Note 1: Hail Mary (1985)

...and a sudden glimmer of hope that this blog may come back to life...

screenshot from Hail Mary (1985)

What can a blog do? 

I can use it to write notes, of whatever kind. This is my way of confronting the fact that, for whatever excuse I might have in the past, to write about cinema, one has to put down one's thoughts into words, string these words into sentences, and sentences into paragraphs. Writing is an act of creation, an act of giving birth, of excreting shit, of ejaculating semen on another's face, of sweating in the midnight heat of a summer day. Writing is a life-affirming activity because it lets one move forward. It pushes one to think. Through thinking, one enriches his or her nested connections with the world. There is no other way to writing about cinema than to start here, to partake in transforming the act of seeing into an act of writing.
To write


notes, one has to ride a hopping donkey as it will teach one to hop almost instinctively from one idea to another, from set to set, from film to film, from an archipelago to a landlocked country, from a lake to a sea, and vice versa. 


As in 

[another world] ---------------<---donkey-->---------------------------- [world X]


A cat has emerged between notes!
Be warned! More cats to come. 


Each note shall be individual sets of ideas: with or without form, with or without an image. It can be an image on text, or a text on an image. It will be a zoo without cages. It can be poetic or sad. Only that, if it happens to be a technical one, or a philosophical fragment, away from one's comfort zone, it can draw the readers back to their shells. I shall therefore challenge readers to engage further with the note, go beyond their comfort zones, and think through the passages that might reawaken their senses.


Excerpts from The Story of the Hopping Donkey 
by Ma Ehl Kah Mashadu

"I used to be a horse, but the faerie Queen of God said that being a Donkey is way cooler. So she turned me into a donkey. It's better to be a Donkey than Satan's Horse," said the green plastic hopping Donkey in an exclusive interview for the Sunday Times last May 1968 at rue de Passy, Paris, France. Labor Unions were out on strike that day. Sergei Eisenstein inspired him, he said.

On Hail Mary (1985)

Hail Mary (1985) or Virgin Mary or, in French, Je vous salue, Marie is a French film written and directed by Jean-Luc Godard to end all pretentious cinema of the 1980s by being overtly pretentious in a good way. Several artsy cuts puncture its fabric. 

Films are fabrics, they say, in a post-structuralist sense (see Ronald Bogue's Deleuzian Fabulation and Scars of History).  They are visible, experiential fabrics, with troughs and crests, with hills and depressions.  These fabrics vibrate according to various intensities generated from the onslaught of audiovisual images, of movements. Hail Mary's fabric resides in the hallucinogenia of forms: the plane of abstraction. Perhaps, the reason why Godard left the Cannes Film Festival of '85 with a cake on his face was because one audience, who may have traveled all the way from the Italy, where Hail Mary premiered and ruthlessly condemned by the religious, cannot fully comprehend this massive beautiful beast, which one can dismiss as pure pretentiousness. 

Godard's cake face after the screening of Detective (1985)

On a hindsight, aside from Godard's cake-face controversy,
 another pressing issue plagued the festival of '85 

A Pronouncement about European Cinema
from Cannes '85

"There's a real crisis in European cinema...There's no Germany, no Italy, and France is going down. Scandinavia is a zero. Poland has been silenced." - Tom Luddy [link]
Thoughts on the Pronouncement 

Searching through the historical accounts of 1985 European film culture, I cannot help but wonder if this decline in European cinema was a result of the massive upheavals and political strife among states under USSR during the 1980s.


On Hail Mary (1985)...once again

On a rainy early morning, a field of grass gently sways with the wind. The sun has not yet risen, yet an imminent light shaped the surrounding meadow, giving a tree its form. A horizon emerges from a distant punctured by rows of trees, richly filling the middle and farthest plane of the virtual space. This is an image of solitude, a passing of time --- an opening image of one of Jean-Luc Godard's most controversial films, Hail Mary.

Various patches of green hues saturate the first image, followed by another image --- a puddle of water...

...rippling, disturbed by a stone thrown in. Light still persists as an image-shaping force, this time only brighter. Incongruous as both images seem, exhibiting no clear relation with each other,  they shaped the opening of the film as an enigma. These images both flow in different streams under different gradations of light, yet they seem to tell us about the shape of the whole film --- jagged, incongruous, and disjointed.

At Hail Mary's surface, various streams of narratives intersect, with characters jutting in and out of its multi-layered world.  Punctures and collisions composed Hail Mary's virtual world, emerging perhaps from Godard's preoccupation with time, history, and the emanating new ideas from the changing discourse on aesthetics during the 1980s in France.

[This is the part where my writing fails to metamorphose into something. The film is resistant to critique, to interpretation, or to explanation. To capture its uncanny movement from frame to frame requires patience. One can string together a series of associations with the bible. However, this approach can be preposterous and can lead to taking sides: pro or anti-Godard with respect to Catholic ethics. Its strength lies in its capacity to dispel the act of writing itself. One may find oneself at the foot of its ruins, ruptured, cut-off, dismembered, unable to move his pen, transfixed by the inexplicable enigma that runs within its colliding narratives. But I'd like to talk about something else other than how the film unfolds its supposed plot. I'd like to take the readers within its vortex, within its rhizomatic roots, until exhaustion fails me. But first, I have to jump] out of this bracket and return to the flow of life.

Hail Mary's vortex is shaped undoubtedly like a vibrant, pulsating, brown potato buried in the earth. It seeps nourishment from surrounding elements, anything of value: religion, contemporary life in France, extraterrestrials, Charles Darwin, Creationist theory, Godard's personal life. This potato isn't only succulent; it has also shape-shifting features prone to transformative forces puncturing its narrative. As a chimeric potato, it lives off from nested connections within its rhizomatic system transforming itself constantly without seeking a rigid shape or size.

There are various entry points to Hail Mary's eternally changing shape that one can penetrate. One can start with its primitive origins: the clash of images reminiscent of Dziga Vertov's mechanical films. Like the first two opening images I described above, Hail Mary builds its world within the collisions of ideas: biblical reference against artistic creation, without a presupposed direction, always unfolding itself into something. The film opens without introductions. No who's who, or a voice over to guide us through its porous layers. One is wedged, thrown, and propelled unto two enigmatic characters: a couple at a cafe talking and arguing. One might ask, "why are they arguing?"

In Godard's world, questions like this do not have a direct answer, nor do his movies end with these questions resolved. In Godard's films, one always confronts these enigmatic situations, especially in his latter works (1980s to present). It makes one feel uneasy, at best.

Tempered with uninviting and modular characters, Godard's latter works remain the most daunting works ever to permeate without avoiding a talk on aesthetics or philosophy. Most of his characters are usually poised like sirens, messengers, forever mercurial, often bursting from inexplicable emotional excesses. Their only prominent role in most of Godard's latter films is to appear, to move their bodies, and to express the message. It's a performance driven by the act of performing itself.

Godard's characters in his latter works neither have cinematic past lives nor future ones. They exist in the liminal cinematic space of the present. Although they can't fit the traditional idea of movie characters, they are not devoid of time. They have, within them, a figural past and a figural future, such that when one rolls out the 24 connected frames of a 1-second celluloid film depicting a certain movement of their bodies, let us say, a movement of a hand swaying from left to right, one can find an initial image (a hand on the left part of the frame, a figural past) and final one (the final position of the hand on the right, a figural future). These past and future images are rolled into one to display a movement as if happening in real time: a supposed 'figural present'. These mercurial phantoms haunt the interstices of Godard's latter works films, from Sauve Qui Peut (La Vie) (1980) to Film Socialisme (2010), the leading cause of their ultimate death: obscurity.

In Hail Mary, mercurial as they can be, these characters have backbones. Full flesh and bones shaped their bodies. They have breasts, cocks, vaginas, nipples, hairs, eyes, mouths, noses.
They resemble full human beings in their most fertile states. Most of all, they are characters with faces. Faces are important visual elements in Godard's cinema (remember Anna Karina's face in Vivre Sa Vie [1962]). Aside from grounding his film to the human world, Godard's workings/re-workings of the face also shows how flexible it can be remodeled into something else other than a usual visual flare for character development.

The face in the first episode of Histoire(s) du Cinema (1997), for example (see above), presents Godard's most technocratic depiction of the face: a face without a life-source, sucked out from the archive of the dead, the archives of cinema's past, redressed, refashioned, and remodeled as robotic fissures, thrown into Godard's image-factory: to emerge as ghosts, as perpetual hauntings. These faces are machines of nostalgia. They draw us to remember a world annihilated by the slow passage of time. These faces, of all images in cinema, force us to come into terms with history, with our memories, with  our connected lives. Aside from the body, the Face is also a window to the human core: a site of active affects for cinema.

The faces in Hail Mary construct the liminal figure of the body. The face gives the body a figurative design, an identity (or identifying marks) to hinge the audience to traditional cinema. Traditional cinema engages on character histories, role-playing, movement-images, as opposed to experimental cinema, which dwells on sketches of characters, most of the time, incomplete and unresolved. In Hail Mary, however, characterization is entwined between tradition and experimentation. The characters' faces linger as a site of affects, site of identities, yet they remain incomplete and caricatured in a state of becoming. One can decide, once and for all, that these characters are conceptual. They have faces and complete anatomical features of traditional movie characters, yet they only function as carriers of textual information and gestures. Like Godard's other characters, they inhabit within themselves voluminous referential information uttered, spoken, gestured, and transforming this information into movement.

Several provocative character-driven gestures puncture Hail Mary's movement from frame to frame, all acts gesturing to replay and re-encounter the famous biblical tale of Virgin Mary's immaculate conception in a small section of French society. Mary or Marie is high school girl, who plays volleyball and basketball at school. She has a boyfriend named Joseph, a taxi driver, who has some relationship with a girl named Juliette, Marie's classmate, and also a part of the volleyball and basketball team. Elsewhere, a girl named Eve (she prefers the name Eva) is having an adulterous relationship with an unnamed character, who has a wife and a kid. Joseph encounters Gabriel (reminiscent of the angel Gabriel) and an unnamed girl during his taxi rounds in an unnamed airport. Gabriel informs Marie of her virginal conception of the child. A divine intersession, he said. Upon knowing this event, Joseph, startled by the breadth of this news, encounters Marie in order to understand. The film settles in with the birth of the child, Jesus, and Marie, putting on a red lipstick.

Hail Mary's subversive route to deflate the already conflated moral tale of the Immaculate conception starts with Godard, forming germinal connections with the original material (Marie as Mother Mary, Joseph as St. Joseph, Marie's virginal conception of a child, the child as Jesus). From there, Godard forges a new path of becoming by allowing these germinal connections to take root from French contemporary society, defying the Catholic view of the Virgin Mary as universal, imaginary, and beyond the banality of life.

Godard is clearly aware of cinema's power to reshape mythical, political, or religious figures by confronting and destroying their dominant polemical forms and allowing the power of gesture to take over in the creation of new forms, new movements, and new fissures in time. Such is the majoritarian, conflated, and valorized  image of the Virgin Mary shaped by two-thousand-years of Catholic traditional belief. Traditional depiction of the Virgin Mary, in sculptures, painting, moving pictures faithful to the bible, survives today as a towering figure beyond us: an angelic, covered, pristine, untouched Virgin of virgins.

Marie and Joseph as Mary and Joseph

Godard strips away these traditional figurations of Mary by gesturing towards a naked body, an exposure, taking away her clothes, her pristine image, and most of all, transforming her into a quotidian woman of conceptual roots and modular form. Several other characters, along with her, also gestured away from their traditional imagery, emanating in their own ways, within the colliding narratives of the film. Godard's exposure of Marie's body...
 Godard, exposing Marie's body

... retrieves the Woman behind the valorized Catholic image of the Virgin Mary, the Body, which was once clothed by tradition, asphyxiated by morality. Naked and supple, shaped by light and shadow, the body of Marie opens a new crack, a new site of discourse urging us to look into the body-image of other religious figures in light of contemporary figurations of women, men, and other evocations, urging us further to inquire about how engendered movements of bodies go against tradition. Though this method of gesturing may not be uniquely invoked by Hail Mary, Godard contributed much to forwarding the stance against oppressive, traditional, body-conscious depiction of woman.

This creation of a figurative complex as a becoming, a site of discourse, achieved through gesturing of eliciting a movement through exposure, remains a vital force to combat the repressive, valorized figures of society. (Pier Paolo Passolini has so much to say about this exposure of the Body in his films.) What ensues further in Godard's entry to the 1990s is his effort to subvert not only habitual traditions and figures of European culture, but also tp forward cinema language itself.

Hail Mary's gestural style of rupturing traditions is just one of the various devices Godard uses in his latter works. Godard's digital experiments, especially his magnum opus Histoire(s) du Cinema, and later, Film Socialisme, inquire on the possibilities on how can cinema house its pulsating and mimetic histor(ies) and recent ruptures of wars against new and emerging neoliberal forces. Both films capture the tempestuous quality of the mechanized image and its veracity to emulate new worlds from Vertovian collisions. Their contrariety and resistance to interpretation make Godard's latter works central sites of discourse and inquiries about cinema's limits including the limits of interpretation. Godard's 1960s films are so much loved for their approachable air, their simplicity, their openness to interpretation. Godard's latter works, on the contrary, are somewhat ignored because of their intricate structures, labyrinthine narratives, and lack of sites for interpretation. The limits presented by Godard's latter works stress the need to forward the critical discourse on film, to adapt to this shift in image production. It must be a critical discourse of any sorts, beyond interpretation, as some films like Hail Mary and films from emerging directors present new limits. Film writing must reach these regions of new limits to progress, to transform.


Le Chat D'Appartement (Sarah Roper, 1998)