo and rhythm of shots are visually affecting even if many of the images are well-known and their juxtapositions perhaps unsurprising. The Hell sequence is reminiscent of Godard’s homage to film art, Histoire(s) du cinéma. Daring and thought-provoking, many of the Histoire(s) du cinéma’s visual philosophy lectures on the nature of the gaze have the sharpness of contrast and the clarity of contradiction that are lacking in the first part of Notre musique. But then we are after all in Hell: men carry arms, children play war games, women turn into ruthless soldiers and helpless victims. The narrator reads, “They are horrible here with their obsession for cutting off heads. It’s amazing that anyone’s survived.” (Indeed, "the miracle of survival.") The photographs and documentary footage of war-torn Bosnia end with a ghastly still of a pastoral landscape in which several onlookers observe the body of a hanged woman. The pace of Godard’s montage slows at this disturbing sight. Three women, perhaps Bosnian, faces in close up, shun the intruding camera before the sequence ends with a black screen.
Sontag writes, "we can't imagine how dreadful, how terrifying war is" and further, "[t]o designate a hell is not, of course, to tell us anything about how to extract people from that hell, how to moderate hell's flames." Thus, in the ten-minute Hell sequence that smoothly crosses from documentary to fictional realm, Godard presents images that in their juxtapositions, rhythm, and slow-motion have a seamless if flattening flow. Reality and fiction become two sides of the same coin of death and destruction: the “possible of the impossible” (reality) and the “impossible of the possible” (fiction). It is as Agamben writes:
"Auschwitz represents the historical point in which these processes collapse, the devastating experience in which the impossible is forced into the real. Auschwitz is the existence of the impossible, the most radical negation of continency; it is, therefore, absolute necessity. The Muselmann produced by Auschwitz is the catastrophe of the subjects that then follows, the subject's effacement as the place of contingency and its maintenance as existence of the impossible. Here Goebbel's definition of politics 'the art of making what seems impossible possible' acquires its full weight."
Through this seemingly effortless high-modernist montage, Godard acknowledges the complicity of representations in producing and reproducing the horror of the real, seemingly also suggesting, as Sontag notes "that modern life consists of a menu of horrors by which we are corrupted and to which we gradually become habituated." The sequence explicitly equates the horrific consequences of war: documentary and fictional warfare, just and unjust wars, civil disturbances and foreign occupations. All are different yet the face of horror remains the same. Godard endorses the thesis of the absurdity of war expressed in Les Carabiniers, yet here he does so in an alternate way, simultaneously critiquing and conceding to the spectacular and dialectical powers of montage.
However he also inserts and holds a black frame for several seconds between images or sequences, emphasizing the separation of images and hinting at the notion that connections between them might not be inevitable or simply apparent. This represents, as Deleuze has noted, a vision of the frame as “an opaque surface of information.” The opaque and the saturated images are connected in an associative montage that complicates rather than forces meanings. Although, as theorists have argued, for Godard “montage is something cinema never achieved,” the Hell sequence strides towards and also contemplates the possibility of that achievement. Here, Godard uncovers another dimension of war itself—as a spectacular display (of military powers, in particular). As Paul Virilio has argued in an analysis that focused on the use of perceptual (including cinematic) mechanisms for military purposes, the war machine can be seen as tied to the watching machine; both being susceptible to spectacle production (e.g. in particular in the cases of psychological warfare). In a related metonymy of Godard’s own, war and theater become interchangeable:
“War—the theater of operations—follows theater. And cinema follows war. In both instances, actors are gotten cheap and will have to pay for it.” 
In Notre musique, however, Godard’s cinema attempts forgiveness and overcoming, working through an Eisensteinian rhythmic and intellectual montage ("in which meaning emerges not in any shot but in the conflict between shots") of visuals in Hell, then reaching beyond the language of the spectacle in Purgatory. But the emphasis on spectacle is rendered inevitable in Hell—violence simply has to be displayed because the Hell of war is for Godard represented by the innocent victims.
Godard’s heroine asks in voiceover in Hell for these trespasses to be forgiven. In a possible interpretation, the notion of trespass (which also evokes the concept of property) here goes beyond the meaning in Christian prayer to refer not merely refer to the active sins of warriors but also of the sins of omission of the twentieth century perceptual machine—the cinema. The eyes of victims shun the camera, which cannot, morally and technically, become a genuine witness. As Giorgio Agamben has written of testimonies of Auschwitz survivors,
"At a certain point, it became clear that testimony contained at its core an essential lacuna: in other words, the survivors bore witness to something it is impossible to bear witness to."
Godard’s quest for pure images reaches its maximum in “Hell” at the cost of obviousness—if nothing can be “mirrored” all can still be shown. But this vision also questions Deleuze’s notion of the frame—it does not represent data in an abstract sense. It cannot be pure image because it is not the violence of warfare that cannot be represented but the sense of victimhood. "The authority of witness consists in his capacity to speak solely in the name of an incapacity to speak—that is, in his or her being a subject." In Sontag's terms, these images are thus suggestive of what exceeds the ability of words to describe or in Henry James' phrase, exceed the endurance of thoughts. We return to the images of women silently turning their eyes away from the camera. Godard seems to ask, "What does it mean to protest suffering, as distinct from acknowledging it?"
Trespassing in Purgatory: cinema of border crossings
Godard leaves “pure images” safely confined to the Hell sequence. These images or, more broadly, relations between the documentary and fictional representations of war from Hell, take us to the Bosnian and Israeli-Palestinian Purgatory. The Bosnia of Notre musique is a post-war landscape in which several real and fictional characters seek to overcome divisions, including Israeli-Palestinian. Purgatory returns to narrative that is thus spatially bound in a “dynamic physical sense.”
Themes of borders, boundaries, and crossings are central to Purgatory from the very first set of shots that take place at the airport and in the passport control area. Virtually all the “characters” real or fictional cross actual or symbolic boundaries—Judith Lerner as a fictional Israeli journalist who searches for the meaning of reconciliation in Bosnia; the real-life poet Darwich whom she interviews; and the Spanish novelist Goytisolo who traverses the landscapes of conquest in Sarajevo. Of course, Godard himself appears in the film as the invitee to a literary conference in Sarajevo, and it is perhaps no accident that the film includes two translators as well—a Bosnian woman and a French-Israeli man. The latter translator offers an autobiographical account of his uneasy belonging to two countries with which Purgatory begins; in it, he underscores the reconciliatory potential of crossings, biographical and linguistic. The critical trope here is that of linguistic translation that can connect and prevail over divisions (even if not perhaps to form a union). Godard (who is Swiss by origin) seems to hope for a Babel that would be bound and not sundered by diversity. As he has stated of himself, “A language is obviously made to cross borders. I’m someone whose real country is language, and whose territory is movies.”
According to Rashid Khalidi, the quintessential Palestinian experience takes place at a border, an airport, a checkpoint—the places where "the six million Palestinians are signed out for 'special treatment' ... forcibly reminded of their identity." The chief form of implementing forms of state control over territory involves control over its people through the formal markers of citizenship and belonging, such as the use of permits, registries, and identity cards. All Palestinians are issued an identity number by the Israel Ministry of the Interior, whose even lowest-ranking officers have access to personal information about residents of the territory not available to anyone else. Permits are needed for movement outside of the West Bank and Gaza, applications are necessary for family reunification and visa permits are required for travel; failure to present an ID to a soldier on duty is “punishable with up to one year’s imprisonment;” these strategies are explained by a former member of the Israeli Army as strategies of containment rather than control of the Palestinian people. Nadia Abu-Zahra, based on her seven-year participant-observation and in-depth interviewing concludes that “ID cards have become a principal tool of coercion at the individual level, resulting in mass dispossession at the collective level.” The point here is that military control operates not only through the visible presence of military control or specific interventions in land use, but also through the forms of administrative and police control, including the population census, personal ID cards, and various permits that limit population movement and have the consequence of infringing upon or denying basic civil or social rights. The possible effect of these tactics evokes Steven Lukes’ discussion of the third dimension of power according to which citizens can be disenfranchised to such as extent that they perceive even the powers that they do have as unattainable or impossible to transfer into social action. The notion of asymmetric warfare is important in understanding the shift from ground to air and “invisible occupation” that followed the evacuation from the Gaza Strip on September 13, 2005. The spatial optic is crucial in that allows a replication of an extreme form of a modernist gaze over a clear territory, devoid of human life. The visual and other new technologies that allow for the new levels of military precision become a convenient tool for desensitization to violence on the part of the public. The war technologies are in this sense possibly dangerous tools for the legitimating of frequent use of military action on behalf of the state and political leadership.
Importantly, Godard films are preceded by a visa number. As in his For Ever Mozart, for example, the “trespass” in Notre musique is acknowledged by a numeric stamp on a cinematic passport over the black screen that precedes the film’s title. A visa demarcates an outsider, sets limits to entry, to the purpose and the duration of visit. A film is an imaginary voyage, and Godard seeks a permit to guide the audience along many of its possible paths and trespasses. Or perhaps we can interpret this differently—a trespass is only a trespass and not merely a crossing because someone arbitrarily placed a fence, demarcated a territory, and placed an “entry forbidden” sign. As the director claimed at the Cannes press conference for the film, and as he also noted in an interview over twenty years ago, while he does understand frontiers, he doesn’t approve of customs officers.
Transferring this metaphor to the context of film art, “visa de censure” marks film as a “product” that conforms to prescribed norms set by the state (censorship rules and subsidies) and the market (art becomes commerce). Audiences are thus conditioned to a set of narrative and visual conventions that the filmmaker may be pressed to accommodate but that s/he needn’t blindly follow. Certainly Godard’s entire opus presents strong challenges to cinematic conventions, and in this way Godard’s “form that thinks” has strived for a liberty not easily achieved. An ironic “footnote” after the visa number that begins Godard’s film Nouvelle vague (1990), for example, includes a voiceover that states, “And I really meant it to be a narrative.” Godard redefined cinema in the 1960s by exaggerating his critical defect, his inability tell a story, his conscious and unconscious rebellion against the narrative. But in his more recent works, as he acknowledged in conversation with Wim Wenders, Godard claims to have rediscovered “the charm of a conventional, linear narrative,” although Nouvelle vague hardly conforms to narrative linearity and rather represents a contemplation of narrative genre possibilities. In Notre musique, the director quickly dispels the visa number mundanity with a dramatically high piano note that sounds an instant later, before the images of the Hell sequence overwhelm. As discussed, the horrors of warfare need to be represented as “pure images” inasmuch as this quest is ultimately implausible, but searches for reconciliation across state, cultural, and linguistic boundaries have to be narrated.
Narratives of the conquered and the conquerors commonly reveal the impossibility of union or of reconciliation. I take pause here to hint at anthropological evidence, given the not so well-known fact that Godard’s own university degree was in ethnography. As Frederick Barth has written, an “ethnic boundary defines the group, not the cultural stuff that it encloses” and that these deeper boundaries “can persist despite inter-ethnic contact and interdependence.” In cinematic terms, the emphasis on boundaries thus reveals the entrapment of otherness and difference: “a dichotomization of others as strangers, as members of another ethnic group, implies a recognition of limitations on shared understandings.”
Matthew Longo writes, "The border is a definitive marker of the political, defining in and out, friend and enemy, us and them" but the border should instead be the site that allows us to challenge these dichotomies. The border is a site of purging, a place where one must prove one's worth to enter; at the border "we also encounter our own foreignness." Not mere "line[s] of jurisdiction," borders are institutions, sites of state authority and control, sites of politics, of state violence. Borders are loci of power but also places "where states lose definition."
Cinema departs from these social and cultural realities yet it offers resembling realities of its own making. Godard’s reply seems to be that to attempt reconciliation, the “I” first needs to understand the wounds of the “other.” Postulating such a process is problematic in itself as the “I” and the “other” are positioned as opposing, radically different categories. Second, a meaningful encounter of the “I” with the “other” depends upon the ability to understand the self from the other’s perspective. Such a stance allows for the possibility of connection. As Godard explains in his lecture within this film, relationships imply equality and reciprocity but not the identical image of the self reflected in the other, not the Howard Hawksian shot-reverse shot. Godard thus endorses an element of difference. A key point here is that although the relationship between the self and the other does not entail a mirror image, it nevertheless does not exclude commonality. Godard underscores this point with documentary images of war. He shows a black and white photograph of a ruined city and asks the Bosnian audience to identify the place. Berlin and Belfast are among the answers, yet the city turns out to be Richmond, Virginia, after the Civil War. In a similar take, photographs of the victims of the concentration camps labeled “Muselmann” and “Jewish,” seem to suggest that the Jew and the Muslim become one and the same casualties. (Godard puns on the word Muselmann used to describe a ruined concentration camp victim).
Some “flattening” of perspective, however, does occur in Purgatory through the two-dimensional images that Godard presents in his lecture. In a sense this simplification becomes an asset as Godard manages to relate but not equate the wars in Bosnia with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. But the set of sequences that juxtapose “I” and the “other,” emphasizing their difference, seems the weakest part of Purgatory, a place repeatedly shown as characterized by crossings. Yet here Godard’s visual and historical connections in fact seem to flow far too freely across the globe, even to Richmond, Virginia, as noted, and also far back in time. As John Lewis Gaddis has observed about historians, this is one possible interpretation of what they attempt to do when they “represent” the time long passed. Godard becomes a meta-historian here, using the cinematic tools at his disposal. As James S. Williams has perceptively noted, history equals montage to Godard, and the power to reshape history through various forms of montage can all too easily become a top-down modernist drive or even a celestial calling. Thus paradoxically for Godard's project, we return to the notion that engagement with the image can be a dismissal of politics, of history. Here lies a particular danger in emphasizing differences and meta-narratives; the discourse can easily slide into a one of essentialism and totalization. Thus the vision in Godard’s “lecture” sequence is the opposite of what Doane’s theory of cinematic contingency suggested—the possibilities for alternate histories or interpretations are here closed. An alternate interpretation of Godard’s “lecture” is suggested by Morgan who argues that Godard's point is to examine not the ontology of the photographic image, but how the images can be used as reference points in particular contexts:
"Rather than taking photographic images to signify because of a causal relation to the world, Godard is concerned to show that there has always been a complicated relation between photography and reality, and that this relation is not given simply by the way light reacts on emulsion."
Williams recalls religious imagery in Godard’s recent work, especially Catholicism’s visual affinities that appeal to the artist, and provide an uneasy source of redemptive power. Such religious elements connoting the redemptive aspects of creation have indeed made critics of Godard’s work uneasy. What is at stake is a view of suffering as a form of transfiguration. As Sontag explains, following Bataille, "It is a view of suffering, of the pain of others, that is rooted in religious thinking, which links pain to sacrifice, sacrifice to exaltation." As Richard Combs and Raymond Durgnat have pointed out:
“The need to invoke themes of redemption and resurrection-both to connect to the hallowed in Western art, and to seek cinema's salvation after its abdication at the camps-has clearly taken [Godard] further. In the process, has he montaged himself with French Catholicism? Godard needed the camps, basically, so that cinema could be hurled into the pit and then become a candidate for resurrection.”
In a tale of representations that Godard presents in Notre musique, a girl who witnessed an apparition of a Virgin Mary identifies a particular vision to match her own visionary experience of the Madonna out of many images she is shown. The well-known references here are to Bernadette and to the shrine in Lourdes. Shown a variety of images from Western art history (of one of the most commonly represented figures in western art in the Christian Era), the child finds an exact picture, suggesting that ordinary people “know” what they experience through artistic representations even when it is “divine.” More importantly for Godard’s lecture, the image Bernadette identifies is the Virgin of Cambrai. It is an icon—as Godard explains, it has no movement, no depth, it is simply the sacred (this would seem to say that cinema, which has movement and depth, cannot present the sacred).
For Godard, there is commonness in devastation and hell, but there is particularity in beauty and heavenliness. This set of juxtapositions is “notre musique.” The notes, the tunes, the rhythm bear the signature of a particular creator, the film author, yet the meanings of the work of art are multiple, “ours.” Godard’s art appears to exit the entrapment and also to endorse more than mere reflexivity, suggesting also that affect is experienced via music. The arbitrariness of select metaphorical juxtapositions, such as the director’s description of the Israeli narrative as fictional, and the Palestinian as a documentary (in both Notre musique and in his earlier Histoire(s) du cinéma), however, undermines the film’s reconciliation narrative and has even prompted critics to accuse the auteur of anti-Semitism, although Godard has also, perhaps unsurprisingly, referred to himself as “the Jew of the cinema.”
Mediated crossings: real and cinematic bridges
If Hell responds to the crisis of representation of spectacle-war in film, Purgatory ties that crisis indirectly to the relation with media images of warfare. In theoretical terms, digital media adopt and reshape cinematic contingency as can be seen in
“the televisual obsession with the ‘live’ coverage of catastrophe [as] the ultimate representation of contingency, chance, and it the instantaneous, as well as [in] the logics of an Internet that promises to put diversity, singularity, and instantaneity more fully within our grasp.”
It is thus particularly striking that Purgatory is set in Bosnia and that one of “the main protagonists” (to the extent one can use that term for Godard’s films) is a journalist. The international media extensively televised the wars of the dissolution of the former Yugoslavia. World audiences watched the atrocities as United Nations Protection Force (UNPROFOR), formed in 1992 with the peacekeeping mandate, stood by without the mandate to intervene. As Susan Woodward writes about that moment,
"Continuing to view the conflict as irrelevant to their national interests and and collective security, Western leaders defined it as anachronistic, an unpleasant reminder of old ethnic and religious conflicts that modern Europe had left behind, rather than as a part of their own national competition to redefine Europe and respond to the end of the cold war."
Citing Ron Haviv's photograph taken in Bijeljina, Bosnia in April 1992 of a "Serb militiaman casually kicking a dying Muslim woman in the head," Susan Sontag shows how photographs "became important in bolstering indignation at this war which had been far from inevitable, far from intractable; and could have been stopped much sooner." In October 1993, Sontag, who generally seemed to overestimate the multiculturalism of a Bosnia she advocated for, wrote about her anti-war activism and her staging of Waiting for Godot in Sarajevo the same year. She had visited Bosnia eight times between 1993 and 1995 reporting "despair, indignation, disbelief, a lingering hope that continues." She said of that experience that "never again doesn't mean anything anymore, does it" and argued in the same context "had there been cameras in Auschwitz it would not have happened." In 1993 she wrote,
"No longer can a writer consider that the imperative task is to bring the news to the outside world. The news is out. Plenty of excellent foreign journalists (most of them in favor of intervention, as am I [as was, equally prominently, the French public intellectual Bernard-Henry Lévy] have been reporting the lies and the slaughter since the beginning of the siege, while the decision of the western European powers and the United States not to intervene remains firm [NATO intervention in fact took place although only starting in 1995], thereby giving the victory to Serb fascism. I was not under the illusion that going to Sarajevo to direct a play would make me useful in the way I could be if I were a doctor or a water systems engineer. It would be a small contribution. But it was the only one of the three things I do—write, make films, and direct in the theater—which yields something that would exist only in Sarajevo, that would be made and consumed there."
In the context of media reportage, Neven Andjelic has noted that Sarajevo "had additionally received unprecedented media attention during the siege of the city and thus became a symbol, especially among Western audiences, which 'resulted in appreciation and respect for Sarajevo's martyred citizens, with a degree of attentiveness not normally granted to inhabitants of the region.'" Sontag reports, "In Sarajevo in the years of the siege, it was not uncommon to hear, in the middle of a bombardment or a burst of sniper fire, a Sarajevan yelling at the photojournalists, who were easily recognizable by the equipment hanging round their necks, 'Are you waiting for a shell to go off so you can photograph some corpses?'" Mirjana Ristic writes about "spatial violence against non-military targets" in Sarajevo's 'Sniper Alley'— "the name that emerged in the world's media to describe a strip of urban space that was the most intensively attacked by snipers"—and about the residents' strategies of resistance. Contemporary genocidal violence includes "deliberate attempts at urbicide: the killing of cities and the devastation of their symbols and architectures of pluralism and cosmopolitanism." Dzevad Karahasan, in his essay “Sarajevo, Exodus of A City,” writing during the shelling of his city by the Serbian forces in 1993, contrasted the struggle between nationalism and pluralism. He explained to a French visitor in 1992 that it was more significant to save Sarajevo as a symbol of an embrace of different faiths gathered in one city than it was even to ensure the residents’ plain survival.
In the Yugoslavian conflict, the most brutal forms of image manipulations of suffering came from the local nationalists, particularly the Slobodan Milošević-controlled RTS Television. But the western media, which liberally took sides and called at different times for aid for each, contributed their own share of propaganda, even at times indulging in self-glorification over the process in which the West contributed to the destruction of the former Yugoslavia by both fueling and ignoring nationalisms.
Televised images of warfare have impacted both the visual styles and the narratives of war films. Significantly and perhaps unsurprisingly, the media "trespass" has become an important visual and narrative key in representations of "Balkan wars". Virtually all of the better known films that take up the theme of the Yugoslavian wars—including those by directors Michael Winterbottom (Welcome to Sarajevo), Danis Tanović (No Man's Land), Milcho Manchevski (Before the Rain), and Srdjan Dragojević (Pretty Village, Pretty Flames)—feature reporters, journalists, or photographers as main characters. The journalist/reporter figure mediates between the cinematic narrative of "Balkan warfare" and the Western audiences. The term Balkan used here has the pejorative connotations that Maria Todorova has identified developing relationships between Edward Saïd's orientalism and stereotypes of "Balkanism" which in the context of cinematic representations can include "exotics, ambiguity, and Thirdworldization." If cinemas emerge following a historical upheaval, when as Witt has argued "a nation's self-image is absent, in question or under threat," Balkan cinema exported to Western audiences encountered reception as laden with "phobic cultural phantasms" as if impossible to fathom without the mediator characters. Gender has also played a pivotal role. Furthermore and importantly, as Dina Yordanova points out in Cinema of Flames, in Balkan film male-on-female violence that ranges from humiliation to rape is focused on leading a woman to a psychological breaking point rather than physically crushing her. In the context of the Balkan cinema of the 1990s, the urban territory is largely male, rarely showing women in leading roles unless in roles where they play victims of violence (in contrast to Bosnian films such as Grbavica (2006, Jasmila Zbanic) and Snow (2008, Aida Begic)). Narratives of Serbian cinema following 2000 are, however, "controversially relying on the images and narratives of gender misogyny and the violence it produces and its victims."
Notre musique’s mediator protagonist explains this “seemingly inexplicable” warfare and even offers to the audience a direct commentary, a moral, or sets the parameters of irony and the absurd. The awareness of suffering is, moreover, constructed via mediator characters making warfare resemble a form of representation. As Shohat and Stam have pointed out, in the cinematic narratives about the developing world, the first world journalists and other
“mediating character[s] initiate the spectator into otherized communities; Third World and minoritarian people, it is implied, are incapable of speaking for themselves.”
But this use of an ‘othered’ character may also imply that the discourse and rhetoric of minoritarian voices may in fact be totally ineffective or counterproductive in actually speaking to dominant or First World audiences. In the context of the Balkans in film, however, such mediating characters are often themselves transformed by the process of conveying ‘truths’ of ‘otherized’ communities, making for both more complicated narratives of mediation and interchange than in films about colonized regions. This has also resulted in an over-reliance on mediation in war narratives and over-emphasis on Western perceptions of warfare.
In Godard’s film’s Purgatory sequence, which represents the core of the film, the auteur offers thus far the most sophisticated take on the contemporary mediated narratives of war (at least in films set in the Balkans). In this sequence we also find narrative subversions, although perhaps not to the extent present in many of his more recent films (thus perhaps making Notre musique more “accessible” than many Godard films). The main narrative strand, as has been noted, follows Judith Lerner, the Israeli journalist for Haaretz who has come to Sarajevo and Mostar “because of Palestine,” seeking to understand the nature of reconciliation. This notion would be rather cynically received in the Balkans, and especially in Bosnia, where tensions persist between former combatants. Godard overemphasizes the split in intentions as he transplants the Israeli Palestinian story to the context of the Bosnian war. That is, Judith (the film's center of consciousness) is in Bosnia looking for her own truth, not pretending to understand the reality of Bosnia. In her query and her efforts she is sincere and persistent—even as she is rebuffed,  she keeps searching.
In Judith’s searches, in her questions, in her calls for “just a conversation,” Godard creates probably the most complex “mediator” character, at least in the context of the representations of the Balkans. Although setting the film in the Balkans, Godard manages to downplay the narratives of patriotism and national belonging that are so common in films about war and reconciliation. This time, perhaps in a slightly mellowed approach, he also does not directly take up the themes of the West’s hypocrisy and duplicity as he does in For Ever Mozart or parts of Histoire(s) du cinéma (although scenes set in the French Embassy in Sarajevo can be seen as a form of such critique). And yet Judith also seems rather naïve or uninformed: e.g., the French ambassador explains the picture on the wall is of Hannah Arendt and remarks that she should read Arendt’s work, which she apparently doesn't know. Neither Judith nor Godard and his other fellow travelers in Purgatory pretend to unmask the truth of Bosnia or the Balkans. Rather, the deliberate emphasis placed on multiple crossings and attempts at reconciliation demonstrates both empathetic engagement and reflexive detachment of the “mediator character,” conveyed with fine distinction by Sarah Adler. As much as Godard’s detachment from the Bosnian context in Notre musique is symbolic and withdrawn, Judith’s crossings are humble, unassuming, and tangible as she merely searches along a path which the audience is gently instructed to follow.
The emphasis on crossings and mediation leaves the narrative of the actual Bosnian war outside the representational sphere of Purgatory. The cinema of reflexivity assumes the responsibility of knowledge. Yet Godard does not, in Sontag's terms, seem to say, "one should feel obligated to think" about these images. "The task of the spectator," according to Godard, writes Michael Witt, "is not necessarily that of understanding, but rather of hearing, receiving, and 'seeing' the effects of his comprehensions and concatenation of his disparate source materials in the intuitive, emotional, and visceral way one might experience a piece of music." Film has the capacity to call upon social responsibility because it can select from the archives of history the forgotten images and the suppressed stories, although unlike Alain Resnais in Hiroshima mon amour Godard is not interested in exploring the buried layers of the traumatic pasts. The sedimentation of the frame with past contexts in Notre musique has to be understood in relation to the urban ruins of Mostar and Sarajevo. The film’s omission of any explanation of the contexts of the Bosnian warfare is striking. It represents the narrative equivalent of the opaque black frame, but as troubling as this notion might seem, the conflict is not represented as unfathomable for the West.
Godard explored the perversity, cruelty and the horror of the Bosnian war in For Ever Mozart, a film that treats the theme of European guilt and responsibility. In that film, a high-minded French theater troupe falls prey to the Bosnian Serbs and experiences the types of humiliation that the Western European intelligentsia watched on TV, comfortably situated, a contrast that the film also emphasizes. In the film, Godard cites Goytisolo’s words: “the history of Europe in 1990s is a single rehearsal with slight symphonic variations of the cowardice and chaos of the 1930s.”
It would thus be rather surprising that Godard would seek hopefulness in Purgatory in the wounded cities of Sarajevo and Mostar, yet in several sequences Godard presents multiple juxtapositions in which amidst the ruins and the rubble of war, shelled buildings and skeleton ghost of the national library, Sarajevans are yearning to overcome. The film abounds with images of Sarajevo, its trams, streets, markets, and commercial billboards advertising western imports and domestic products. In many of the sequences, in particular the repeated establishing shot of a commercial street at night, Sarajevo is not immediately definable except by signs in Bosnian. This kind of imagery represents the notion of the “deterritorialization” of the image in Deleuze’s terms, presenting urban post-war ethnic conflict zones as a part of the global universe.
In the introductory sequences in Purgatory, Goytisolo, Godard, and their fellow travelers stress that the scars of war never go away, that the survivor’s identity is irrevocably altered by war (“Violence leaves a deep scar... The trust in the world that terror destroys in irretrievable.”). At the same time, the Bosnian interpreter and the crew’s driver speak in un-translated Bosnian about their evening plans. The two simultaneous truths reveal the ambiguous meanings of Purgatory through these juxtapositions. The city is wounded but the people are looking to move on; neither reality appears complete without the other. In this saturated frame, the urban ruin in the background is always at the same time a part of the foreground. Further, the visual saturation overwhelms the exchange in multiple languages shot in medium close-up in a moving car, suggesting that boundaries are in the process of being crossed. In For Ever Mozart, similarly, the cityscape observed from the moving train at dusk during rain links to the narrative of warfare and loss. As Sontag has observed, "sheared-off building are almost as eloquent as body parts—Look, ... this is what war does ... War ruins" The landscape that Godard records takes on a narrative burden and is coded as “history.”
In Mostar, Godard’s camera shoots a beautiful sequence of the rebuilt sixteenth-century bridge over the river Neretva, destroyed by Croatian forces in 1993, and reconstructed in 2004. The bridge leitmotif, most closely associated with the literary opus of the former Yugoslavian Nobel prizewinner Ivo Andrić, is a dominant, recurrent metaphor in Balkan literature and film. Bosnian bridges symbolize the crossroads of the Orient and the Occident; the destruction of the Mostar bridge denotes the impossibility of coexistence in the Balkans. In Notre musique, we watch the painstaking efforts by the real-life French architect in charge of the rebuilding, Gilles Pecqueux, to recreate, stone after stone, the old bridge. Absent from view is the city of Mostar itself, whose neighborhoods are not the subject of such painstaking reconstruction since resources and foreign aid have been poured mostly into the reconstruction of the symbolic bridge to the neglect of the rest of the city. The meaning of the bridge, however, is perhaps recaptured through history lessons and songs that children in local schools are studying. Godard’s camera, in a modest low angle, manages to record with minimal intrusion. Here, again the visual frame delivers one story, while the linguistic translation motif probes possibilities for reconciliation.
In an insensitive and offensive European stereotyping that goes back to the noble savage fantasy of Rousseau (also a Swiss intellectual), fictional Native Americans stand by watching too, as the camera retreats behind them, perhaps to reflect further. At one point, Native Americans spontaneously jump on a pickup truck and leave the screen. Stuart Klawans argued that this was deliberate:
"their estrangement from the proceedings of the [Sarajevo] conference is precisely the justification for their presence in the film. They offer a true (rather than ostensible) opposite in the montage—or, if you prefer, the dialectic.. [I]f you’re going to have U.S. Navy sailors in the “Heaven” section, you really ought to have Native Americans in “Purgatory.”
Brody finds that Godard credits "the Palestinian writer [and a negotiator for PLO] Elias Sanbar, who had written about Native Americans in his own work, as the film's ‘memory’... Godard's allusion in Notre musique to Sanbar's view suggests his endorsement of the idea that Israel and the United States, among other nations, developed by conquest and forced displacement, and were thus fundamentally illegitimate and tainted." Nevertheless, the deeply flawed presence of Native American appears as an obtrusive, gratuitous, and insensitive cultural appropriation.
Wars are fought over territory; the belligerent, imposing, and arrogant conquerors claiming they are entitled to demolish the conquered physical structure and to erase civilization, as much as to oppress or exterminate the population: so many bridges were destroyed and so many bridges were not built. The Mostar bridge in Notre musique is also, as J. Hoberman pointed out, a metaphor for [a form of] montage and in a sense for Godard’s cinema. Godard applies the term montage "not only to the relationships internal to cinema, but also to a far broader set of social, political, and even existential relations that are established and revealed through cinema." Cinema is thus the bridge, the invisible connection, between the two, a juxtaposition, between the documentary and the fictional. As Klawans has written, “The great trial of this ‘Purgatory,’ then, is to recognize the other person and not just oneself; [...] to locate the opposite riverbank so we can begin rebuilding the bridge.”[158-159]
Godard spoke in an interview on Notre musique in such a lamenting tone that he revealed his own yearning for bridges through his mediated connection to wounded cities, exiles places, and post-war zones:
“Places like Sarajevo, Bosnia, or Palestine are also a little bit of a metaphor for what the cinema has become for me, French cinema at least: a country still heavily dependent on subsidies, that can't survive by itself, that is under attack by the various forms of organized crime, that is drifting into prostitution. Cinema is an occupied country with a governor [...] Palestine, Sarajevo, the current cinema, these are all places of exile-which is good for me because I've always felt profoundly exiled [...] So I like going where no one else does. Before '68, everyone went to Cuba. But I went much later, when nobody was interested in it anymore.”
According to Koch, Kracauer, "an extraterritorial observer" has linked the figure of the historiographer with that of an exile:
"The impossibility of reconstructing history as that logical discourse of chronological time that can be subsumed under a general principle that engenders the image of a discontinuous world of ruptures and rejections, whose chronicler can only be a survivor who has passed through the cataracts of time unscathed."
As Godard can perhaps be reminded, Kracauer's reference is to the historical figure of Ahaseurus, the Wandering Jew. Godard endorses also a view of cinema of the margins, of homelessness:
"I wanted the film to bear the trace of the Israel-Palestine conflict, a conflict I have felt close to for a long time, together with Anne-Marie Miéville... As marginals, expelled from our cinematic garden by what is called the American cinema, I feel close to them, the Vietnamese, the Palestinians... As creators, we have become homeless. For a long time I said that I was on the margin, but that the margin is what holds the pages together. Today I have fallen from that margin, I feel that I'm in between the pages."
According to Michael Witt, his togetherness with Anne-Marie Miéville should be seen as a genuine collaboration, especially given the absolute centrality of her role in Godard's work since the 1970s.
Although Godard in a lecture that he delivers in the film pays an unspoken homage to Kracauer’s quest for redemption of physical realty, he nevertheless challenges Kracauer’s focus on the material by tying the redemptive capacity to the sublime. More significantly, through complex metaphors of border-crossings, multiple attempts at dialogue among his real and fictional protagonists, and using several different languages within speech, Godard seeks transformative pathways within the historical engagement. The cities of Sarajevo and Mostar represent the critical arena in which Godard explores transformative trajectories of the cinematic engagement with history and history of representation. Bosnian cities become complex settings for visions of border crossings, attempts—failed and successful—for dialogue among strangers, foreigners, and local residents. The sequences set in the Sarajevo library ("where two million books had been destroyed in the bombing though the building's stone shell remained standing") present, as a protagonist utters in For Ever Mozart, “the defeat of intelligence,” that is, the difficulty of dialogue. Godard frames a gray pillar on which children’s shaky handwriting has noted Bosnian names in white chalk, perhaps to compensate for the absence of books, to underscore the need for learning. The narrative struggles here as the setting entombs the protagonists in a cinematic uncanny. In contrast, in the outdoor sequences, Sarajevo and Mostar become arenas of a global cinema that at once seeks to learn the lessons from the Balkans and also, by relating other contexts of conflict (Israel and Palestine in particular), engages in the process of de-particularization of the conflict.
The out-of-field space and the Heavenly protectorate
But Godard does not leave us there, too optimistic or too lulled in hopefulness. Indeed, in response to Godard’s evocation of libraries, Goytisolo remarks that humane people also create cemeteries. The act of creation, ironic juxtapositions notwithstanding, is too often in Godard’s visions construed as heroic (hence the occasional aloof pre-eminence of his oeuvre), and as has been noted, war narratives crave heroes. Perhaps one of the greatest oversimplifications of war narratives is the reduction of war victory to heroism as Godard’s Les Carabiniers has shown. In the universe of Notre musique, we find an unusual, beautiful yet unsettling heroine in Olga, who is also Judith’s metaphorical double. As her uncle recounts to Godard in a phone conversation at the end of Purgatory, Olga staged a suicide mission in a Jerusalem cinema, in which she asked at least one fellow Jew to sacrifice their life for peace. No one volunteered; she was killed by the police. Yet her call was a rhetorical bluff. She said she had a bomb in her bag; in truth, she only had books. Godard’s montage presents stills from a fictional “documentary” news report. Her ultimate heroism becomes an opposition to the nationalism and blindness of one’s own group and in this we can find an affirmative moral stand. Susan Sontag asserts,
"The destructiveness of war—short of total destruction, which is not war but suicide—is not in itself an argument against waging war unless one thinks (as few people actually do think) that violence is always unjustifiable, that force is always and in all circumstances wrong—wrong because, as Simone Weil affirms in her sublime essay on war, 'The Iliad, or The Poem of Force' (1940), violence turns anybody subjected to it into a thing. No, retort those who in a given situation see no alternative to armed struggle, violence can exalt someone subjected to it into a martyr or a hero.”
But the absurdness of Olga’s death, her indifference to human casualties as she simply enacted "suicide by police" in which she was the only casualty, seems to undermine the redemptive thread of the film.
Where other filmic war narratives would forge heroism through displays of masculinity, Godard assigns agency to a female martyr, with whom he identifies. The female experience and understanding of war represent an important part of the film, underscored by Judith’s and Olga’s stories in Purgatory, and by the endings of all three parts. In Hell, sequences with women soldiers and victims follow after we have seen all unimaginable and imagined cruelties (Godard thus does not identify women in simplistic terms only as victims as a typical war film would). The close-up of women’s faces avoiding the camera appears at the very end of Hell. In Purgatory, the last image we see is of a dead female body, presumably that of Olga, and final section of the film, Heaven, ends with a close-up of her face. If Godard’s cinema is a cinema of resistance, Judith’s and in part Olga’s characters bring it to life, even if Olga has to die. A close up of her face ends the film. She closes her eyes, reminding us again of the void, silence, and black frames between images—the moments in which motion pictures create meanings or in Godard’s cinema resist the inevitability of meanings. Godard seems to wish that the viewer would make this connection, perhaps an example of the Deleuzian “out of frame.” As Deleuze notes, out-of-field contains two different aspects:
“a relative aspect by which a closed system refers in space to a set which is not seen, and which can in turn be seen, even if this gives rise to a new unseen set, on to infinity; and an absolute aspect by which the closed system opens onto a duration which is immanent to the whole universe, which is no longer a set and does not belong to the order of the visible.”
Perhaps the simplest explanation is that this image, anticipated at the end, is a mental image—our imagination of what Olga might be visualizing with her eyes closed. Cinema thus returns to the viewer, and Notre musique as a war film poses questions to the audience to “try to see” and “try to imagine” peace and reconciliation via Olga's and Judith's quests, as Godard persistently uses the symbolic images of women posited against and placed amidst warfare. Sontag asks, "Is there an antidote to the perennial seductiveness of war? And is this a question a woman is more likely to pose than a man? (Probably yes.)"
As powerful as this notion is, it also signifies lament in Notre musique. Godard’s siding with Olga’s mission provides for a touching cinematic and personal resonance. Nade Dieu’s resemblance to the Anna Karina of Bande à part (1964) is thus not really physical but rather lies in the spirit of Godard’s filmmaking: as his camera tracks Olga running through Sarajevo, or when he shoots in close-up her ironic justifications: “Someone actually understood me? Perhaps it was because I wasn’t clear,” Olga declares. It is no accident that Olga’s sacrifice mission occurs in a cinema and that she is abandoned and killed there. Having abandoned the quest for the “visible,” having sacrificed Olga at the film’s end, and closed her eyes in the last shot, cinema has ceased to represent a revolutionary space and today has no movement comparable to nouvelle vague’s revolutionizing of film. Fictional Olga leaves behind a digital film labeled “Notre musique,” bequeathed to the real Godard in Sarajevo. In one possible interpretation, Godard’s film is her film. Perhaps this is Godard’s response to the digital challenge (even if this is beyond the scope of this essay—this subject is tackled, however, by Niels Niessen who argues that "Notre musique seems to suggest that the only way the question of cinema's future can be addressed is through cinema itself.") In Doane’s theoretical terms,
“cinephilia could not be revived at this conjuncture were the cinema not threatened by the accelerating development of new electronic and digital forms of media.”
But also Godard has always endorsed multi-dimensional and hybrid forms, and that many of his films are complex collages of art forms. In another possible interpretation in the context of Notre musique’s narrative, this vision of cinema as the “forgotten” revolutionary space gives up on the promise of the cinematic bridges of Purgatory. Godard provides an ironic response in Heaven to which Olga is sentenced.
The Heaven in which Olga finds herself is a deliberately nonsensical yet not completely absurd U.S. protectorate of cinema—"supreme aspiration and an impossibility, a repository of history and intimate memory in an age of celebrity and forgetting." The edenic wooded paradisiacal island, a place of nostalgia and not a social space, is a landscape in which Godard leaves the audience puzzled and unsettled. Olga seems free and redeemed, yet the absence of project or purpose renders the fictional reality untenable. The ending makes no sense, perhaps as much as Heaven makes little sense to Sarajevans who have survived Hell.
But Godard still searches for a "political hope" in film, a cinema of political engagement and commitment. As Morgan puts it:
"In Notre musique over a shot of a swinging lightbulb—an image recalling both Psycho (Alfred Hitchcock, 1960) and Alphaville (1965)—Godard declares that "the principle of cinema [is to] go towards the light and shine it on our night."
In his narratives and visuals of crossings and trespasses, Godard’s funerary art of mourning and of struggle against historical amnesia—cinema of constant reinvention—seeks reconciliation and the overcoming of devastation, but it falters in stark juxtapositions of the “I” and “the other” and arbitrariness of too many flattening comparisons. As Matthew Longo reminds us in The Politics of Borders, "Rather than take as assumption any us/them dichotomy proffered by borders, we should question the internal homogeneity of these categories." But the meanings of Notre musique thrive in their complexities and overcome some of the simplistic symmetries. The West has yet to come to terms with the scale of destruction it caused, as can be seen in the film in Goytisolo’s accounts and in the Palestinian poet’s interview. The defeat in poetry is the only real defeat, Darwich tells to Lerner’s journalist. Godard seeks the role of artistic creation in recovery and healing, but he is also weary of the fact that this might mean the endorsement of ethno- or euro-centricity—e.g. in the way that he has Native American Indians condemn the white scholar in the empty shell of the Sarajevo national library. In a way, Godard, the expert on reversals, subverts himself yet again by both endorsing the act of creation and condemning its arrogance. In this context, his choice (as a “Western-European artist”) of post-war Bosnia as a setting for this quest of reconciliation and redemption is at once both humble and daring.
While Godard undertakes the project of confronting historical narrative in his other films as well, in Notre musique, he does so by taking the cinematic quest to conquer history differently. Godard is no longer simply interested in rewriting history from the point of view of film, as in Historie de Cinema. He no longer examines merely the multiplicities of history within the multiplicities of narrative. He is not concerned with what cannot be narrated as in Prénom Carmen or Nouvelle Vague. Rather, he is seeking the transformative potential that can stem from the interaction between cinematic engagement with the histories of ethnic conflict as well as the histories of their representation. The transformative capacities of both cinema and life in post-conflict zones can be discerned in Godard's framing and juxtaposing history of the present-time lived experience with representations of warfare. Cinema and representations of war possess a dual connectivity of spectacle forged also through trespasses onto illicit territories. In the strongest sequences of Purgatory, Godard completes the trajectory of his visual and narrative engagement with war in film and leaves enough hope for bridges within a future cinema of reconciliation.
Acknowledgements: For helpful comments and/or encouragement, recently and in the past, I wish to thank Ira Katznelson, Stuart Klawans, and Sam Ishii-Gonzales, as well as the peer reviewers and editors of Jump Cut, especially the late Chuck Kleinhans.
1. This aspect, the most evident in the Hell section of the film, is similar to Resnais’ documentary sequences in Hiroshima Mon Amour. [return to text]
2. While there are many different types of montage in film (as well as in Godard’s opus in general and in Notre musique in particular), I emphasize in this article the notion of montage as a “bridge” between cinematic image opposites. Godard himself posits this notion implicitly in his lecture on ‘reverse shots’ in the film, and he visualizes it metaphorically in the Mostar sequence that queries the possibilities for reconciliation in Bosnia.
3. I refer here to Mary Ann Doane’s reflections upon Miriam Hansen’s interpretation of Kracauer’s film theory. See, Mary Ann Doane, "The Object of Theory," in Rites of Realism: Essays on Corporeal Cinema, ed. Ivone Margulies (Durham: Duke University Press, 2003), p. 88, Siegfried Kracauer, Theory of Film: The Redemption of Physical Reality (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1997).
4. I agree with Jeffrey Skoller who notes that the image, following Bergson, could be seen as a half way between thing and representation which "gives cinema the complex layered quality as something that indexically simulates the visible work and also have the potential to open beyond itself." Jeffrey Skoller, Shadows, Specters, Shards: Making History in Avant-Garde Film (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2005), p. XXI. I opted for the term representations which seemed to me closer to Godard's engagement with, and critique of, the moving image, its production of historical knowledge, and its archival role of "preserving [and coming to terms with] the horrors of the world" (Daniel Morgan, Late Godard and the possibilities of cinema (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2013), p. 185. This concept is, I hope, sufficiently broad to include Godard's notion that the function of cinema is to be "truer than life"; Godard seeks not to represent but to transfigure reality (Michael Witt, Jean-Luc Godard, cinema historian (Bloomington, Indiana: Indiana University Press, 2013), p. 26. Godard's move away from indexicality is discussed by Daniel Morgan who argues that in Histoire(s) du cinéma Godard posits that "cinema needs to learn how to think about history and to do so without drawing on the guarantee that photographic indexicality provides" (Ibid., p. 166). But Morgan also cites Wright who argued that Godard’s work is concerned with the "sublime recognition of the impossibility of doing justice to reality"; "the absence ... haunts every film image, i.e. the traumatic kernel of the Real" (Ibid., p. 181). I analyse "traumatic kernel of the Real" here in the context of Notre musique's cinema of an (im)possibility of reconciliation.
5. Cinematic experience is thus linked to the social forces in which it is produced. The role of Brechtian spectatorship is crucial here as the spectator is not a mere observer but possesses a capacity for action. Cited in Shadows, Specters, Shards, p. XXI.
6. Mary Ann Doane, The Emergence of Cinematic Time: Modernity, Contingency, the Archive (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 2002.), pp. 2-3, 22, 30.
7. Ibid., p. 107.
8. Miriam Hansen, Cinema and experience: Siegfried Kracauer, Walter Benjamin, and Theodor W. Adorno (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2012), p. 38.
9. Ibid., p. 39.
10. Cited in Doane, The Emergence of Cinematic Time, p. 4.
11. Bruce Bennett, "The Emergence of Cinematic Time: Modernity, Contingency, the Archive" [book review] Screen, Winter 2004, Vol. 45, No. 4, p. 464.
12. Hansen, Cinema and experience, p. 18.
13. Ibid., p. 9.
14. Gertrud Koch, Siegfried Kracauer: An Introduction (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 2000), pp. 104, 106 [italics in the original].
15. Daniel Morgan, Late Godard and the possibilities of cinema (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2013), p. 152.
16. Ibid., p. 167.
17. Ibid., p. 178.
18. Hansen, Cinema and experience, p. IX; see also 255.
19. Ibid., p. 5.
20. Ibid., p. 6.
21. Ibid., p. 6.
22. Koch, Siegfried Kracauer, p. 113.
23. Hansen, Cinema and experience, p. 10.
24. Ibid., p. 12-13, 15.
25. Ibid., p. 258.
26. Ibid., p. 257.
27. Koch, Siegfried Kracauer, p. 107.
28. Robert A. Rosenstone, Visions of the Past: The Challenge of Film to Our Idea of History (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1995).
29. Susan Sontag, Regarding the Pain of Others (New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2003), p. 68. <https://monoskop.org/images/a/a6/Sontag_Susan_2003_
30. Insdorf questions Kracauer’s view expressed in the previous sentence. See, Annette Insdorf, Indelible Shadows: Film and the Holocaust, 3rd ed. (Cambridge ; New York: Cambridge University Press, 2003), p. xviii.
31. Jeffrey Skoller, Shadows, Specters, Shards: Making History in Avant-Garde Film (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2005).
32. Sontag, Regarding the Pain of Others, p. 11.
33. Benjamin de Carvalho and Andreas Behnke, "Shooting War: International Relations and the Cinematic Representation of Warfare," Millenium: Journal of International Studies 34, no. 3 (2006): p. 935.
34. Quoted in Insdorf, Indelible Shadows: Film and the Holocaust, p. 280.
35. Robert Stam, Reflexivity in Film and Literature: From Don Quixote to Jean-Luc Godard, Morningside ed. (New York: Columbia University Press, 1992), p. 177-79.
36. See, Doane, "The Object of Theory."
37. See Chapter One in Skoller, Shadows, Specters, Shards: Making History in Avant-Garde Film.
38. Skoller, Shadows, Specters, Shards, p. XV.
39. Ibid., p. XV, XVI.
40. Ibid., p. XIX.
41. Ibid., p. XX.
42. Ibid., p. XXXIV.
43. Ibid., p. XXXVI.
44. Ibid., p. XXXIV.
45. See the following:
46. Daniel Morgan stresses as well that, according to Godard, cinema failed to make properly understood the events of the 1930s and failed to record the Holocaust (See, Morgan, Late Godard and the possibilities of cinema, pp. 168, 179).
47. This is most clearly revealed in a number of explicitly political films that Godard made in the late 1960s and early 1970s in collaboration with Jean-Pierre Gorin, as a member of the radical Dziga Vertov group—arguably, not Godard’s strongest artistic phase. Indeed, recognizing this, Godard has offered a gender-conscious, and in part more politically savvy, corrective in Ici et ailleurs and especially in Numéro deux (1975). Ici et ailleurs credits Miéville as one of the makers, and Numéro Deux is especially linked to her creative presence in their work at this stage, her bringing her daughter into the household arrangement, etc. (I thank the editor for this note). In the latter film which focuses on labor and family, the narrator (Sandrine Battistella) condemns “the masculine perversion of violence [as] the fundamental factor in a woman’s degradation.” This is followed by intertitles that flash the words MUSIQUE, POLITIQUE, HISTOIRE, CINEMA.
48. Morgan, Late Godard and the possibilities of cinema, pp. 179-180.
49. Cited in Ibid., p. 180.
50. Sontag, Regarding the Pain of Others, p. 66.
51. Ibid., p. 91.
52. More recently, Coppola’s anti-war film has seen a horrid revival in Anthony Swofford’s well publicized memoir turned into a screenplay for the film Jarhead (2005). Swofford, a Marine sniper veteran in the Gulf War depicted the Valkyrie sequence of Apocalypse Now as a form of “military pornography,” a powerful set of visuals used to at once desensitize solders for warfare and to arouse them to the state of preparedness for mass-slaughter. See, Manohla Dargis, "Behind Foreign Lines," New York Times Magazine (2005), Lawrence Weschler, "Valkyries over Iraq: The Trouble with War Movies," Harper's Magazine, November 2005 2005, pp. 65-67, 69.
53. Sontag, Regarding the Pain of Others, p. 63.
54. Weschler, for example, cites Samuel Fuller’s sarcastic remark that for the reality of war to be evoked truthfully, “bullets would need to be spraying out from the screen, taking out members of the audience at random, one by one, in scattershot carnage.” Weschler, "Valkyries over Iraq: The Trouble with War Movies," p. 77.
55. Mark Peranson, "Notre Musique," Cineaste 30, no. 2 (2005): p. 54.
56. For example, what is the extent of cinema’s capacity to record and reflect upon images of utmost horror? How meaningful are these representations to modern audiences desensitized by constant televised coverage of human suffering? How can (Western) cinema construct the meaning of transnational reconciliation to address its prior silences and its retreat in the face of the spectacular powers of Hollywood and global media?
57. See, Guy Debord, Comments on the Society of the Spectacle (London ; New York: Verso, 1990), Guy Debord, The Society of the Spectacle (New York: Zone Books, 1994).
58. Godard has used these techniques to challenge other mainstream genre forms (for instance, in his well-known films, À bout de souffle (1960), Vivre sa vie (1962), Alphaville, une étrange aventure de Lemmy Caution (1965)), and decades ago, in Les Carabiniers, he applied them to shoot down mainstream war film.
59. David Sterritt, The Films of Jean-Luc Godard: Seeing the Invisible, Cambridge Film Classics (Cambridge; New York: Cambridge University Press, 1999), pp. 16-17.
60. Stam, Reflexivity in Film and Literature: From Don Quixote to Jean-Luc Godard, p. 193.
61. Les Carabiniers, it should be noted, presents an insightful critique, much ahead of its time, of the role of image-driven culture in the sequence in which Ulysses and Michael-Ange bring home a war booty of photographs, or in the depiction of Micheal-Ange’s first cinema experience.
62. Leslie Hill, ""A Form That Thinks": Godard, Blanchot, Citation," in For Ever Godard, ed. James S. Williams, Michael Temple, and Michael Witt (London: Black Dog, 2004), p. 415.
63. Sontag, Regarding the Pain of Others, p. 70.
64. Richard Brody, Everything is cinema: the working life of Jean-Luc Godard (New York: Metropolitan Books/Henry Holt & Co., 2008), p. 517.
65. Ibid., p. 511.
66. Ibid., p. 512.
67. See, Morgan, Late Godard and the possibilities of cinema, p. 170.
68. See, Jean Luc Godard, John O'Toole, and James McNeill Whistler, Jean-Luc Godard: The Future(S) of Film: Three Interviews 2000-01 (Bern: Verlag Gachnang & Springer AG, 2002).
69. This scene, of course, contrasts with the previous sequence in For Ever Mozart that highlights commercial pressures under which cinema operates.
70. Brody, Everything is Cinema, p. 588.
71. She is played by Francoise Verny, an editor at Galliard. According to Godard, she was "one of the queens of Paris literary production, a bit like Lucie Aubrac was a queen of the Resistance" (cited in Ibid., 599).
72. Cited in Ibid., p. 603.
73. Ibid., p. 603-604.
74. Deleuze and Boundas, The Deleuze Reader, p. 174.
75. Brody, Everything is cinema, p. 596.
76. Williams, "European Culture and Artistic Resistance in Histoire(s) du Cinéma Chapter 3a, La Monnaie De L’absolu," p. 133.
77. This is in part an answer to Bazin’s quest. Indeed, Bazin’s influence on Godard is significant as much as Godard has asserted that “[t]he only reality in a film is the reality of in its own making.” Quoted in Insdorf, Indelible Shadows: Film and the Holocaust, p. 280.
78. This is indeed more of a question than an answer to Kracauer’s theoretical concepts. Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ (2004) might provide another particularly polemical example. The endorsement of the cinema of empathetic engagement and especially the cinema of often artificial “redemption,” thus has to be approached with caution. That is, we could ask Kracauer today, how can we be certain that what art attempting to “cutting off” is in fact “Medusa’s head?” Even if we might not see this aspect as Godard’s predominant quest, his war films pose critical questions in the on-going dialogue regarding cinema’s historical potentials.
79. Thus I would suggest that even the most reflexive cinema can never be as “pure” as Godard would sometime seem to prefer it.
80. This argument builds on Miriam Hansen’s interpretations of Kracauer’s film theory. See, Doane, "The Object of Theory," p. 88.
81. Also quoted in Wheeler Winston Dixon, "For Ever Godard: Notes of Godard’s For Ever Mozart," Literature/Film Quarterly 26, no. 2 (1998): p. 85.
82. Notre musique was initially supposed to be a film about EMC records; Godard abandoned the idea, focusing instead on the dramatization of the novel Le Silence de la mer by Vercours written in 1943 (filmed by Jen-Pierre Melville in 1947), a story of France under German occupation. Then, however, he decided to make a film about the conflict in the Middle East. At the same time, he was invited by Francis Beub, the director of the Center André-Malraux in Bosnia to participate in Sarajevo "Recountres Européens du Livre" — visits to Sarajevo helped shape the film. Brody, Everything is cinema, p. 616.
83. Sontag, Regarding the Pain of Others, p. 88.
84. Brody, Everything is cinema, p. 623
85. For a contrasting view, see chapter on Notre musique in Brody, Everything is cinema.
86. Sontag, Regarding the Pain of Others, p. 30.
87. Brody, Everything is cinema, p. 618
88. Sontag, Regarding the Pain of Others, p. 69.
89. Ibid., pp. 97, 89.
90. Georgio Agamben, Remnants of Auschwitz: the witness and the archive (New York: Zone Books, 1999), p. 148.
91. Susan Sontag, "Looking at War" The New Yorker, December 9, 2002. See, <https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2002/12/09/looking-at-war>
92. Deleuze and Boundas, The Deleuze Reader, p. 174.
93. Trond Lundemo, "The Index and Erasure: Godard’s Approach to Film History," in For Ever Godard, ed. James S. Williams, Michael Temple, and Michael Witt (London: Black Dog, 2004), p. 380.
94. Paul Virilio, War and Cinema: The Logistics of Perception (London ; New York: Verso, 1989), pp. 1-10.
95. Godard was referring to For Ever Mozart. Quoted in Dixon, "For Ever Godard: Notes of Godard’s for Ever Mozart," p. 85.
96. See Morgan on Eisenstein in the context of Godard's cinema. Morgan, Late Godard and the possibilities of cinema, p.182.
97. Agamben, Remnants of Auschwitz, p. 13.
98. Ibid., p. 158 [italics in the original].
99. Cited in Sontag, Regarding the Pain of Others, p. 22.
100. Ibid., p. 33.
101. In contrast to geometric spaces. See, Deleuze and Boundas, The Deleuze Reader, p. 176.
102. Quoted in Sterritt, The Films of Jean-Luc Godard: Seeing the Invisible, p. 263.
103. Cited in Matthew Longo, The Politics of Borders: Sovereignty, Security, and the Citizen after 9/11 (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2017) pp. XIII-XIV.
104. Nadia Abu-Zahra, “IDs and territory: population control for resource expropriation” in Cowen, Deborah, and Emily Gilbert. eds. War, Citizenship, Territory (New York: Routledge, 2008), p. 305.
105. Ibid., p. 315.
106. Ibid., p. 320.
108. See, Stephen Graham, Cities, War, and Terrorism: Towards an Urban Geopolitics (Malden, MA: Blackwell Publishing, 2004).
109. Eyal Weizman, “Thanatotacics” in Sorkin, Michael. ed. Indefensible Space: The Architecture of the National Insecurity State (New York: Routledge, 2008), p. 326. See also,
See also, Eyal Weizman, Hollow Land: Israel's Architecture of Occupation (London: Verso, 2007).
110.. Sterritt, The Films of Jean-Luc Godard: Seeing the Invisible, p. 262.
111. Wim Wenders, The Act of Seeing: Essays and Conversations (London ; Boston: Faber and Faber, 1997), p. 169.
112. Fredrik Barth, Ethnic Groups and Boundaries: The Social Organization of Culture Difference, Scandinavian University Books (Bergen, London: Universitetsforlaget; Allen & Unwin, 1969), pp. 15, 10.
113. Ibid., p. 15.
114. Longo, The Politics of Borders, p. XII.
115. Ibid., p. XV.
116. Ibid., p. 23-24.
117. Ibid., p. 40.
118. John Lewis Gaddis, The Landscape of History: How Historians Map the Past (New York: Oxford University Press, 2002), p. 5.
119. Williams states that in Godard’s films, “montage—or the act of creating relations between people, objects and ideas—is, of itself, a form of history, indeed, ... montage and history are the same process.” Williams, "European Culture and Artistic Resistance in Histoire(S) Du Cinéma Chapter 3a, La Monnaie De L’absolu," p. 126.
120. Morgan, Late Godard and the possibilities of cinema, p. 163.
121. Sontag, Regarding the Pain of Others, pp. 77-78.
122. See, Richard and Raymond Durgnat Combs, "Chapter and Verse," Film Comment 41, no. 1 (2005).
123. I thank the editor for this point.
124. See, Brody, Everything is cinema, p. 619. Andrew Sarris has observed, "In Notre musique, Mr. Godard talks about Jews as if they'd emerged triumphantly from the death camps to promptly drive the Palestinians out of their homeland... I am frankly surprised that most of my colleagues haven't see through Mr. Godard's evasive paradoxes, the banal anti-"Zionist"/anti-American prejudices that he shares with his countrymen, whether French or Swiss." Cited in Ibid., p. 624. Brody finds in Godard's statements that "[h]is expressions of sympathy for the Jews killed in the Holocaust were interwoven with expressions of disdain for the Jews not killed in the Holocaust" (Ibid., p. 559). See also Bernard-Henri Levy's comment on Godard (Cited in Ibid., p. 587).
125. Peranson, "Notre Musique," p. 55.
126. Doane, "The Object of Theory," p. 87.
127. Susan Woodward, Balkan Tragedy: Chaos and Dissolution after the Cold War (Washington, D.C. Brookings Institution, 1995), p. 20.
128. Sontag, "Looking at War." See, <https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2002/12/09/looking-at-war>
129. Susan Sontag on Charlie Rose. Wednesday 08/02/1995. <https://charlierose.com/videos/15694>
130. Susan Sontag, "Godot Comes to Sarajevo," The New York Review of Books, October 21, 1993. See, <http://www.nybooks.com/articles/1993/10/21/godot-comes-to-sarajevo/>
131. Neven Andjelic, "Post-Yugoslav Cinema and Politucs: Films, Lies and Video Tape," International Journal of Humanities and Social Science Invention, Vol. 6, no. 2, February 2017, p. 75.
132. Sontag, Regarding the Pain of Others, p. 87.
134. Stephen Graham, Cities Under Siege: The New Military Urbanism (London and New York: Verso, 2010), p. 17.
136. "Being a spectator of calamities taking place in [...] other country is a quintessential modern experience, the cumulative offering by more than a century and a half's worth of those professional, specialized tourists known as journalists." Sontag, Regarding the Pain of Others, p. 17.
137. On Balkanism and film. See, Vojislava Filipcevic, "Historical Narrative and The East-West Leitmotif in Milcho Manchevski's Before the Rain and Dust," Film Criticism, Volume 29, Number 2, Winter 2004/2005, pp. 3-5. See also, Vangelis Calotychos, “Born To Be Wild?: Repetition Compulsion, Agency, And ‘The Lessons Of History' in Three Balkan Films (Angelopoulos, Kusturica, Manchevski)” [conference paper] Balkan Literatures of Dissent, Brown University, April 20. 2007.
138. Nevena Dakovic, "The Threshold of Europe: Imagining Yugoslavia in Film," Space of Identity, Vol. 1 No. 1 (2001). See, <http://soi.journals.yorku.ca/index.php/soi/article/view/8056/7237>.
139. Cited and discussed in Morgan, Late Godard and the possibilities of cinema, p. 193.
140. Pavle Levi, Disintegration in frames: aesthetics and ideology in the Yugoslav and post-Yugoslav cinema (Stanford, Calif.: Stanford University Press, 2007), p. 5.
141. See, Dina Iordanova, Cinema of Flames: Balkan Film, Culture and the Media (London: British Film Institute, 2001).
142. Ivana Kronja, “Social horror”: A Critical Analysis of Ideological and Poetic Function of the Motive of Victim in the Contemporary Serbian Film," TEMIDA 2016.
143. See, Sontag, Regarding the Pain of Others, pp. 18-19.
144. Ella Shohat and Robert Stam, Unthinking Eurocentrism: Multiculturalism and the Media (London ; New York: Routledge, 1994), p. 205.
145. I thank the editor for this point.
146. In Danis Tanović’s Oscar-winning No Man’s Land, an overzealous British reporter pursues a sensationalist story of a Bosnian and a Serbian solider stuck in a trench along with another solider lying on a mine that will detonate if he is removed. In Michael Winterbottom’s promotional Welcome to Sarajevo, the heroes/rescuers are in fact the Western media professionals. The main character is a journalist whose consciousness is haunted by an image of a Bosnian boy shouting, “Why are you staring at us? What are you seeking?” In Michael Haneke’s intriguing Code Unknown, a photographer who has just returned to Paris from a post in Kosovo, where his photographs documented the ethnic cleansing of 1999, roams the subways and streets in search of anything real or tangible. He takes clandestine photos of the unguarded facial expressions of Parisian passers-by.
147. Judith interviews the French ambassador Naville ("Godard's maternal grandparents maiden name" (Brody, Everything is Cinema, p. 618) in Sarajevo (who sheltered her family during World War Two), who tells her, citing a German Catholic woman murdered in 1943, “the goal of the state is to be one, of the person to be two.” She talks to the Palestinian poet Darwich, who tells her “we are fortunate to have Israel as an enemy.... the world is interested in you, not in us.”
148. I thank the editor for this point.
149. Sontag, Regarding the Pain of Others, p. 75.
150. Witt, Jean-Luc Godard, cinema historian, pp. 2-3.
151. This is a premise behind Godard’s Historie(s) de cinema. See, Lundemo, "The Index and Erasure: Godard’s Approach to Film History."
152. Sontag, "Looking at War." See,
153. After the screening of the film at the New York Film Festival in October 2004, Sarah Adler told the audience that Godard’s team shot the Purgatory portion of film in three weeks, that the script set firm guidelines, that there was no improvisation. As is often the case with Godard’s films, the spontaneity is carefully planned and built-in.
154. Email correspondence with Stuart Klawans. November 2017.
155. Brody, Everything Is Cinema, p. 619.
156. As J. Hoberman observed, “the process [of rebuilding the Mostar bridge] which involves painstakingly labeling and reassembling every stone salvaged from the river, suggests old-fashioned editing.” See, J. Hoberman, "C’est La Guerre," Artforum 43, no. 1 (2004).
157. Witt, Jean-Luc Godard, cinema historian, p. 27. See also, Sam Ishii-Gonzales, "Jean-Luc Godard, Cinema Historian by Michael Witt" [book review], Film Quarterly, Vol. 67 No. 3, Spring 2014, pp. 89-90.
158. Klawans, "Godard's Inferno."
159. On ethnic boundaries and regional political instability, see also Barth, Ethnic Groups and Boundaries: The Social Organization of Culture Difference, pp. 36-37.
160. Frédéric Bonnaud, "Occupational Hazards," Film Comment 41, no. 1 (2005).
161. Koch, Siegfried Kracauer, p. 117.
162. Ibid., p. 115.
163. Ibid., pp. 116, 120.
164. Cited in Brody, Everything Is Cinema, p. 622.
165. Michael Witt writes "Her shifting roles with Godard in their post-Sonimage work testifies to the endurance of their collaboration and her absolute centrality within it: she co-wrote and co-edited Sauve qui peut (la vie) (1979), collaborated on Scénario du film Passion (1983)m write the script for Prénom Carmen (1982), co-edited Je vous salue, Marie (1983), co-wrote Détective (1984), co-directed and appeared in Soft and hard (1985), co-produced Le Dernier mot (1989), co-directed Le Rapport Darty (1989), is credited as art director on Nouvelle vague (1990), co-wrote and co-directed L'Enfance de l'art (1991), co-wrote and co-directed Pour Thomas Wainggai (1991), and co-wrote and co-directed Deux fois cinquante ans de cinéma francais (1995)" Michael Witt, "On communication: the work of Anne-Marie Mieville and Jean-Luc Godard as 'Sonimage' from 1973 to 1979" [unpublished dissertation] (University of Bath, 1998), p. 9.
166. Brody, Everything Is Cinema, p. 619.
167. Sontag, Regarding the Pain of Others, pp. 12-13.
168. Deleuze and Boundas, The Deleuze Reader, p. 178.
169. Sontag, Regarding the Pain of Others, p. 95.
171. Doane, "The Object of Theory," p. 85.
172. See also, Susan Sontag, "Godard," in A Susan Sontag Reader, ed. Cynthia Krupat (New York: Farrar Straus Giroux, 1982).
173. Brody, Everything Is Cinema, p. 625.
174. Of course, the ending also does make sense from the point of view of Godard’s cinema. As critics have elucidated, the Heaven sequence includes a beautiful tracking shot, effortless yet somehow also daring, that represents an homage to François Truffaut's Fahrenheit 451. Heaven, it seems, is also a universe in which believers and nonbelievers alike will be watching better movies (so many by Godard are included in this category), perhaps even in a digital format. See, Combs, "Chapter and Verse," Klawans, "Godard's Inferno."
175. Morgan, Late Godard and the possibilities of cinema, p. XII.
176. Longo, The Politics of Borders, p. 42.
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