This week, the Cohen Film Collection debuted two films by venerated French director Jean-Luc Godard on Blu-ray, Hail Mary (1985) and For Ever Mozart (1996). Although a review of Hail Mary is indeed forthcoming, but this review will focus on the dense and beautiful For Ever Mozart. In For Ever Mozart (1996), Godard turns his cinematic eye toward a combination of issues no other director could so readily and thoroughly explore. Sure, it’s a challenging and often overwhelmingly bleak picture, but then, Godard has never been known for producing light entertainment. Set against the backdrop of the Bosnian War and the Siege of Sarajevo in particular, For Ever Mozart is a stunning examination of peace and beauty in a world full of injustice and war.
If it sounds dense, that’s because it is. But one does not enter into a Godard film without expecting a complex and politically-charged work of revolutionary cinema. And here as in Weekend (1967), the tale shifts gears at regular intervals so that Godard might more thoroughly explore the political and philosophical issues plaguing him. To that end, the characters begin their journey preparing to put on a play in war-torn Sarajevo, and wind up prisoners of war. Yet in terms of randomness, For Ever Mozart is certainly no Weekend.
Indeed, with For Ever Mozart, Godard cannot afford such deviations as those he embarks on I Weekend, for here he makes a far more pointed philosophical statement. And like a proper scholar, Godard cites the sources of his philosophy throughout the film, drawing on the works of a broad array of literary figures and great thinkers, and augmenting their ideas with his own. Ultimately, Godard concludes that film as an art form lacks the ability to adequately address such issues as war and genocide. Godard provides no solution to this problem, but that’s by no means a flaw. Godard sees the problem and he leaves it to the rest of us to cope with, and that’s enough.
Cohen’s release of the film is marked by a spectacular transfer and special features include four featurettes; audio commentary by critic and TIFF Cinematheque Senior Programmer, James Quandt; the 2013 rerelease trailer; and a booklet featuring an essay by critic Fergus Daly as well as Hal Hartley’s interview with Godard. My only criticism of the release centers on the subtitling. A substantial amount of the dialogue, namely the chit-chat amongst characters and dialogue not in French, goes unsubtitled. The most significant dialogue is subtitled, of course, but much of the joy in film, I find, is in picking out which lines are important and which are not. Often the least profound-sounding dialogue proves to be the most legitimately profound. As such, I found being guided through the picture by partial subtitles to be somewhat frustrating. Though my limited knowledge of the language allowed me to get the gist of much that was left out, I don’t understand French well enough to be able to seamlessly switch between reading English and mentally translating spoken French. For all that is omitted from the subtitles, however, the film’s message is not lost.