Point de rencontre: quelques heures dans la vie de Godard

Directed by Manu Bonmariage

(Hotel room, an issue of Cahiers #300 on the bed, the one
entirely put together by Godard. Voice over — the interviewer’s — is always off screen)

— The next day was Sunday, I got a phone call saying Godard
would see me for a few hours somewhere in his private life.
He’d almost finished editing his last film, Passion. He
didn’t have much time.

(Godard’s studio, shelves packed with equipments/supplies, a
poster of Sauve qui peut (la vie) on the wall as well as a huge
Contempt poster, which is different than the original. Godard
is watching the last scene of Passion. During this entire
sequence he never really looks at the camera, absorbed in his
work. Every once in a while he gets up to fetch a reel, sits
back down, never stopping to look at the camera. There are often
long periods of silence between questions while Godard works. He
never removes the cigar from his mouth, constantly puffing on it.)

— Do you like being filmed when you’re working?

– Not at all.

— You said you liked work to be filmed.

– I think there’s a reason work isn’t often filmed, and *this*
(motioning to the film) isn’t work, it’s concentration.

— Is the work in your head?

– Work is a network of relations, you can’t see it. It’s not
often filmed because people don’t want to see it, it’s like love.
Filming work only becomes pornographic. You see workers on TV
and they all looked bored, it’s what they do all day, so of
course they are.

(Camera zooms in on Godard’s hands, cutting and pasting the film)

— Do you often film hands?

– Not really. Only filming hands is like only filming sex organs
in porno films, you can’t show anything like that. You show an
image, but there’s no image, only the relation between frames.
If, to continue making films, I had to choose between being
blind and having my hands cut off, I’d choose blindness. You
need the relation between eyes and hands (picking up film,
examining it in the light), but with no hands, there’s no
relation, and there’s a relation between your two hands. Eyes
and hands are like a duet for two pianos.

— So it’s always a matter of relations?

– That’s the only thing that exists.

— That’s what your films are basically about?

– What about my films?

— Are your scripts always based on that?

– Yes, analyzing relationships, looking for relationships,
the end of relationships…(long pause)…Images are like

— You don’t have any children?

– I don’t think so. You can’t do both.

— Bring up a child and make films?

– Even make a child. You can’t do both. A film is too close.

— Too close to a child?

– To life. You only have one life, and films are as close to
it as you get.

— Would you call yourself a skilled laborer?

– What?

— A skilled laborer of film?

— No, I’m a small businessman. The difference between a
small businessman and the workers is that the small businessman
(pauses, obviously searching, then laughs) is at the factory
on Sundays.

— An independent small businessman?

– Who knows?

— It’s not possible to be independent?

– Yes, but it takes time.

(Godard blows the dust off a reel, then wipes it)

— Now you’re being a housewife.

– I do everything, that’s part of being a worker.

— What did you mean when you said you were the housewife
of cinema?

– I said that?

— I think so.

– I guess I sweep away false ideas.

— Does Godard have any false ideas?

– I’m not the one to ask, you’re the one who can answer that.

(Cut to another room, prominently featuring a stereo, lots of
cassette tapes, a bicycle, and a table with a lamp. Godard
is seated with an accounting book and a calculator, still with
a cigar. You can hear country sounds in the background, especially
a rooster. Godard just punches numbers into the calculator,
never stopping to look up at the camera, engrossed in the process.)

— I wonder if filming you with both a cigar and an adding
machine is a mistake?

– Why?

— It might be a misleading image. Godard as a businessman.

– (Shrugs) It’s not the image, it’s the words you add,
the caption you put under the image that defines it. An
image is just an image. There’s the relation between the
images and the description of the relation. The words
should just define.

— Can’t numbers define as well as words?

– No, but they provide landmarks. (Finally looks up and
stops punching numbers) We should talk about money. (Looks
directly at camera) Poor people aren’t ashamed to talk about
money, because they don’t have any. As soon as they get some…
Film producers talk about money, as opposed to film people,
who don’t talk about much. I prefer producers who at least take
a risk they’re willing to talk about. Maybe it’s not ideal, but
at least it’s something.

— Does the producer run a big risk?

– He’s like any small businessman. He creates and invents a
business, like artists inventing something, or mothers who
invent their children. The producer is like a housewife
who cooks, keeps the budget, keeps track of who to feed and
how, that’s what Lenin meant when he said that socialism will
exist when a cook can be the head of state. But that means that
heads of state would act like cooks, with children to feed, which
is not what they do, far from that. (Returns to adding..long
pause) We’re not managing to talk much.

— We could stop.

– No, no.

— Do you want to do your books instead?

– (Looks at camera again and stops adding) I was doing my
accounts, like I do every month. What comes in, what goes
out, like for video (in English)– video in/video out. I write
down everything. If I hire someone to commit a crime, it’s
right there. (Laughs)

— Is everything getting clear?

– To find the light, it has to be very bright…or very dark,
bright and dark. Bright isn’t just the opposite of dark,
they’re just two different kinds of light. (outdoor scenes,
presumably the fields around his house) What I like about this
place is the light. The Canton de Vaud has extremely variable
light. It’s raining in one place, and 20 km away… It’s nice
out in one place and snowing down the road. There’s a wind
here from between the mountains. I don’t know all their names,
but there are about 20 different winds. There’s the Bise, the
East Wind, the Vandet, the Lake Wind, among others. There are
also minor winds. There are a lot of them, and I think they
influence the light by undulating it. (back inside house)

– It must be quite musical too.

— You might say that the Canton de Vaud is a special place,
like a big film studio. (back to outdoor scenes) We used to
shoot in any old location, now we can’t. I unconsciously
found this place where everything you need for a film is at
hand. It’s like back when cinema was invented. There are
animals, modern things, factories. There’s water, grass, sky,
cars if you like, factories if you like, but also children
and horses. All of life in two hundred square kilometers
which is necessary for making films because a film shows an
image of life. (Back inside) In the city you can’t get any
story ideas (Cut to random city scene) Maybe at the time of
“Les mysteres de Paris” or “Les Miserables”, but not now.

(back inside house)

— The city is full of walls. And the screen is also a wall.

– (seemingly unimpressed by this remark) I agree that the
screen is a transparent wall. Getting over a wall is a
problem. The screen is there for showing problems. I like the
comparisons with my father, who was a doctor. There’s a doctor
across the field (points), in fact. When he takes an x-ray,
he does what I do. He looks for signs of something in order
to fix it. I like comparing the screen to an x-ray that shows
diseases. Good health isn’t very interesting to people.
Art only lives off of disaster, war…

— Then you must be very sick.

– In a sense, yes. I carry other people’s diseases. Now people
don’t want to talk about it. I spent two years in a hospital
ten years ago after an accident and I was surprised that people
didn’t like talking about their diseases. Maybe among
themselves, but not much. They didn’t even like to exchange them,
they preferred to have the ones they had, the pain they are
familiar with. They didn’t like talking about it with the
doctor. The doctors didn’t either, and still don’t. If you have
cancer, they put on such a grim face. I like to know about
what’s happening.

— But aren’t you showing yourself in your films?

– At first I thought that. I started with myself. After 20
or 30 years, I’m starting to be able to move towards others.
To have the technical and intellectual capacity to do that.
The cultural means, but not always the financial. Cultural
and financial go together. *This* (grabbing a page of his
account book), this is a script. This and the script go
together. Without this, you can’t. You’re far from life.
The housewife needs to know the cost of things, as does the
business owner and everyone. You can’t do what you can’t do.
I’ve made the films I could make. I don’t know about the
ones I wanted to. They’re usually bad when you do what you
want. (Smiling) Whereas when you do what you can, what you
want to be able to do, that’s another story. It’s hard to
move towards others, even halfway. The cinema is halfway.
We go halfway and the audience meets us halfway. But we have
to agree that we need a meeting point.

(Outside, Godard is in a coat and tie, like he’s ready to go out)

I try to take the first steps and show where I am, what I
am and where I’m going. If someone comes towards me, they’re
forewarned. And I hope he also takes his first steps,
determining the way in which we meet. An image is a meeting

— It’s always a crossroads?

– (shrugs) A meeting point. (repeats, in English) A meeting
point. (Smiles at camera, which freezes on this rare shot of
the man, at home and happy)

Transcribed by Jonathan Takagi


  1. […] If … I had to choose between being blind and having my hands cut off, I’d choose blindness.” Jean-Luc Godard in an interview […]

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