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With: Bruno Putzulu, Cecile Camp, Audrey Klebaner
Written by: Jean-Luc Godard
Directed by: Jean-Luc Godard
MPAA Rating: NR
Language: French with English subtitles
Running Time: 98
Date: 05/15/2001

In Praise of Love (2002)

3 1/2 Stars (out of 4)

'Praise' Be

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Most film buffs regard Jean-Luc Godard's Breathless (À bout desouffle) as a cool little low-budget crime flick full of influentialjump-cuts.

Fewer people have seen other films from his incredibly prolific period between 1960 and 1967. including Vivre sa vie, Le Petit Soldat, Les Carabiniers, Contempt, Band of Outsiders, Pierrot le Fou, Alphaville and Weekend.

Outside of France, it's been nearly impossible for people to see Godard's newer films. Even though he's been working steadily, his films have not enjoyed commercial release. His Hail Mary was released in the United States in 1985 because objections from the Catholic Church made it controversial and newsworthy.

In 1993, the Red Vic played Helas pour moi for a brief period, probably because Gerard Depardieu was in the lead role.

We're not seeing Godard's movies not because he hasn't been making good ones; his eight-part video series Historie(s) du Cinema (1988-98) is regarded as one of his best works by those who have seen it (I haven't).

JLG/JLG: Self-Portrait in December from 1995 was voted the film of the '90s by one prominent New York critic.

Now for the first time in years, a new Godard film has found its way to American theaters. I suspect it's because it's full of cynical references to modern-day Hollywood that have angered and bemused American critics. Perhaps the distributor assumed it could build the reaction into a full-blown controversy.

The truth is, In Praise of Love, which opens today at the Opera Plaza, is extremely difficult, infuriating and confusing to the point where you can't even tell what's going on. Our impulse is to walk away from it, pretending we've absorbed and comprehended it.

Writer Phillip Lopate said it best when he stated that Godard was an essayist above all else. That makes sense, given that Godard made a smooth transition from critic to filmmaker. He still essentially "writes" about films, but he uses light instead of a typewriter.

I'm not sure if Godard really intends for us to pick up on every little idea in the film. If we were reading a book or a newspaper, we could stop, back up, and re-read something we didn't understand. With a film, if you don't understand it, it's gone. You have to pay to see it again.

As in all of his films, Godard views the problems of the world as filtered through cinema.

So, in In Praise of Love, when you see Godard's young filmmaker character Edgar (Bruno Putzulu) standing in front of a pair of movie posters, for Robert Bresson's Pickpocket and The Matrix, you imagine Godard making some wry comment about movies. (Both Bresson and The Matrix come up again later in separate scenes.) But does it simply boil down to "they don't make 'em like they used to?" Or is he asking something more?

In one scene, Edgar goes to visit two elderly heroes of the French Catholic resistance who are about to sell their life stories to Steven Spielberg. Because it's easy to understand, many American reviewers grab on to it, citing Godard's attacks on American cinema, snide remarks about Julia Roberts and Spielberg, and references to Titanic and The Matrix as film phenomena.

Some characters in the film pick on America. One woman says using the phrase "Americans" to describe U.S. citizens is egocentric because anyone from North or South America also could use the term.

But Edgar is just as empty as any of the film's Americans. He's apparently trying to make a film about relationships and people of different age groups, but never gets anywhere with it. He tells a friend at one point that it "keeps jumping the tracks."

He doesn't seem very good at his own relationships. One character says, "He's the only person I know who's trying to become an adult." Whatever that means.

In Praise of Love comes jam-packed with ideas, from the notion that history is fading from our grasp to the notions that countries and borders are fading from our grasp.

As in his early films, Godard continues to experiment with form, as well. The first hour is shot in lovely black-and-white, with black intertitles shoved in every once in a while, saying "De L'amour" ("love") and "De Quelque Chose" ("something"). Two soundtracks run over some scenes, and stop abruptly in others.

After the first hour, the film claims to jump "two years earlier" -- though I didn't notice much of a time difference -- and switches to saturated color digital video. In some shots, Godard uses footage of the sea, freeze-framing it and superimposing it over other scenes.

Though it wouldn't be out of line to accuse Godard of being difficult or self-obsessed, his films remain stimulating in their complexity. Too many filmmakers are on the opposite end, trying too much to please us or over-explain things.

Viewing In Praise of Love is a valuable experience. It should be approached as if you were attempting to drink out of a waterfall -- you're simply going to miss some.

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