At a screening of “In Praise of Love” (“Eloge De L’Amor”), in a theater only sparsely filled in the first place, many members of the crowd made their way to the exits long before the end-credits even started rolling. Considering the reasonable 97 minute running time, these viewers can probably be divided into two groups: they were either fans of Jean-Luc Godard’s revolutionary directing of the ’50s-’60s and deeply disappointed with his attempted comeback, or had no idea what they were getting themselves into in the first place. Subscribing to the former perspective, I regretfully admit that the now 71-year-old director, who was once a pivotal figure of the French New Wave, should have retired his old fashions of filmmaking when the influential cinematic movement went out of style.
Desperately sifting through the multi-layered tangle of fractured events, undeveloped philosophies and embittered critiques allows only a thin plot line to be extracted. “In Praise of Love” is basically divided into two parts. The first is considered a study of the four moments of love: the meeting, physical passion, the separation and reconciliation. These moments are explored as a young filmmaker tries to develop a movie using three couples, a young, adult and an old. There are also intermittent scenes of him searching for an old love interest. The second part considers an old married couple from the French Resistance of World War II, selling their own story, and therefore memory, for entertainment purposes. Moreover, these bits of plot development only serve to convey Godard’s scattered ideas about love and memory, and poke jabs at America and Hollywood filmmaking. The film is strikingly non-narrative.
As far as the actors go, they function only as pawns to move about Godard’s abstractions. It is nearly impossible to identify with any one of the many characters, as they are practically indistinguishable from each other, due to their discontinuous snippets of screen time and the lack of sufficient lighting. One of the longest scenes of the film consists of one static shot from behind two characters engaged in a lengthy dialogue. This technique was experimentally interesting as Godard used it in his ’60s masterpieces, yet the attention span of the general contemporary audience is not conducive to staring at the back of actors’ heads.
However, Godard must be well praised for much of his exquisite cinematography. Despite his lack of camera movement, Godard’s visuals are edited to create their own lyrical rhythm. Visually, the film has two distinct styles. The first two-thirds are shot in black and white. With this, he captures the fine detail of Paris cityscapes in an elegant photographic style. Temporally, the last part of the film exists two years earlier than the first, yet is ironically contrasted by its highly saturated, digitized images. Furthermore, these colorful visions are often superimposed over each other, and designed to resemble a painting materializing into motion before our eyes.
Besides the digital addition, “In Praise of Love” seems to fit quite nicely into Godard’s collection. Supporting the French auteurist theories of filmmaking, he is certainly the director and essential voice behind the film. Quite self-reflexively, the filmmaker within “In Praise of Love” refers to his “project.” Likewise, Godard’s filmmaking is almost more like a project than a film. He uses many of his old characteristic techniques such as bold statements regarding political themes, inter-titles reminiscent of the silent film era, alienating camera work and long takes that linger on cameos to allow a thorough examination from the spectator. To watch it is almost like taking a journey through Godard’s stream of consciousness. It is as intellectual and as full of commentary as his older works, and no less confusing or frustrating.
Unfortunately, the world has evolved all around Godard, who refuses to evolve his methods of filmmaking along with it. “In Praise of Love” mourns a loss of the old ways, and it doesn’t fare well in this era. Especially, the anti-American ideology couldn’t come in a worse context. Though his film is layered with provocative nuances, comprehension is reliant upon multiple viewings. It is unreasonable for Godard to demand this from an audience which can’t sit through it even once.