Cannes Spotlights Godard

Brigitte Bardot, Jean-Luc Godard, and Michel Piccoli on the set of Contempt (1963)

In the thirty-second-long teaser for the twenty-minute Trailer of a movie that will never exist: Phony Wars, the late Jean-Luc Godard is heard saying that “when I told Saint Laurent that I would actually like to make a movie just like [Belgian writer Charles] Plisnier, who returned to his political and revolutionary love affairs, I had asked myself, could I make another movie?” The answer seems to be both yes and no. On the one hand, Phony Wars—often previously referred to as Funny Wars—“will never exist.” On the other, its Trailer will premiere in Cannes as part of the festival’s tribute to Godard that will include a sixtieth-anniversary screening of Contempt and the presentation of the hourlong documentary Godard by Godard, “an archival self-portrait” written by Frédéric Bonnaud and directed by Florence Platarets.

“Cannes for him is something very important,” said Fabrice Aragno in the summer of 2021 when he spoke with Variety’s Will Thorne about the two projects he was working on with Godard. One of them was evidently Phony Wars, and time will tell whether we will eventually see some version of the other one, Scénario. Aragno, a filmmaker who devised the unique rigs that made it possible for Godard to shoot Goodbye to Language (2014) in 3D, will be on hand for the premiere of Trailer, for which he shares credit with Godard, producer Jean-Paul Battaggia (Film socialisme), and Nicole Brenez, the writer and curator who, along with Aragno and Battaggia, worked with Godard on The Image Book (2018), the last feature he completed before he died last fall.

Let’s quickly note here that Brenez and Luc Vialle have programmed L’image des plaisirs: Sexpérimentaux, a series for the Cinémathèque française, in response to an assertion from Godard, “We don't know how to film sexual relations.” The first part of the series, featuring work by Chantal Akerman, Shirley Clarke, Luis Buñuel, Jack Smith, and Barbara Hammer, opens on Thursday and runs through May 28.

Saint Laurent artistic director Anthony Vaccarello, who has lately been working as a producer with Pedro Almodóvar, David Cronenberg, Wong Kar Wai, Jim Jarmusch, Abel Ferrara, Gaspar Noé, and Paolo Sorrentino, has had a hand in the presentation of Trailer at Cannes. The text from Godard that accompanies the film suggests that Trailer will focus on a preoccupation of his later years, the juxtaposition of language and image: “No longer trusting the billions of diktats of the alphabet to give back their freedom to the incessant metamorphoses and metaphors of a true language by returning to the places of past shootings, while taking into account the present stories.”

In Contempt, Michel Piccoli plays a screenwriter struggling to adapt The Odyssey while juggling the demands of his frustrated wife (Brigitte Bardot), his brash producer (Jack Palance), and his legendary director (Fritz Lang). In 2011, cinematographer John Bailey called Contempt “the best film ever made about filmmaking—made by one of the most self-referential of all filmmakers. Visually lush to the point of a Powell and Pressburger surfeit, Godard’s film lays bare a marriage in crisis. The long apartment sequence between Bardot and Piccoli is a dystopian analogue to the hotel room playful casualness of Seberg and Belmondo in Breathless. A back-to-back viewing of the two sequences constitutes a mini-history of the French New Wave.”

Cannes Classics

In 1982, Godard was one of sixteen filmmakers, including Rainer Werner Fassbinder, Michelangelo Antonioni, and Steven Spielberg, to take part in a project Wim Wenders had set up during Cannes’ thirty-fifth edition. Wenders placed a camera in a hotel room and presented each director with a question, “Is cinema a language about to get lost, an art about to die?” Room 666 premiered on French television a month later and eventually made its way back to Cannes when it screened out of competition in 2006. French filmmaker Lubna Playoust is reviving the project with Room 999, which will premiere in the Cannes Classics program. Playoust has put the question to Wenders as well as to a fresh round of directors including James Gray, Rebecca Zlotowski, Claire Denis, Olivier Assayas, Nadav Lapid, Asghar Farhadi, and Alice Rohrwacher.

New documentaries are always a highlight of the Classics program, and this year the lineup features Dheeraj Akolkar’s Liv Ullmann: A Road Less Travelled, Pierre-Henri Gibert’s Viva Varda!, and Aida Marques and Ivelise Ferreira’s Nelson Pereira dos Santos: A Life of Cinema. Carter Logan and Jim Jarmusch, who perform as Sqürl, have recorded a soundtrack for four newly restored films by Man Ray, which will be presented together as Return to Reason. “We feel very proud to be Man Ray’s backup band,” says Jarmusch. “I think ultimately what we’re trying to do, and what Man Ray did, was create a sort of ecstatic state. A place that exists in a little space between consciousness and unconsciousness, between dream and wakefulness, and between reality and the surreal world.”

Cannes Classics will also celebrate Yasujiro Ozu with screenings of new restorations of Record of a Tenement Gentleman (1947) and The Munekata Sisters (1950). Restoration premieres will also include Alfred Hitchcock’s Spellbound (1945), Claude Sautet’s Classe tous risques (1960), Jacques Rivette’s L’amour fou (1967), and Judit Elek’s The Lady from Constantinople (1969). Cannes will pay tribute to the late Carlos Saura with an open air, beachside screening of Carmen (1982), remember the late producer Ed Pressman with Terrence Malick’s Badlands (1973), and mark the fiftieth anniversary of the death of Bruce Lee with The Way of the Dragon (1972). The Cinéma de la Plage program will also feature Ridley Scott’s Thelma & Louise (1991), Emir Kusturica’s Underground (1995), and even a couple of world premieres, Géraldine Danon’s Flo and Jérémie Périn’s Mars Express.

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