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One Plus One: En Gros Plan
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Godard’s One Plus One: “En Gros Plan”

 

by Suzanne Verderber

One

 

Paris, Autumn, 2007: I had been attending classes at the Collège Internationale de Philosophie, and one night around 6PM headed to the Left Bank to attend a double header: two hours on “the image” and two on “sacrifice.”  When I arrived at rue Descartes where classes were being held, the security guard pointed out that all classes were cancelled, due to the “manif.”  “Manif,” of course, is short for “manifestation,” that is, “demonstration.”  I had been sitting in my apartment working all day, and quite frankly was not buying the newspaper every day in order to save money (the value of the US dollar had been sliding precipitously).  So, I was a little out of it.  However, I had promised myself that I would engage in as many French conversations as possible without being afraid of either revealing my nationality or my ignorance.  “Manif pour quoi?”  I asked.  “Où?”  The guard pointed in the direction of the Pantheon. The students had been demonstrating all day, throughout France, in some cases blocking the entrances to universities.  I excitedly walked over the hill to the Pantheon in search of demonstrations.  I saw small groups of students gathered in front of the Bibliothèque Sainte-Genviève, and riot police, with their shields and sticks, mobilizing on the rue des Écoles, preventing confused people from returning to their apartments on rue Saint Jacques.  The largest crowd of students I saw was at the Place de la Sorbonne, standing around in groups, waiting for something to happen.  That quickly started to seem unlikely.  May ’68 was not about to be repeated.  Sad to be alone in a crowd which I perhaps naively, hopefully thought should have been exploding with collective energy, dialogue, and revolt (the students, I learned later, were demonstrating against Sarkozy’s intention to privately fund parts of the state education system), tired of standing in front of a Gap that I think used to be a PUF (Presses Universitaires de France) bookstore, I fled into the safe darkness of a nearby cinema.  What I had to acknowledge to myself at that moment was how desperately I was desiring collective revolt.  Revolt in the streets, not on the internet.  Signing Moveon.org petitions does not give one a sense of participating in the historical process. 

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Plus

 

At home that evening I found a ten-minute video on Youtube entitled “Cannes Mai 68” that sheds some light on the films that Jean-Luc Godard made in the aftermath of these tumultuous events.  The video documents the clash among the attendees concerning the canceling of the film festival as a demonstration of solidarity with students and workers striking at that very moment throughout France.  Most, but not all, of the directors onstage demand that the festival be cancelled to show the world that cinema does not exist outside the realm of politics.  François Truffaut, Roman Polanski, Louis Malle, Jean-Luc Godard, and Milos Forman face a rabid crowd clamoring for the festival to go on, insisting that it has nothing to do with outside events.  Truffaut calls for the radio to announce that the festival has come to a halt.  Polanksi seems frustrated, in halting French speaking of the amount of time that he has spent in “Stalinist” Poland, saying the French people don’t give a damn about the festival.  Truffaut states that the factories are closed, the public transportation is shut down, and that it would be ridiculous for the festival to continue.  Godard’s sharp voice cuts through the tumult, revealing that he has thought deeply about the relationship of his work in film to the actions of the students and workers outside.  He observes that there is not one film at the festival that shows the problems of the workers or the students.  “Nous sommes en retard,” he says.  “We are late.”   Godard is booed heartily by the audience when he calls for the halting of the projection of all films as a demonstration of the solidarity of the cinema with the workers’ and the students’ movements, albeit a week and a half late.  Over the booing, Godard demands that those present “travaillent en gros plan,” that is, that they work (or see) in close-up.

One

 

            Pressure is mounting in the United States as the primary season unfolds and we approach the November elections.  Americans have been through a season in hell, and are now wondering if that season will ever end, or if, like the warming of the earth, the change in reality that has taken place under the Bush regime will just keep getting worse, no matter which political party is in charge.  Will the elections be rigged again?  Do political parties even matter, or is reality determined by what most benefits business and commerce, especially the military-industrial complex?  Does the Constitution still have meaning?  Is it right that Clinton was impeached for “sexual relations” of whatever form while Bush, responsible for lying to get Americans to consent to a war that has caused the death of a million people, remains in office, unscathed?  Bush also appears determined to lead us into war in Iran, no matter what the intelligence says.  As the earth warms up, the United States conducts wars to obtain new sources of foreign oil, despite the fact that energy production based upon oil and coal is precisely what is causing global warming.  It is an infuriating and terrifying time to be alive.  In the midst of these crises are individuals who want to do something concrete to fight these disastrous policies, and yet feel confused about where to best channel this energy and desire for change.  I see in the Godard of Cannes ’68, and the films that were to follow this event, a new commitment to developing forms of cinematic production that are not “en retard,” but that rather are devoted to forms of experimentation that are critical and disruptive of the capitalist system that had concretized around cinema and begun to determine and narrow its possibilities.  In the press-book to La Chinoise (August 1967), made about a year before One Plus One, Godard draws an analogy between the experimental filmmaker and the Viet Cong in that both are fighting American imperialism: “…we also have to create two or three Vietnams in the heart of the immense Hollywood-Cinecittà-Mosfilms-Pinewood empire.—and economically and aesthetically, that is, struggling on two fronts, create free national cinemas, brothers, comrades, and friends.”[i]  

 

Printed with permission of Cine Qua Non (Ethan Spigland, ed)

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