Sauve qui peut / la vie
An open letter to Godard

by James Roy MacBean

from Jump Cut, no. 31, March 1986, pp. 7-12
copyright Jump Cut: A Review of Contemporary Media, 1986, 2006

This "Open Letter" was begun immediately after my first viewing of SAUVE QUI PEUT/LA VIE at the 1980 New York Film Festival. However, it subsequently went through numerous drafts and revisions throughout 1981 and 1982. This version was completed in late 1982. Readers interested in pursuing further the issue of Godard's handling of sexual difference in this film may want to refer to the special issue (nos. 8-9-10) of Camera Obscura as well as to my critique of the Camera Obscura position, pu1lishd as "Godard, Seen Through a Camera Obscura" in Quarterly Review of Film Studies (Fall 1984).

Then I first saw EVERY MAN FOR HIMSELF (or, in its original French title, SAUVE QUI PEUT/LA VIE) at the 1980 New York Film Festival, where you presented it in person, it seemed to me a very abrasive, off-putting film. Yet it is a film that has stayed with me, growing, expanding, reverberating in my mind and memory, perhaps even obliging me to grow and expand in the process of coming to grips with its disarming imagery and corrosively cynical tone. It still strikes me as an off-putting film. But upon reflection I think I can understand why, within your overall strategy, you probably wanted it to be disorienting and off-putting.

This open letter, then, is a testimony of the process by which your film SAUVE QUI PEUT has worked on me, and I in turn have worked on it. The open letter format seems appropriate, since it is a format you yourself used back in 1972, when, in collaboration with Jean-Pierre Gorin, you created a filmed LETTER TO JANE as a way of presenting a testimony of the way a much-publicized photograph of Jane Fonda visiting Hanoi in 1972 worked on you, and you in turn worked on it. However, there is a difference. For my part, I intend to try, as best I can, to work against the grain of the conventions of the open letter genre, avoiding if possible or at least minimizing the conventional tone of self-righteous indignation and holier (or more radical) than thou one-upmanship — attitudes which tended to mar, as I have pointed out elsewhere (in my book Film and Revolution, Indiana University Press, 1975), your film LETTER TO JANE.

Moreover, in writing this "open letter" I am responding not only to SAUVE QUI PEUT itself, but also to issues you yourself have raised in public appearances while promoting the film in North America — whether in newspaper interviews, press conferences (at the Toronto, New York and San Francisco Film Festivals), or in your surprising talk show appearance on U.S. television's Dick Cavett Show." Again and again, when anyone has suggested that SAUVE QUE PEUT seems a darkly pessimistic, despairing, even cynical film, you have responded by saying that to you its none of these, that there is much more hope in the film than one might think.

In addition, you have ventured the opinion that men are more likely than women to complain that SAUVE QUI PEUT is so bleak and despairing. Your reasoning, you explain, is that men tend to identify with the principal male character in a film — in this case, with the character named Paul Godard. Since your Paul Godard character is portrayed as a rather unsympathetic individual who is coping quite badly with the problems of life (he has troubles with his girl friend, his ex-wife and his eleven year old daughter), men in the audience are therefore very likely to find the film as a whole very dark and depressing.

This is an interesting hypothesis, although a bit one-sided in its focus on male viewers. Where female viewers are concerned, I have found them to be generally negative toward SAUVE QUI PEUT, often strongly so, with many women charging you with both misogyny and an exploitative use of the female as sex-object for visual pleasure. (And the latter charge has been made not only where the parody "porno" scenes in SAUVE QUI PEUT are concerned, but also in the way you have the camera linger rather languidly, almost caressingly, over the dreamy, pensive Denise character, played by Nathalie Baye.) Then, too, some women have pointed out that SAUVE QUI PEUT seems to offer women viewers an opportunity to identify with an image of women-as-victims. And I have heard from some women comments to the effect that "at least the film has the merit of showing that men are pigs, and that we're better off rid of them. On the other hand, some women (and me) have pointed out that, in SAUVE QUI PEUT, women seem to be better survivors than men. And it has not gone unnoticed that the only moment in the film when any two people seem to relax and to interact in a healthy, mutually supportive way is when the two women, Denise and Isabelle, sit in a car and arrange for Isabelle to take over the lease of Denise's apartment. Significantly, this arrangement is one of the rare exchanges in SAUVE QUI PEUT that does not directly involve an exchange of money; and it is the only one that seems warm, relaxed and mutually supportive.

In any case, your hypothesis about male identification in relation to SAUVE QUI PEUT is certainly worth considering, more, I think, for its heuristic value, as a clue to orient further investigation, than as a full-fledged hypothesis with claims to "explain" anything. However, its assumption of the strength of conventional cinematic identification is paradoxical, to say the least, coming from you, who perhaps more than any other filmmaker have always blocked or impeded conventional identification by systematically "distancing" us from the characters and from the film, in Brechtian fashion.

Thus, it seems to me both surprising and simplistic for you to argue now that conventional identification patterns are so strong that even in a film as complex as SAUVE QUI PEUT male viewers will be so completely caught in identification with the principal male character (and so utterly incapable of any identification with any female characters) that they will be unable to find the film as a whole anything but bleak, pessimistic and despairingly cynical, simply because that's how the world looks to your Paul Godard character

You explicitly reject such a one-to-one identification with the Paul Godard character where you yourself are concerned, observing pointedly at both the public and press screenings of SAUVE QUI PEUT at the 1980 New York Film Festival, that although you gave your family-name (and your father's first name) to the Paul Godard character, nonetheless, you personally claim to identify more with the two female characters in SAUVE QUI PEUT. So why is it that you are unwilling to give the audience credit for being able to get beyond even the most rudimentary level of identification along lines of sexual gender? The audience, in turn, might very well be justified in finding more than a hint of arrogance in your implication that if they don't like your film and find it despairing and cynical, it's simply got to be because they, the audience, are screwed-up, hopelessly trapped in rigid sex-role identification!

I'd like to take a different tack, one that allows for more flexibility about how identification processes work both in relation to films in general and to SAUVE QUI PEUT in particular. I'd like to begin by emphasizing how, right from the opening seconds of a film, there are many different elements — narrative ones, questions of "point of view," genre conventions, as well as questions regarding the structuring of filmic space. All of these, depending on how they come into play, influence our tendency to identify or not to identify with various characters in a film.

In SUAVE QUI PEUT, for example, the opening sequence systematically works against the grain of conventions. Thus we are not able to settle into any conventional, comfortable mode of relating to this film, or to identify unproblematically with the opening sequence's characters. For starters, image and sound don't quite seem to fit together. At first, in SAUVE QUI PEUT's opening shot of a man greeting a hotel chambermaid, who enters, picks up a breakfast tray, and exits, the "presence" on the sound-track of a soprano practicing an opera aria just seems mildly amusing as an opening gambit to tickle our curiosity about the "plot" of this film. However, as the shot continues, and the singing continues, with little "happening" in the image, we begin to wonder what's going on? So we start to work with the first minimal elements we've got: what is the relation of the sound to the image? Does the man in the image even hear the singing we hear on the soundtrack? (The answer, that he certainly does, comes in a moment.) And, if so, then where, in relation to "screen-space," is the singing coming from?

Is the woman whose voice we hear occupying the same interconnecting suite of rooms as the man? Within "screen-space" we see two doorways leading off the suite to screen-right. The chambermaid enters and exits through the doorway nearer the camera. A moment later the man momentarily disappears through the other doorway, then immediately reappears, a pack of cigarettes in hand, and sits down on a couch to make a phone call. The singing persists. Then, when the man, wishing to make his phone call in peace, pounds on the wall and shouts an exclamation in an attempt to stop the singing — which confirms that the singing is indeed heard by him. The "plot," however, thickens, not only because the singing does indeed stop (at least momentarily), but also because the wall on which he pounds seems to be the wall between him and the adjoining room into which he momentarily popped an instant earlier to get his cigarettes — which would indicate that he and the opera singer are indeed sharing, momentarily at least, the same hotel suite; and that in some as yet undefined way they are "together."

But where are we at this moment? In terms of an "inside/outside" opposition, are we "inside" or "outside" the film? It would almost seem, from the way our minds are working, that we are "outside" the film trying our best to get "inside," trying to work our way into its "plot." However, in structuring image and sound the way you have, you effectively bar our initial entry to the film in these opening seconds. Then, what happens next is important in this dialectic of "inside/outside." The man hangs up the phone (without getting through to his party — one "Denise Rimbaud," who seems to work in a television studio), and abruptly strides out of the hotel suite. So, here, logically, there occurs the first cut of the film. The next shot picks him up in the corridor just "outside" the suite, moving towards the elevator.

However, this second shot brings a new level of incongruity when the opera singer, having resumed her singing, comes out into the corridor immediately after he does (her voice now louder on the sound track to signal her closer proximity now to the camera). But whether she comes from the same door or from that of the suite next door, we can't really say. Spatially, the man and woman are now, demonstrably, "together" within "screen-space." But our questions of where they were a moment ago in relation to each other (spatially but also contextually), are not resolved. Moreover, it is so dark in the hotel corridor that we can't see what the opera singer looks like, except that she seems to be the stereotypically matronly, hefty prima donna. Significantly, the aria she is singing at this moment is a French aria with the refrain "dans les ténêbres" ("immersed in darkness"), which seems to refer, ironically, to our position in relation to the film, as much as to her position in the dark hotel corridor.

In short, our efforts thus far to get "inside" the film, to experience (vicariously) some "imaginary" visual and narrative plenitude, are systematically blocked right from the start. In fact, this initial blockage is sustained right through the first two shots and beyond. Indeed, we never find out what that initial "other scene" between the man and the opera singer might have been. They remain "together" for a few more moments; but she just keeps on singing. They never "relate." Then, significantly, this opening scene simply dissipates, as the prima donna and the young man go their separate ways.

This, I think, is the initial "founding trauma" upon which your film SAUVE QUI PEUT is based. I use the term "founding trauma" quite literally in the psychoanalytic sense. It is, I think, our trauma. That is, it's the trauma of each one of us in the audience as we struggle, almost like newborn infants, to relate to the myriad sensations that bombard us in the first moments of a new life, into which we are suddenly thrown. In this case, we're thrown into the first moments of the new life of a film, into which we seem to be trying to throw ourselves, via the projection-identification route.

Moreover, there is something classically Oedipal about this "founding trauma" of ours in relation to SAUVE QUI PEUT. Like the newborn infant, we are at the mercy, so to speak, of those people (whom we didn't choose) who surround us, those people who are, to use Lacan's term, "toujours-déja-là" ("always-already-there'). In addition, like the newborn infant, we in the audience tend to want to make strong libidinal connections with those first, all-important figures who appear on the scene — in this case, on the scene on the screen. We, too, like children, tend to fantasize libidinal relations — of one sort or another — which we might have with one or another of those first (parental) figures who assume such "larger than life" proportions for us.

This, of course, is the classic Oedipal situation that I am describing. One of the most fascinating things I find about your film SAUVE QUI PEUT is that you seem to have structured the opening moments of the film so that this Oedipal configuration is indeed "triggered," but then fails to "go off — just as happens, in most cases, in life. What I'm getting at is that our vague, tentative yearnings for a libidinal relation with these first all-important figures — in the film, or in our life — are forcibly defused and deferred. Oedipally, in relation to your film, as in relation to life, we must wait a while for our gratification. The prima donna (literally, the "first woman") in SAUVE QUI PEUT is indeed an appropriately maternal figure, not only in her operatic girth but also in the fact that she remains aloof and fails to fulfill our vague libidinal longings and romantic expectations. In SAUVE QUI PEUT, we don't even get a chance to see her close-up, much less to woo her, even by proxy (vicariously), through our identification with a surrogate. She simply disappears, before we've had a chance.

However, another possible "relation" develops, even as the foundational one (the Oedipal "missed relation") lingers on for a few last moments. While the prima donna is singing away waiting for the elevator, the bellhop carrying her bags makes a rather tenacious effort (resisted equally tenaciously) to speak with the man we have been following through these opening seconds of the film, addressing him repeatedly as "Signor Godard." At this we sit up and take notice, for film directors don't usually name characters after themselves. So the fact that you have given your family name to the first character we see in SAUVE QUI PEUT takes us by surprise and adds to our initial sense of bemused puzzlement at what is going on here?

It also orients us to think in terms of the genre of autobiographical fiction. We wonder whether SAUVE QUI PEUT might be something like, say, Fellini's 8 1/2 — a fictional fantasy, autobiographical in inspiration, a "portrait of the artist," of a filmmaker's trials and tribulations (and of all the zany characters he has to put up with) in the course of making the film we are actually watching? Where conventions are concerned, there are broad hints of both farce and parody. These become even stronger when the little entourage of prima donna, "Signor Godard," and suitcase-laden bellhop disappear into the elevator. This happens only to have the next shot offer us a high-angle view looking down over the vast hotel lobby — with the opera singer, who, again, is first heard, then seen and heard (from a distance), continuing to belt out arias at full voice. This time, her aria is in Italian, and, stereotypically, it contains the repeated refrain, "mondo e cielo" (or, "the earth and the heavens").

Then, after majestically sweeping across the mezzanine, down an escalator and toward the exit, still singing at full throttle, the prima donna goes her own way. "Signor Godard" tries to go his own way; but the element of farce goes with him, as the bellhop persistently follows him, running over to accost him in keystone cop fashion as he's about to get into his car. After apologizing in French for some gaffe committed the night before when he'd had too much to drink (yet another "other scene" whose mystery is anterior to the beginning of the film), the ardent bellhop blurts out, "Je vous aime" ("I love you"). When "Signor Godard," a bit puzzled by this, responds that the bellhop must be talking about loving him for his "soul," the spunky bellhop retorts, in an excited mixture of French and Italian (the latter his "mother-tongue"), "Non, vostra corps" ("no, your body")!

To make it clear, he repeats it in French: "Votre corps, monsieur." Then, to make it absolutely clear, he throws himself on Signor Godard's lap in the driver's seat of the car, attempts to kiss him, and begs him (in excited Italian, with English subtitles), "Ream me. Ream me the way half the navy did. There's nothing like a little good clean 'round eye'!" The scene comes to an end as Signor Godard exasperatedly pushes the pleading bellhop out of the car and drives off, muttering about the craziness of life in the city.

Throughout this entire first sequence (whose duration is under two minutes), there are so many incongruities at so many levels that we are aware immediately that we must be extremely tentative and provisional in attempting to orient ourselves to this film, to its narrative line and tone, to its various possible genre conventions — and to its characters. Where genre is concerned, we seem to be in the realm of comedy. Yet by the end of this first sequence, it is already clear that this is not going to be a light farce, but rather black comedy — signaled by the introduction of a taboo (homosexuality) and especially by the crudely vivid terms of the taboo's introduction ("Ream me," etc.), which evoke not merely the taboo of homosexuality but also those of anal intercourse and "gang bangs."

Significantly, it is the word here, far more than the deed, that disorients us so strongly. The crudely vivid language of the homosexual proposition is far more serious an aggression — because it assails us and our movie-going sensibilities (the latter of which are particularly vulnerable in the opening moments when we are attempting to orient ourselves to a film, to "get into" the film) — than is the direct physical aggression of the amorous bellhop on "Signor Godard." This aggression, because it is directed at someone else ("Signor Godard"), and because it is acted out in comically stylized, Keystone Kop fashion, is merely funny.

Moreover, where our tendency to identify with characters is concerned, some strange things happen in this episode. Coming after our initial "love story" identification (with the man and the prima donna) has been blocked and turned into a "missed relation," the ensuing episode between the man and the amorous bellhop upsets the identification tendencies still further. In some ways, the bellhop running up to the lead male character and saying, "I love you," just a few seconds into the film, could be seen as a parody of the way audiences tend to fall in love "at first sight" with the romantic leads in a conventional "love story." Only this time the sexual genders get mixed up a bit.

So if heterosexual females watching SAUVE QUI PEUT happen to find the actor Jacques Dutronc (who plays "Signor Godard") an attractive man in those first few seconds of the film; and if through this sexual attraction they would thus be disposed to "identify" with whoever plays "opposite" their romantic lead; well, imagine their surprise and disorientation (distancing) when the character who initially woos their romantic lead is not a pretty girl but a pretty boy! On the other hand, if heterosexual males watching SAUVE QUI PEUT immediately tend to "identify" with the handsome male lead as a surrogate through whom they hope to woo the eagerly anticipated leading lady; imagine their deception (and distancing) when, firstly, the tantalizingly disembodied female "voice-off" of the first scene materializes (all too materially) as a hefty, matronly opera diva; and, secondly, their "hero" is then subjected to a heavy sexual come-on by a male. This latter incident, by the way, would have the effect (perhaps quite intended by you, the filmmaker) of making us pay a price for our identification tendencies, the price of being subjected by proxy, as it were, to exactly the kind of crudely direct sexual harassment that men all too regularly dish out to women

In any case, there is certainly much in this opening sequence that is disorienting, disquieting and distancing. The surprising pairing of the autographical reference (the use of the name "Godard") with the crudely vivid homosexual come-on (addressed to "Signor Godard"), is disquieting in yet another way. In terms of genre conventions, this pairing would seem almost confessional. One thinks of the revelations of intimate sexual details — hetero, homo and auto — in the confessional writings of St. Augustine or Rousseau or Gide or Proust. Of course, in the first sequence of SAUVE QUI PEUT the homosexual advance is indignantly repulsed by "Signor Godard"; but with the whole film yet to come, we wonder just what will happen if the tenacious bellhop persists. Then, too, we can't help wondering just what this pairing of sexual role-reversal and autobiographical self-referentiality might possibly mean in relation to you, to the "real" Jean-Luc Godard?

If one wanted to descend to the gossip-mongering level of the pop-press, there is Jean-Pierre Gorin's notorious Take One interview in which he confided that "with Jean-Luc and me it was a very erotic, sexual thing." Or, consider it in "auteurist" terms (which, in its concentration on the recurrent, obsessional persona of the "auteur," is not very many steps above the personality cult of the pop-press. There is the fact that in NUMERO DEUX (your last feature film prior to SAUVE QUI PEUT) you have a principal male character who is clearly linked to the persona of the "real" Jean-Luc Godard, and who uses similarly crude and vivid language to explain that, although married, he also takes every opportunity, as he says, "to get fucked up the ass …" in order, he explains, "to be better able to identify with women"!

What all this might signify about the sexual preferences (past or present) of the "real" Jean-Luc Godard, we'll never know; and I'm tempted to say that it's none of our business. But then haven't you almost invited us
to make it our business, at least where NUMERO DEUX and SAUVE QUI PEUT are concerned? Then, too, wasn't there always this element of self-referentiality in your films, inviting us to examine the way any one film's narrative, and the intertextuality of all of the films' narratives, could be seen at one level to be exploring the trajectories of your own "real-life" relations with your wives, with Anna Karina, Ann Wiazemsky, and, currently, with Anne-Marie Miévi1le (who co-scripted SAUVE QUI PEUT)?

To trace the self-referentiality further, what does it signify that in SAUVE QUI PEUT you have given the lead male character not only your family name, "Godard," but also, as you readily divulge, the name of your father, "Paul"? In what sense, then, can it be said that you have, in Freudian and Lacanian terms, deliberately placed this film under the sign of the Oedipal configuration, and under the "Name-of-the-Father" — and of its supposed "Law …" of the "Symbolic"? Finally, where "fathers" are concerned, absent or otherwise, what might be the relation between the fictional Paul Godard's obsessional hang-ups over his pubescent daughter's budding sexuality and the fact (again, that you readily divulge) that Anne-Marie Miéville, with whom you live and love and work, has a daughter (by a previous marriage) of just about the same age as the fictional Cécile in SAUVE QUI PEUT?

However, aren't we getting a bit off the track in all this? Isn't there a danger that you have purposely littered a plethora of self-referential tracks precisely in order to entice us down a "false trail"? First, we started off seeking to identify ourselves with one or another character; now we're off and running on a different trail, seeking to identify you with one or another character. Where do we stand in all this? First we tried to get "inside" the film; now we're trying to put the myriad jigsaw puzzle pieces together to make what? A picture of you, a "portrait of the artist?" Is this what we want, or all that we want, from a film? Or from criticism? How does "it" (the film, our experience of it, our grappling with it) relate to us, to our needs, desires, perceptions of things and people?

To go back to the beginning (an "infinite regression" but a necessary one nonetheless), how does that beginning sequence of SAUVE QUI PEUT, with its layer upon layer of condensation, displacement and overdetermination, relate to our own "identity," to our own desires and needs, to our own conventional/obsessional use/misuse of the cinema in our poignant search for that "imaginary" visual and narrative plenitude? Then, having begun at (and returned to) the beginning, where do we go from there?

In SAUVE QUI PEUT, where do we look next, when the "founding trauma" of the opening sequence is behind us? Significantly, only now do you give us the titles of the film; and you not only give us the titles in words, you attach numbers to them as well. With the words "Sauve Qui Peut" you give us the negative number, "-1." With the words "La Vie" you give us a zero, "0," a plenitude, self-contained, but an empty plenitude, with "nothing" inside it. Then, moving quickly, you give us as well the first numbered section of the film, introduced by the words "L'Imaginaire" ("The Imaginary") and by the number "l."

Moreover, the focus shifts abruptly now to a new character — a young woman whom we first see, after the titles, riding a bicycle along a mountain road in the Swiss countryside. The first numbered intertitle, "L'Imaginaire," is in fact superimposed over the image of her riding her bicycle. Because of this intertitle we are tempted to think of the French psychoanalyst Lacan, who has used the term "L'Imaginaire" to describe a stage of early childhood development before the mastery of language and of the entry into the next stage, "The Symbolic." In fact, as we watch the young woman riding her bicycle, we may well find something a little childlike about the way she rides. She seems a bit unsteady; her weight is not well-centered; she tends to pedal standing up rather than to position herself firmly on the seat.

Moreover, to enable us to look more carefully and more analytically, you slow down the film speed so that instead of advancing at twenty-four frames per second, the woman on the bicycle advances only a few frames per second, even momentarily "freezes" as you employ a "stop-motion," "freeze-frame" technique. Seen this way, her movement analyzed, she seems quite unsteady, quite vulnerable, more than a little childlike although she seems to be in her late twenties. Of course, we can't know it yet, when we first see her, but this young woman is involved with Paul Godard. She is the "Denise" whom he tried to telephone in that opening sequence. We can't know it yet, but the relationship between Denise and Paul Godard is swaying unsteadily from side to side, teetering along in a hesitant, uncoordinated way, just like Denise on the bicycle.

There is a lot that we can't know yet. But, in a sense, we can recognize ourselves a little in Denise. We can empathize with her, certainly; we all can feel for a young person just learning to ride a bike. But she is not exactly a child; and neither are we. For us, in the audience, is this young woman riding unsteadily on her bicycle a person with whom we are likely to identify? I doubt it; at least not at first sight. In a sense, we might recognize ourselves in Denise at this moment precisely the way a young child recognizes itself the first time in a mirror. Lacan calls it a "mis-recognition." Oh, the mirror-image ("l'image speculaire") is us, all right; but it's not at all what we expected or hoped we would look like.

For the young child (between six and eighteen months), accustomed to seeing the precise, coordinated gestures of the self assured adults who surround him or her, the mirror-reflection which reveals his/her own not yet coordinated, splayed, teetering movements comes as something of a shock. In a telling pun (appropriately phallocentric), Lacan calls the young child at this mirror-stage an hommelette — that is, a cross between a diminutive (hu)man (homme) and an omelette In short, it is something diffuse, "all over the place," oozing, not yet fully formed, something primal, but undergoing the passage from nature to culture.

Likewise, for us movie-goers, we're sitting there in that overheated darkness, our eyes riveted to a shadow-play of traces on a screen, our brain performing complex transpositions of the logic of imaginary space, our identification-projection mechanisms spinning silently all the while within, waiting for an "imaginary" object to attach ourselves to, if only for ninety odd minutes. For us, then, we're accustomed to seeing, and seeing ourselves in, the precise, coordinated gestures of those super-self-assured adults who people our movie-screens (and who leave their memory traces on our mind-screens). For us, then, this image of Denise teetering, this teetering image of Denise, comes as a little bit of a letdown. It's not (not yet, at least) an image we can strongly and positively identify with, an image we might wish to emulate, or wish to be, in the here and now.

Granted, as we move on through this "Imaginary" section of SAUVE QUI PEUT, Denise (sensitively played by Nathalie Baye) seems a fairly "normal," likeable person. Sure, she is groping and teetering in more aspects of her life than merely on the bicycle (which, as we learn, she has only recently taken up). But she is pretty, intelligent, pensive. And she seems sincere in her determination to muddle through whatever she must in order to grow, to bring about a more fulfilling life for herself. We may identify with her potential, her potential for growth, her potential creativity. We take note of the fact that she is working on some sort of creative project (which she defines, vaguely, as "not exactly a novel, although there could be a bit of that involved in it"). But it seems clear that both her creative project and her own personal growth are at an early, diffuse stage of development.

Significantly, Denise seeks advice for her creative project — and for her personal growth — from a man identified as "Monsieur Piaget" a reference, it would seem, to Jean Piaget, the eminent specialist in early childhood development). In short, it would seem that this whole section of the film entitled "L'Imaginaire" is under the sign of early childhood development. Likewise, it seems to me that we, too, are similarly at an early stage of development in relation to the film, which has only just gotten under way, and which continues to baffle us and to prevent us from settling into any comfortable, conventional way of orienting ourselves in relation to the film.

Where Denise is concerned, her creative work habits seem to consist of little more than making random journal entries of a free associational nature and pensively sucking on the eraser end of her pencil. In these work habits we might recognize the mirror-image of our own tentative and associational efforts to come to grips with the film we are watching. Then, too, the gesture of pensively sucking on the eraser end of her pencil brings to mind both Freud's notion of creativity as sublimation and his observation that "any object is a substitute for the original object."

Finally, we may see why, initially, Denise strikes us primarily for her as yet unrealized potential (for us, her as yet unrealized potential to function either as a love-object or as an object with which to identify). If we see that, we can also see in the overall structure of SAUVE QUI PEUT (with its opening "first scene" and ensuing four numbered sections of development) a structural and narrative reason why Denise ultimately fails to develop or even sustain whatever partial, provisional identification that we might initially be inclined to "invest" in her. The reason is quite simple: in putting the film together you have weighted its narrative development in such a way that Denise figures very prominently in only the first, the "Imaginary," section. From then on, in the ensuing sections ("2: La Peur/Fear"; 3: Le Commerce/business; 4: La Musique/Music"), Denise becomes increasingly peripheral, spending more and more time out in the country on her bicycle, distancing herself from the center of the city, from the center of the film, from Paul Godard, and from us.

Even in the section that follows "L'Imaginaire," "La Peur/Fear," Denise is not the central focus. The film shifts our point of view (as in a linguistic shifter for the pronoun "I," or in "eye") back to the Paul Godard character. Denise's encounters with Paul become less frequent, more fleeting and withdrawn, or they quickly boil over in explosions of anger and frustration — not all of the blame for which can be attributed to Paul, generally unsympathetic though he may be. For example, when Denise berates Paul and even physically slaps him around a bit for allegedly mishandling the arrangements for a guest-lecture visit by novelist-and-filmmaker Marguerite Duras at a local university, it is not at all clear that Paul deserves either the blame or the abuse. It seems that he was only doing Denise a favor by agreeing on short notice to take over what was supposed to be her responsibility. Then, too, once having taken over (been delegated) the responsibility for chauffeuring Duras around, Paul could hardly have acted otherwise in a ticklish situation. Duras, after all, demonstrates how temperamental and capricious visiting superstars can be — by showing up at the university but not "appearing," allowing only her taped voice to be heard, while she herself remains out of sight, in the next room (and, where we are concerned, "off-screen"). So, if after this "non-appearance," Duras asks to be driven straight to the airport to take an earlier flight back to Paris than had been planned by Denise (who seemed to want to interview her), what, realistically, could Paul do but accede to Duras' request? (I happen to know plenty of people — including myself — who have been put in a similar bind by a visiting superstar named Jean-Luc Godard.)

Moving on, however, to the third numbered section, "Le Commerce/Business," our focus shifts yet again, as the "eye/I" of the camera now concentrates neither on Paul nor on Denise but on a third character. This new character, who, "always-already-there," appears matter of factly in the film's narrative. It's a young woman we first encounter plying her trade as a woman of the streets, stalking her prey as she eyes solitary men standing in line outside a movie theatre. (Incidentally, you have included here a wonderful touch — but one whose point I wish to take up with you later — when you have the camera casually pan over to a young couple standing under a tree who have a minor tiff. The girl informs the boy that, wanting to build "a meaningful relationship" with him, she has not worn any underpants so that during the film he can finger-fuck her in the dark. To this he responds that you don't build "a meaningful relationship … with a hammer," and that if she doesn't mind he'd rather just watch the film!)

Immediately striking about the fresh-faced streetwalker (played by Isabelle Huppert) is the way she uses her eyes to gaze meaningfully at each of her potential clients. Moreover, you highlight her eye-action by employing once again the slow-motion and stop action techniques which, in this case, allow us to study the meaningful intensity of a streetwalker's eye-contact with none other than a disconsolate Paul Godard. For him, the eye-contact and discreet verbal overture are more than sufficient persuasion that there might be more interesting things to do than to see a film. So, logically, in the next shot we see Paul and Isabelle (for that is the streetwalker's name) in bed, with Paul, logically, on top and with Isabelle, logically, just going through the motions, her mind elsewhere. (Significantly, her thoughts are on the housecleaning chores she looks forward to doing so that everything will be "in order" and so that "everyone will realize how much they depend on me.") In short, logically, Isabelle seems clearly to be a classic case of "alienated labor."

Here, and wherever we subsequently meet her throughout the film, Isabelle remains "distanced" from her own life — and from us. She gives her body, but holds back her "soul — whatever that might be. We see her put up with her male clients (the "Mr. Nobodys") even though she is well aware, as she indicates to her younger sister (whom she agrees to help break into the prostitution business), that what men are really after is the opportunity to humiliate women. We see, too, however, that in spite of her lucidity Isabelle seems to accept the "rules of the game." We see her submit indifferently to the mildly sado-masochistic whims of her clients ("as long as it doesn't hurt") and to the roughing up by the pimps, who resent her trying to make it as an "independent." These latter make her repeat over and over that "no one is independent … only the banks!" We even see Isabelle jump at the chance to become a pimp herself, even if it means making prostitution a "family business" by exploiting her kid sister in return for half the gross!

Certainly there is an impressive inner strength in Isabelle's character that enables her to survive in this prostituted world, and to remain "distanced" from all the sordid scenes she goes through. But is she a character with whom we can identify? I doubt it; at least not in that old star-struck identification that would bring us right "into" the film, through her. No, quite the contrary, her "distance" from all the sordid scenes she goes through serves to distance us, in turn; and we never really get to know what she's like "inside." Moreover, where prostitution is concerned, even if we hadn't heard the refrain of the song you were singing to newspaper reporters at the 1980 Cannes Film Festival ("I'm only a whore fighting the pimps of the cinema"), we can certainly see by the highly stylized, deadpan humor with which most of Isabelle's scenes are acted out, that with her entry into SAUVE QUI PEUT we have left "The Imaginary" behind and have moved into the realm of "The Symbolic." At one level, Isabelle is clearly your symbol, your metaphor, for the prostitution we all face in the business of life, but that you face especially in the movie-business!

At another level, our entry into "The Symbolic" — that is, if we as spectators successfully make this transition — would constitute nothing more nor less than a healthy maturing of our own psyches. No longer trapped in the
binary Imaginary stage where we sought to identify with some other (and with some other scene), we are by now, hopefully, ready to accept the symbolic manipulations of language — in this case, of cinematic language. Thus, the formal structures of SAUVE QUI PEUT (the relations between image and sound, the relations between screen-space and off-screen-space," and the syntagmatic movement of the episodic, disjointed narrative — have all conjoined to propel both the film and us along the path that leads from the primal disorder of "The Imaginary" to the term limit (or cure) of "The Symbolic."

Of course, "The Symbolic" ("Le Symbolique") is Lacan's term for the mature stage of early childhood development, when the young child, having weathered the shock of the "mirror-stage" and its deceptions, has begun to differentiate "self" and "others" through the symbolic manipulations of language, mastering the use of the category of words known as "linguistic shifters" (the personal pronouns) which permit "him" or "her" to posit a functional, albeit arbitrary (given Saussure's insistence on the arbitrariness of all language) notion of self. Similarly, for us who are watching SAUVE QUI PEUT, we've weathered the deceptions of the "missed relation" of that primal "other scene" at the beginning; and weathered as well the vulnerability of the "mirror-stage" of "The Imaginary" and its deceptions. Hopefully we have come to accept, by this time if not earlier, that our "role" is not "in" the film but "outside" it. Our role is precisely that of handling the symbolic manipulations of (cinematic) language. Moreover, through our handling of this cinematic language (with its own category of "shifters" that are mobilized by the "eye/I" of the camera), our "role" is precisely that of positing a functional, albeit arbitrary, notion of self — a self which lucidly situates itself in a communication process which demands of us an active role

Of course, one doesn't need to be versed in psychoanalysis, either orthodox Freudian or Lacanian, to come to the realization during the film that our relation to SAUVE QUI PEUT is not primarily one of projecting ourselves into the film by a one-to-one identification with one of the characters. I think most of us are aware, during our first viewing of the film, that SAUVE QUI PEUT demands of us a relation of constant flexibility, of movement "into" the film, momentarily, perhaps through partial and provisional identification, or at least through empathy, then movement back "outside" the film almost immediately for instant reflection — the thoughts and the feelings thus overlapping constantly. Perhaps this sense of the audience getting back out of the film, if they can, is what you had in mind in giving the film the title SAUVE QUI PEUT/LA VIE, since "sauve qui peut" means "get out if you can." It is an expression used as an urgent warning of imminent danger (a building on fire, a mine about to cave in, a dam burst, etc.). The cinema, thus, is seen as a potentially dangerous place. The film is a labyrinth in which we can easily lose ourselves if we don't make an effort to "get out," to cross over to the other side of that bar, to "la vie," to life.

However, if we successfully get back out of SAUVE QUI PEUT — and let's not exaggerate the power of the cinema: we inevitably do get back out of a film — there is the question of whether we have been enriched at all by having been, even momentarily, "in" the film? If your film, for example, all too easily reinforces some of the prevailing prejudices of our times, and reinforces as well the prevailing cynicism of our times, what constructive enrichment has it offered? Of course, we have certain expectations where you are concerned. We know from your other films, especially from your "militant" films of the late 1960s and throughout the 1970s, that you have rarely (one major exception being the very equivocating 1960 film LE PETIT SOLDAT) failed to take a stand politically in your films. A complex stand, to be sure, but a stand. Yet in SAUVE QUI PEUT, mysteriously, perversely, you seem to refuse to take a stand. You just seem to walk away from SAUVE QUI PEUT with a cynical shrug — like Paul Godard's ex-wife at the end of the film, when she walks away and leaves the Godard character lying injured in the street after being hit by a car. "Ça ne nous regarde plus," she says to Cécile, their daughter: "That doesn't concern us anymore."

This lack of a stand from you, this cynical shrug, is disturbing to us. Oh, I know, it is exaggerated and stylized in a way that is meant to disturb us. Right? Why should we care about these fictional characters? Its only a film. Right? But, look, cynicism is very fashionable these days, perhaps especially among those in the audience who look to the various counter-culture gurus and "working-class heroes" left over from the 1960s. Moreover, the media are exploiting this trendy "punk" cynicism for all they can, because it is important to the ruling class in advanced capitalist countries to keep the ever-growing proportion of their populations that are minorities and young people (both of which groups, it is feared, would tend to the Left politically) harmlessly plugged into the compulsive consumption of portable discos and home-porno video cassettes. These feed them an endless stream of pop music and movies that urge them to live "life in the fast lane" or, in the words of a Blondie-song, to "die young, stay pretty; live fast, cause you won't last" — in short, a relentless barrage of the "every man for himself" mentality!

So when you come along and seem to add to this barrage with a film that reinforces this "every man for himself" mentality, almost outdoing the pop-porno people at their own game, well, it just seems to fan the flame of the prevailing cynicism that's blowing in the wind. The problem is that SAUVE QUI PEUT fits in all too well with the latest media zeitgeist. "The 60s were political," they tell us. "The 70s were personal, the Me decade, the decade of 'The New Narcissism.'" And now they are eager to tell us, "The 80s are cynical."

What I'd like to do in the concluding section of this "open letter" is to trace the way SAUVE QUI PEUT, in spite of its merits, tends to reinforce this ideological reduction — from the political to the personal to the cynical — and thereby threatens to reduce us, in the ongoing present, to a debilitating cynicism. Firstly, where politics are concerned, there is little in SAUVE QUI PEUT that is explicitly political. As you explained to the Film Festival crowd in New York, you still consider everything in life to be political, but now you just prefer to call it "life." (So does Life magazine.)

Within the fictional narrative of SAUVE QUE PEUT your three major characters have almost no concern for politics. Paul Godard cracks jokes at the butt of Castro. Isabelle delivers in voice-over a bitter litany of all the "heroes" who have betrayed us, and how the whole notion of "heroes" is bullshit. And Isabelle entertains her clients in her new apartment with a photo of a current Chinese leader beaming out at us with a can of Coca-Cola in his hand — a photo Isabelle likes, she explains, "because I like Coca-Cola." So much for politics. Actually, there are the seeds, at least, of political awareness in such remarks. Being able to joke about ones "heroes," or getting over the need for "heroes" (in or out of the cinema), could be considered steps forward in political consciousness. But there would seem to be two steps backward, as well, if (as seems to be the case here) one's disillusionment with "heroes" leaves one cynically turned off to all politics! Likewise, deciding for oneself what one likes — and not letting some political ideology of the moment tell us what we ought or ought not to like — could represent a real step forward. But that's not so if, as with Isabelle, this seems just another facile formula with which to rationalize ones inability to kick a Coke habit.

As for personal growth, well, your three major characters don't seem to be doing so well on the personal front either. Where work is concerned, both Paul and Denise have some sort of job in television production. But Denise is on the verge of quitting; and Paul quotes a passage from Marguerite Duras where she writes,

"I make films out of boredom, to pass the time. If I could pass the time doing nothing, I'd do nothing. Unable to do nothing, I make films. That's the only reason."

Looking straight into the camera, seeming to speak here for the "real" Jean-Luc as well as for the fictional Paul, your Godard character adds, "That's true for me too."

So much for personal fulfillment in creative work. As for the everyday routine of work, you never really show us that. The only shots of Paul and Denise on the job are shots of them interrupting their work to argue on the phone with each other. And if their personal quarrels leave them too upset to function well at work, or even to show up at work — no problem. No boss comes down on them and threatens to give them the sack. No exasperated colleague complains at having to pitch in and cover their work in addition to his or her own! What kind of fairytale picture of work are you giving us? No wonder people in the New York Film Festival audience looked askance when you told them that at least your film had the merit of showing work the way it really is, whereas other filmmakers' movies, you allege, don't show work at all.

The only work you show in SAUVE QUI PEUT is Isabelle's work as a prostitute. I'm not sure how much merit there is in your getting all the cinematic mileage you can out of the world's oldest profession, especially when in spite of the degradation of women depicted in these sex-scenes, you play them mainly for laughs! Undoubtedly the most flagrant of these cynical sex scenes is the outrageously mechanical one where a bored, self-important business executive "constructs" a Rube Goldberg "sex-machine" out of two whores, his male business flunky, and himself. The laughter in response to this sequence is especially problematic because it defuses the anger we have been building up earlier in this sequence at the way men treat women. Isabelle and another woman have been ordered to undress (so has the male flunky, who removes only his pants). And the other woman has been ordered to repeat, over and over, in an ever louder voice, "My tits are not so great." (Significantly, she identifies herself as "Nicole Weber" — a hint from you, perhaps, that this particular scene is under the sign of Max Weber and of his study, The Protestant Ethic and The Spirit of Capitalism.)

Finally, Mademoiselle Weber has been told in no uncertain terms to get her ass under the desk to suck off the boss while the flunky asks permission (from the boss, not from her) to fuck her up the ass. Suddenly, however, the boss gets the bright idea to have each person form a link in what amounts to an assembly-line sex-machine. He directs each person to their assigned position and tells them what their respective "moving parts" are supposed to do. Then he suddenly pauses. In a remark that clearly identifies him with you, with the filmmaker Jean-Luc Godard, you have him reflect on the cinematic qualities of his sado-masochist creation. That's fine for the image, he says; now let's work on the sound. So he proceeds to assign them each specific noises to make — different "oohs," and "ahs," and "heys" — at different moments of the assembly-line sex activity.

At this point, however, what has up to now been cruelly misogynist suddenly just becomes rather funny, a creative play, like the cinema, not to be confused with reality and not to be taken seriously. In fact, a cynical laugh of acknowledged complicity seems to be the only possible response. Ultimately, complicity in prostitution and violence seems to be the name of the game in SAUVE QUI PEUT. You even manage to turn a bit of random violence observed in a train station parking lot into a multilevel exercise on the theme of complicity. A young woman with red hair and two motorcycle punks get into an argument, with the hoods demanding that she choose. What she is asked to choose about, we don't know. But we can probably guess, especially since at the end of the scene she willingly climbs on behind one of the motorcycle punks and rides off with him, while the other punk peels off in the opposite direction.

When the argument first breaks out, however, the young woman insistently refuses to choose. So the punks repeatedly slap her in the face, brutally, even drawing blood around the mouth, her head snapping violently from side to side at the impact of each slap. Here, as you have done elsewhere in SAUVE QUI PEUT, you suddenly shift speeds, slowing the image down, sometimes even using a "freeze-frame" technique — thus submitting the image (in this case, of a young woman being slapped by two men) to the kind of scientific scrutiny that Muybridge and Marey gave, at the infancy of the cinema, to the images of a horse's gallop or a bird's flight.

In many ways, however, this is problematic. It raises some very disturbing issues of complexity and complicity. We may start out taking a moral position of indignation that a woman is being slapped around by two men. Then we may become still more indignant at your subjecting these particular images to the cold eye of motion analysis and scientific scrutiny. Then, however, we may think of trying to look at these images the way a doctor would, to study the whiplash effect as her head snaps suddenly at the impact of each slap. Then we may suddenly find ourselves looking the way a sociologist might, for possible tacit signals of complicity in the woman's behavior. Then we may suddenly find ourselves appreciating a certain aesthetic beauty of the images, of the color of the woman's auburn hair, of the tones of light in the complexion of her freckled face, even of the dark red blood oozing around the corner of her mouth. Then we might be indignant with ourselves for appreciating the aesthetic qualities of such a morally repugnant image! On the other hand, some might even be aroused, erotically, by these images, the way a sado-masochist would. Or, we might be reminded of something emotionally charged from our past. Or we may even be reminded of something from another movie, such as they way you used to film Anna Karma turning her head quickly from side to side, her hair streaming out the same way as the hair of the woman being slapped.

In the end, it's too complex. It's all of these things simultaneously — a profusion of signs far more mysterious than the profusion of "Marlboro" signs all over a sporty racing car that suddenly pulls into the parking lot in the background. What are we to make of all these signs? (Not the "Marlboro" ones, we know what they signify.) Even for Denise, who observes this scene from a vantage point on a train platform only a few meters away from the woman being slapped, how can she wade through all these signs and come up with a course of action that might put a stop to the situation of a woman being slapped by two men? Significantly, among all the visual signs there is also the crucial aural sign of the motorcyclists' use of the young woman's first name — "Georgiana" — which might indicate that this is just a squabble among friends. So, in the end, we come back to where we started. It's unjust that a woman is being slapped; but we're at a loss to know exactly what to make of it or how we might intervene to change the situation?

Look, we've said it before: there's a little of you, and, if we are honest, of us too, in each of the characters in SAUVE QUI PEUT. But over and over your film seems to make this point with far stronger overtones of cynicism than of compassion! It's ultimately as if you had a "compulsion to confess" in making this film! Moreover, in exploring the roots of this "compulsion to confess" you seem to toy with yet a deeper level of complicity — incest. But "toy with" is not a very apt phrase here, for in your treatment of incest you display all the subtlety of a bull in a china shop.

Whereas Freud's theory of the Oedipal configuration focuses primarily on the gradual working out of the young child's unconscious libidinal longings for the parent of the opposite sex, you focus fixedly an the adult's conscious desires towards the child, expressed quite directly, especially the libidinal desire of the father for his pubescent daughter! In this respect, as in so many others, your Paul Godard character is a walking libido of the most unworked-out sort! Of course, I don't have to tell you that; he's your creation! But how do you expect audiences to respond to your Paul Godard character's constant talk, sometimes even to his daughter directly, about how he'd like her to take off her blouse so he could see her tits? Or to the questions Paul puts to the father of another ten or eleven year-old girl: "Do you ever have the urge to feel up her tits or to fuck her up the ass or anything like that?"

Moreover, does it make things any better that, after asking the above questions, Paul then observes that it's really unfair that mothers get to touch their children but fathers don't? Is all this likely to enlist the audience's sympathy with the efforts that many of us (including myself) are making to break down the old social sex-roles that have made it so difficult for so many men to have warm, touching, nurturing relationships with their children? Or with women? Or even for that matter with other men? Hardly! Your treatment of incest in SAUVE QUI PEUT is more likely to scare people off and reinforce prejudices against fathers taking a more active role in the nurturing of children, especially where their daughters are concerned

Moreover, in terms of audience-response to SAUVE QUI PEUT, this kind of crude, casual cynicism is likely to be perceived as just another low blow aimed at knocking the props out from under us, as if in your musings on sexual complicity you were trying to implicate all of us, as if the film SAUVE QUI PEUT were some sort of warning-portrait of a "Ship of Fools" — with all of us in the same boat! And, sure enough, the circles of complicity widen to embrace all of us, as we see in the curious encounter between the prostitute Isabelle and one of her clients, Monsieur Personne — that is, a somebody named Mr. Nobody, or, as the English subtitles call him, Mr. Person. Whatever we call him, this Person gets his sexual kicks in ways that are right at home in the incestuous and sado-masochistic world of SAUVE QUI PEUT.

First, while haggling on the phone about the price in some business deal, he absent-mindedly finger-fucks Isabelle from the rear. Exactly what he's doing, or which orifice he's exploring with his fingers, we can't be sure. (She winces, if that's any indication.) But people's sexual preferences in this film focus in such fixated fashion on the asshole. There is so much crude talk (and just "off-screen" action) involving assholes, butt fucking, asshole licking, etc.. I'd like to suggest an alternative title for SAUVE QUI PEUT in English. Instead of EVERY MAN FOR HIMSELF, why don't you just call it BUGGER ALL?

Then, when your Mr. Person has finished on the phone, he instructs Isabelle to play out a little fantasy in which she pretends to be his daughter returning home from England. When Isabelle enters as the daughter, Mr. Person carries on a fantasy-conversation that goes something like this:

"Well, look who's here, Mother. Our little daughter is back! And look how she's grown! Why, look how big her tits are now! And what a nice ass she has! Why, it's a bigger ass than yours, Mother! Now, Daughter, show us what a nice thick muff you've got between your legs! Oh, yes, a nice red muff! And, Mother, you show our daughter what a lovely muff you've got! Now, Daughter, ask Mother to come kiss your pussy!"

Okay, we get the picture. You seem to be telling us — with a hammer — that fathers have trouble dealing with their daughters' physical maturation once they've reached puberty. But if I may borrow a line from one of your characters in SAUVE QUI PEUT, let me point out that if you, the "real" Jean-Luc Godard, are trying to build "a meaningful relationship" with your audience, with us, you don't do it — "with a hammer"!

Yet you persist in this heavy-handed fashion; and at the end of this scene with Mr. Person you hammer away still harder. Isabelle is peremptorily paid off and dismissed by Mr. Person; but she pauses in the hall and listens at his hotel door. From inside, Mr. Person's voice is heard, asking, "Well, are you satisfied?" And, although we saw no one else in the room with him during Isabelle's visit, a woman's voice is heard, replying, 'No, that's not exactly what I wanted. You always fuck everything up."

So whose fantasy was just played out? Who was in there with Mr. Person? Is there a Mrs. Person? Or should we call her a somebody named Mrs. Nobody? Or, more to the point, now that you have so disturbingly widened the circles of complicity to include both "mothers" and "fathers," it seems that we could call these Persons "Everyman" and 'Everywoman."

It all comes down to this, does it, in your view? Life's but a shadowplay of incest. And poor player's that we are, we strut and fret our hour upon the stage with no props other than tits and ass, cock and cunt, as we act out, in one fantasy or another, our interchangeable roles — as motherfucker, father-fucker, daughter-fucker, son-fucker, and so on?

And then you wonder, Jean-Luc, why audiences find SAUVE QUI PEUT so pessimistic, so nihilistic, so mired in cynicism and despair? Look, we can accept that there's more than a kernel of truth in the Freudian view; and we can face up lucidly to some pretty disturbing ramifications that ensue from Freud's insights. Yet, even within these Freudian premises the whole drama remains to be played. We can be cynical and despairing about it, and, as in SAUVE QUI PEUT, spend our hour upon the stage rubbing one another's noses in the shit.

Or, we can take responsibility, if not for a bad script foisted upon us poor players by god-knows-who, at least for the mise-en-scene, or for how well or badly we improvise our parts. If we accept this responsibility, then, even caught up as we are, as you are, in a sound and fury of sex and politics, even in the face of the endless signifying, we might be able to say, as someone who was once close to you put it:

"But there is in this world one thing that somehow manages to be sublime, that's the coming together of two of these human creatures who are so imperfect and so horrid. We are often mistaken in love, often hurt and often unhappy; but we love, and when we're on the edge of the grave we look back and say; I've suffered a lot, I've made my mistakes, but I've loved. It's I who have lived, and not some fictional character created by my pride and my boredom." —  Alfred de Musset, On ne badine pas avec l'amour (One doesn't trifle with love) (lines spoken by Anna Karma in Godard's UNE FEMME EST UNE FEMME).

Adieu, Jean-Luc. Return to your editing table. The world is certainly out of joint, but it's the only one we've got. As for SAUVE QUI PEUT, in my opinion your film has the merit of impeding the old star-struck identification and of obliging the audience to forge its own, distanced identity in relation to your film. Hopefully, however, the stand the audience takes will be a stand against the cynicism that's rampant in SAUVE QUI PEUT. And they will take this stand not because the outlook of any one fictional character (with whom they might identify) is so cynical and despairing, but because the film as a whole seems so cynical and despairing.

I say the film "seems" so bleak and cynical, because, as I have demonstrated, it's very hard, almost impossible, to pinpoint where you stand. You are in all the characters; but that doesn't necessarily mean that you are as cynical as the sum of SAUVE QUI PEUT's parts would lead us to believe. As I've tried to show, I more than half suspect that in this film you've attempted a little "reverse psychology" on us. I also suspect that for you this film may be an exercise in exorcism, a way of working through your own "mid-life crisis," a way of getting out of your system a lot of psychological elements you have seen in yourself but which you have worked through a bit more thoroughly in the externalizing process of making this film. Likewise, I think that as part of your "reverse psychology" you have constructed the film in such a way that you invite us to turn the same "reverse psychology" on ourselves if we can.

In short, if the audience rejects the cynicism of SAUVE QUI PEUT for the "right" reason — and not for reasons of simplistic identification — then I suspect you've accomplished at least part of what you wanted. Paradoxically, then, the process I've outlined — of getting into the film only provisionally, getting back out to take a critical stand against its flirtation with a fashionable cynicism — may well be exactly the process you hoped we would follow. Moreover, this may be what you mean when you say that, to you, it's not a cynical and despairing film, and that there's much more "hope" in it than we might at first glance believe.

Finally, I would also like to acknowledge that in resolutely avoiding the didacticism of your "militant" films, you have also resolutely avoided taking refuge in "authorial authority" — which, in your "militant" films, was always there, somewhere, in the "voice-over" commentary, perhaps, not exactly "in" the film but somewhere "behind" the film, or above it all, offering us at least a hint that somewhere meaning was totalized for us. Yet, if in those "militant" films there were no conventional characters for us to identify with (or at least not unreflectively), well, still there was always you, the "auteur," the radical filmmaker, with whom we could identify.

In SAUVE QUI PEUT, however, for what it's worth, "meaning" is not totalized for us by you, by the "auteur"; and we can't even tell where you stand. The means of production — of meaning — are in our hands.

Salut! Sauve qui peut!